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Understandings of Habitual Criminality in England from 1770 to 1870

Churcher, Helen (2017) Understandings of Habitual Criminality in England from 1770 to 1870. PhD thesis, University of Sheffield.

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This thesis explores the nature and role of a discourse of recidivism in England from 1770 to 1870. Using evidence from a wide range of printed, governmental, and manuscript sources, it posits that the existing scholarly focus on mid-nineteenth century legislation and sensationalist print culture provides an incomplete picture of the content, function, and dissemination of this discourse. It challenges the notion that attitudes towards recidivism were homogenous, sensationalist, and almost exclusively related to penal developments in the mid-nineteenth century. It posits instead that recidivism was understood and discussed in a variety of ways from the late eighteenth century onwards. Moreover, it emphasises variety and continuity in attitudes towards criminality which directly impacted upon discourses of recidivism. This variety was central to another key finding of this thesis that discourses of recidivism functioned as vehicles for a number of social and penal arguments. Thus attitudes towards recidivism expressed in this range of sources both replicated and were influenced by the purpose of documents or the experiences of the authors. The first two chapters of this thesis explore attitudes towards recidivism in familiar spheres; print and national penal policy. However, they focus on a broader time period and range of sources, highlighting continuity and diversity in eighteenth and nineteenth-century discourses of recidivism. The final chapter takes the form of a local case study on Birmingham. Moving away from a London-centric world of high government and the national press provides an important point of comparison between ‘expert’ commentary disseminated in the national public sphere, and the realities and discussion of offending, correction and penal reform within a local context. In seeking to better understand contemporary attitudes towards recidivism, the inclusion of a case study alongside an exploration of national discourse not only facilitates an examination of its nature and content, but also an assessment of the origins, development and role of such discourse within the criminal justice system at both local and national levels. Exploring these different contexts allows us to assess the pervasiveness and role of discourses of recidivism at key moments of penal change. It will shed light on how perceptions of recidivism were developed and used in different contexts.

Item Type: Thesis (PhD)
Academic Units: The University of Sheffield > Faculty of Arts and Humanities (Sheffield)
The University of Sheffield > Faculty of Arts and Humanities (Sheffield) > History (Sheffield)
Identification Number/EthosID: uk.bl.ethos.737880
Depositing User: Miss Helen Churcher
Date Deposited: 03 Apr 2018 13:15
Last Modified: 12 Oct 2018 09:53
URI: http://etheses.whiterose.ac.uk/id/eprint/19880

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