Punishment and Political Order

Keally McBride
An incisive, eminently readable study of the evolving relationship between punishment and social order


Most of us think of punishment as an ugly display of power. But punishment also tells us something about the ideals and aspirations of a people and their government. How a state punishes reveals whether or not it is confident in its own legitimacy and sovereignty. Punishment and Political Order examines the questions raised by the state's exercise of punitive power—from what it is about human psychology that desires sanction and order to how the state can administer pain while calling for justice. Keally McBride's book demonstrates punishment's place at the core of political administration and the stated ideals of the polity.

Cover Credit: Cover illustration by Augustin François Lemaitre, 1839. Used by permission of The Library Company of Philadelphia.

Keally McBride is Assistant Professor of Politics at the University of San Francisco.

Praise / Awards

  • "From start to finish this is a terrific, engaging book. McBride offers a fascinating perspective on punishment, calling attention to its utility in understanding political regimes and their ideals. She succeeds in reminding us of the centrality of punishment in political theory and, at the same time, in providing a framework for understanding contemporary events. I know of no other book that does as much to make the subject of punishment so compelling."
    —Austin Sarat, Amherst College

  • "Punishment and Political Order will be welcome reading for anyone interested in understanding law in society, punishment and political spectacle, or governing through crime control. This is a clear, accessible, and persuasive examination of punishment—as rhetoric and reality. Arguing that punishment is a complex product of the social contract, this book demonstrates the ways in which understanding the symbolic power and violence of the law provide analytical tools for examining the ideological function of prison labor today, as well as the cross cutting and contingent connections between language and identity, legitimation and violence, sovereignty and agency more generally."
    —Bill Lyons, Director, Center for Conflict Management, University of Akron

  • "Philosophical explorations of punishment have often stopped with a theory of responsibility. McBride's book moves well beyond this. It shows that the problem of punishment is a central issue for any coherent theory of the state, and thus that punishment is at the heart of political theory. This is a stunning achievement."
    —Malcolm M. Feeley, University of California at Berkeley

  • "This well-thought-out little tome has a tremendous punch line for those trying to understand the consequences of holding enemy combatants at Guantánamo Bay or Abu Ghraib. McBride (Univ. of Pennsylvania) traces linkages between those who rule and legitimate state punishment from an impressively wide variety of perspectives...Despotisms do not need to justify punishment, but democracies must."
    Choice, D. S. Mann, College of Charleston
  • "...McBride's treatment is always interesting and engaging, and would be appropriate material for any course in law and society or the intellectual history of criminological theory."
    Law and Politics Book Review

News, Reviews, Interviews

Review Project MUSE | 1/1/2009

Product Details

  • 208 pages.
Available worldwide

  • Paper
  • 2007
  • Available
  • 978-0-472-06982-8

Add to Cart
  • $24.95 U.S.

  • Open Access
  • 2007
  • Available
  • 978-0-472-90113-5

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