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Norbert Elias, the civilizing process and penal development in modern society



For much of the twentieth century the punishment of offenders in modern society came to be administered on a scientific, rational basis with policy driven largely by expert knowledge. The anonymity of the prison, as a place for reflection and rehabilitation, steadily replaced the pre-modern drama and spectacle of punishment to the human body. Recently, though, some modern societies (particularly those in the Anglophone world) have seen recourse to more expressive and severe penalties, driven more by public opinion than by expert knowledge. Other modern societies, however (particularly the Scandinavian countries) remain largely immune to these trends. This article outlines and explores these contrasting trends and developments and uses Norbert Elias's work on the civilizing process to explain them.