Narrating the guillotine: Punishment technology as myth and symbol

Smith, P. D. (2003) Narrating the guillotine: Punishment technology as myth and symbol. Theory, Culture and Society, 20 5: 27-51. doi:10.1177/02632764030205002

Author Smith, P. D.
Title Narrating the guillotine: Punishment technology as myth and symbol
Journal name Theory, Culture and Society   Check publisher's open access policy
ISSN 0263-2764
Publication date 2003-10
Sub-type Article (original research)
DOI 10.1177/02632764030205002
Volume 20
Issue 5
Start page 27
End page 51
Total pages 25
Editor M. Featherstone
Place of publication London, England
Publisher Sage
Collection year 2003
Language eng
Subject C1
370101 Social Theory
750599 Justice and the law not elsewhere classified
Abstract The work of Michel Foucault sees modern penal technology its ann expression of power that operates through and is motivated by a dry instrumental reason. This article draws upon Durkheim and Bakhtin to advance a radically alternative approach. It is suggested that such technology is invested with sacred and profane symbolism and is understood via emotionally charged, dramatically compelling narrative frames. Tensions between official and unauthorized discourses can be understood through a center/periphery model of culture. In an extended case study of the guillotine, it is shown dial the apparatus was initially legitimated as an expression of a sacred revolutionary code. Such a discourse was subsequently destabilized by popular medical debates that raised the specter of pain after decapitation. While inconclusive, these new motifs mobilized Gothic and grotesque themes that confronted the rationalist aesthetics of the guillotine. A situation of Bakhtinian hetoroglossia eventuated. Uncertainty, the uncanny and fable entered a discursive field of increasing complexity.
Keyword Bakhtin
Q-Index Code C1

Document type: Journal Article
Sub-type: Article (original research)
Collections: 2004 Higher Education Research Data Collection
School of Social Science Publications
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Citation counts: TR Web of Science Citation Count  Cited 23 times in Thomson Reuters Web of Science Article | Citations
Scopus Citation Count Cited 25 times in Scopus Article | Citations
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Created: Wed, 15 Aug 2007, 01:28:36 EST