Against Hibernian exceptionalism

Brangan, Louise; Black, Lynsey and Brangan, Louise and Healy, Deirdre, eds. (2022) Against Hibernian exceptionalism. In: Histories of Punishment and Social Control in Ireland. Emerald Publishing Limited, Bingley, West Yorkshire, England. ISBN 9781800436077

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During the early stages of my PhD at the University of Edinburgh, in a moment of flippant chit chat, I suggested to a fellow student that I was toying with the idea of writing my entire dissertation on the comparative sociology of punishment without reference to David Garland. This obviously sounds like the ludicrous or crude act of a provocateur. My friend was reasonably alarmed – not least because writing a thesis situated within the sociology of punishment that didn't acknowledge, let alone mention, David Garland defied the basic logic of a literature review. Embarrassed, I desperately tried to clarify, though not successfully, that I was speaking in jest, but that there was a serious note underlying this statement. I had been wondering how one would write and think about punishment and penal politics in my two comparator states of Ireland and Scotland if David Garland’s theses on penal-welfarism and the culture of control had not become so landmark. How differently would we perceive penality in those places? Such a view was shaped by my own academic upbringing. As far as I am aware, I was among only the second cohort of graduate students to achieve a Masters qualification in criminology in Ireland. This was 2007/08 and Irish criminology was still in its 'infanc'’ (O’Donnell, 2008, p. 124), having only been institutionally formalised as a discipline in 2000 (more on which below). Much like the rest of the Anglophone world, Culture of Control (Garland, 2001) was the text to be into if you were interested in punishment. As Irish criminology was establishing itself it became deeply immersed in this prevailing thesis, imbricated with the key ideas and engaged in the exciting arguments that were occupying the rest of criminology. As a result, the way Irish penal practices were being read was via the main tenets of this text, but producing what seemed like only partial insights and explanations. What I had tried, and unequivocally failed to express to my friend that day was that Ireland and Scotland know the sociology of punishment, even though the sociology of punishment does not know them (to paraphrase Santos, 2014), and worse still, was not fully equipped to comprehend either nation. There seemed to be few theoretical tools to think about, discuss and understand Irish or Scottish penality in their own terms. It was not that this preeminent theory had been presented with an air of universal insight (and that is certainly not my claim), but that it had been adopted and eagerly deployed in places where it seemed only to repeatedly show that they didn't fit. But in a curious move, this not fitting, had somehow become the theory of the contemporary Irish penal history and its legacy, which is now coming to be understood as exceptional.