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Durham University

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Public attidues to the death penalty in mid twentieth-century England and Wales

A research project of the Department of Sociology.


This research takes an original approach to the death penalty in England and Wales by focusing on public attitudes. Instead of the more familiar narrative of parliamentary debates and the role of interest groups such as the Howard League for Penal Reform and the National Council for the Abolition of the Death Penalty, it explores everyday notions of execution in the period leading to abolition. It contributes to scholarship which analyses the cultural life of punishment and aims to understand the public meanings it creates


The project is funded by the following grant.

  • Public Attitudes Towards The Death Penalty (£1383.40 from SOCIO-LEGAL STUDIES ASSOCIATION)


To identify public attitudes towards the death penalty in England and Wales, 1928 - 1965

To place these attitudes in their political, legal, cultural and social contexts

To examine how these public attitudes contributed to mid twentieth-century cultures of punishment


In order to achieve the objectives, the following data will be analysed:

Letters concerning particular capital prisoners from members of the public to Home Secretaries and newspaper editors 1928 - 1965

Open-ended responses from the Mass Observation Capital Punishment Survey1938 - 1956

Recordings of personal oral histories that include recollections of the death penalty in use


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