DPRU Research Paper Series

One of the key aims of the Death Penalty Research Unit (DPRU) is to encourage death penalty scholarship including at graduate level through, among other means, research dissemination. A second aim is to engage in knowledge production, exchange and dissemination with local academics, civil society and criminal justice professionals in the countries where we work, in the global south. To these ends, we established the DPRU Research Paper Series.

The Research Paper Series is intended to promote dissemination of research on topics related to the death penalty. Articles (of about 4-5,000 words) will draw on original research – either empirical or library-based. While established academics may wish to use this series for wider engagement or to showcase their work prior to/following publication in academic journals that may be inaccessible to non-academic audiences, early career scholars, including doctoral or post-doctoral researchers, have the opportunity to disseminate research either before they are ready to publish in academic journals or in addition to academic publishing to reach a wider audience often excluded by publishing paywalls. Indeed, we actively encourage engagement with this series from emerging scholars who are working on the death penalty, including those who have completed master’s or doctoral dissertations on the death penalty. We also invite civil society, criminal justice and legal professionals who are engaged in research on the death penalty to submit to the series.

Papers are reviewed for quality and presentation by an internal (DPRU) referee and the Series Editor, Daniel Cullen. However, the contents and opinions expressed remain the responsibility of the author.

Author guidelines and editorial policies

Image of first page of Carolyn Hoyle DPRU research paper

DPRU Research Paper No. 1

Carolyn Hoyle, 'Efforts towards abolition of the death penalty: Challenges and prospects' (December 2023)

This paper reflects on the role of international human rights treaties in promoting universal abolition and progressive restriction of the death penalty. It suggests that over the past quarter of a century a ‘new human rights dynamic’ has aimed to generate universal acceptance that however it is administered, the death penalty violates the human rights of all citizens exposed to it. Nevertheless, defences of capital punishment based on principles of national sovereignty are engrained in some parts of the world, particularly in Asia and the Middle East. The human rights project struggles to make inroads into such jurisdictions where political will is opposed to abolition, and trenchant protection of sovereignty threatens the very universality of these rights.

Image of first page of Helena Lagreou DPRU research paper

DPRU Research Paper No. 2

Helena D.M. Lagreou, 'Blaming it on the past: Usages of the Middle Ages in contemporary discourses of the death penalty in England' (December 2023)

In popular, intellectual and political culture, the Middle Ages are intrinsically tied to violent images of public executions. To historians of the medieval period, this temporal attachment of the death penalty to a remote period is puzzling, especially since it is still widely enforced in the world today and was only relatively recently abolished in Europe. Capital punishment is not only a part of history, but a modern-day reality. Why, therefore, do we pin this punishment to the Middle Ages? This paper aims to analyse the discourses surrounding the usage of the Middle Ages in modern discussions on the death penalty, and to clarify medieval practices of capital punishment, showing how remote they are from our contemporary understanding.

Image of first page of Brian Egan DPRU research paper

DPRU Research Paper No. 3

Brian Egan, 'The politics of capital punishment for foreign nationals in Iran' (December 2023)

This paper seeks to map the political economy of capital punishment in Iran, in particular in relation to dual and foreign nationals, and examines its external and internal functions. The external functions include suppressing the ‘cultural threat’ of cross-border drug trafficking, achieving more power in sanctions negotiations, seeking reciprocal prisoner swaps or demanding recompense for outstanding multinational debt. The internal functions include quashing protests against the regime, supressing separatist movements, or even just ‘otherness’. It is evident that those facing disadvantage across foreign national and intersectional lines face the death penalty disproportionately. In addition, although only representing a fraction of the overall population of death row, the arbitrary detention of dual nationals has a disproportionate political function.

Image of first page of Vittorio Sassi DPRU research paper

DPRU Research Paper No. 4

Vittorio Sassi, 'Is life without parole "the new death penalty"? Reformulating the identity critique' (December 2023)

The global demise of the death penalty has led to the emergence of new issues, among the most notable of which is the rising prominence of life without parole (LWOP) sentencing. In critical scholarship on this topic, however, LWOP has been understood as nothing less than the death penalty in disguise – the ‘identity critique’. This paper proposes guidelines for a re-thinking of the identity critique, drawing on a Foucauldian/post-structuralist framework to see LWOP as a composite punishment, before examining the ‘biopolitical’ and ‘necropolitical’ elements of the punishment. The paper ultimately argues that LWOP is not a new or more refined version of the death penalty, but a uniquely peculiar punishment which serves both to eliminate as well as to exclude.


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