Cloth $35.00 ISBN: 9780226066691 Published November 2016
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Executing Freedom

The Cultural Life of Capital Punishment in the United States

Daniel LaChance

Executing Freedom

Daniel LaChance

272 pages | 9 halftones, 1 line drawing | 6 x 9 | © 2016
Cloth $35.00 ISBN: 9780226066691 Published November 2016
E-book $35.00 About E-books ISBN: 9780226066721 Published November 2016
In the mid-1990s, as public trust in big government was near an all-time low, 80% of Americans told Gallup that they supported the death penalty. Why did people who didn’t trust government to regulate the economy or provide daily services nonetheless believe that it should have the power to put its citizens to death?

That question is at the heart of Executing Freedom, a powerful, wide-ranging examination of the place of the death penalty in American culture and how it has changed over the years. Drawing on an array of sources, including congressional hearings and campaign speeches, true crime classics like In Cold Blood, and films like Dead Man Walking, Daniel LaChance shows how attitudes toward the death penalty have reflected broader shifts in Americans’ thinking about the relationship between the individual and the state. Emerging from the height of 1970s disillusion, the simplicity and moral power of the death penalty became a potent symbol for many Americans of what government could do—and LaChance argues, fascinatingly, that it’s the very failure of capital punishment to live up to that mythology that could prove its eventual undoing in the United States.
Contents
Introduction: When Bundy Buckles Up
Part 1 From Rehabilitation to Retribution
1 “Inside Your Daddy’s House”: Capital Punishment and Creeping Nihilism in the Atomic Age
2 “The Respect Which Is Due Them as Men”: The Rise of Retribution in a Polarizing Nation 
Part 2 Executable Subjects
3 Fixed Risks and Free Souls: Judging and Executing Capital Defendants after Gregg v. Georgia 
4 Shock Therapy: The Rehabilitation of Capital Punishment 
Part 3 The Killing State
5 “A Country Worthy of Heroes”: The Old West and the New American Death Penalty 
6 Father Knows Best: Capital Punishment as a Family Value 
Epilogue: Disabling Freedom 
Notes 
Index
Review Quotes
Austin Sarat | author of Gruesome Spectacles: Botched Executions and America’s Death Penalty
Executing Freedom is a truly extraordinary book. It offers a remarkable reading of the resonance of America’s death penalty and some of the deepest strains in our culture, in particular beliefs about negative freedom. In addition, LaChance offers important lessons for abolitionists, warning that the problems in the death penalty system are not simply its assault on human dignity or its arbitrary and flawed administration, but rather its failure to generate the meaning that modern citizens crave. From start to finish, this book provides a sophisticated and persuasive analysis of the cultural life of capital punishment.”
Stuart Banner, author of The Death Penalty: An American History
Executing Freedom is a brilliant exploration of capital punishment’s place in American culture over the past half century. LaChance connects the death penalty to virtually every aspect of American life, including movies, politics, religion, and the family. This book is a must-read for anyone interested in capital punishment.”
Patricia Ewick, author of The Common Place of Law: Stories from Everyday Life
“LaChance brilliantly reframes the recent history of the death penalty in the United States around the competing discourses of freedom, governance, and agency. His analysis is complex and compelling. Interpreting  fictional and non-fictional sources of crime and punishment ranging from In Cold Blood to the TV series Dexter, he argues that the death penalty reemerged in the 1970s as an assertion of the negative freedoms ‘from’ big, centralized, welfare oriented, technocratic government.  His conclusion regarding the future of the death penalty is startling: the death penalty will become a casualty of its own success. Not only has it failed in its promise of retributive justice and moral certainty, it has become the apotheosis of big government programs it was supposed to supplant. This book will change the way scholars think about the death penalty and the way activists work to abolish it.”
Political and Legal Anthropology Review
“Exemplifying anthropologists’ attentiveness to the movement of legal ideas in and out of the courtroom, LaChance traces shifting perceptions of—and support for—the death penalty in relation to Americans’ formulations of freedom. . . . LaChance suggests that abolitionists would be wise to highlight the moral dissatisfaction of victims and their families whose suffering is prolonged by lengthy appellate litigation. Rather than glorify executions, death penalty narratives should draw attention to that which is unremarkable about capital punishment— depicting the sanction as a senseless interruption of life for the condemned.”
For more information, or to order this book, please visit http://www.press.uchicago.edu
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