In Trinity term, on the 26th of May 2017, the Centre for Criminology was delighted to welcome Dr Zelia Gallo’s presentation on, ‘Punishment, politics, and the political economy: theory testing and theory building from the Italian case study‘. The talk was hosted as part of the Criminology Centre’s annual series ‘Communication Skills for Criminologists’.

A lecturer at King’s College London, Dr Gallo’s research interests revolve around comparative criminal justice, punishment and democracy, as well as Italian penology. It was the combination of these interests that influenced her current project, which focuses on punishment as a key index of the state and its democracy. In other words, Dr Gallo argues that shifts in punitiveness serve as primary indicators of a democracy’s well-being.

Dr Gallo’s project explores the underlying reasons for contemporary penality in Western democracies with a particular focus on Italy and England and Wales. The project’s main research question is concerned with investigating the causes of modern Italian penality.

During her well-structured presentation, Dr Gallo elaborated on both the theoretical framework as well as the methodology and then shed light on the purpose of her research: to establish a conversation between existing theories of penality and the Italian case. While the theoretical framework explored theories such as Garland’s (2001) ‘Culture of Control’, De Giorgi’s (2007) exploration of Post-Fordist penality and Lacey’s (2007) analysis of penal populism in liberal market economies, Dr Gallo argues that a critical case study of Italian penality serves as a particularly interesting example because “it poses a number of challenges to the theoretical framework”.

By employing a meso-level approach, Dr Gallo’s research concludes that Italian penality – despite Garland’s argument of increased punitiveness leading to higher incarceration rates – is instead characterised by intermediate normative orders such as well-rooted influential families, organised crime or mass parties. This, in turn, results in high levels of informal social controls, rendering it difficult to assess Italian normative penality.

Post-Fordism, as Dr Gallo explained during her presentation, also fails to account for contemporary Italian penality, due to Italy’s hybrid economy consisting of different political economies (e.g. regionalised economies). In a similar vein, Lacey’s market analysis also assumes high levels of coherence, which is simply not the case in Italy – meaning that it is difficult to link Italian penality to the pre-established theoretical framework.

However, identifying Italy as a case where both moderation and punitiveness co-exist allows for moving beyond pure normative description in order to uncover the mechanisms that lead to the Italian penal system. According to Dr Gallo, this systematic explanation is best facilitated by politics, given that the political conflict in Italy is extremely permeable and tends to act on penal policy, which then influences penal reality. Thus, Italian penality is to a great extent characterised by an alternation of puntiveness and moderation.

Claiming that we need “more politics”, Dr Gallo’s policy recommendations include improving the accessibility of political institutions for members of the public – thereby rendering politics more dynamic and increasing the interaction between political institutions and political cultures