University of Sussex

File(s) not publicly available

Race, racialisation and the death penalty in England and Wales, 1900-65

posted on 2023-06-09, 15:02 authored by Lizzie SealLizzie Seal, Alexa NealeAlexa Neale
'Race, Racialisation and the Death Penalty in England and Wales, 1900-65? is an interdisciplinary project being conducted at the University of Sussex funded by the Leverhulme Trust (RPG-2016-352), 2017-19. It draws on concepts, methodologies and modes of analysis from both history and criminology to explore the over-representation of black and other minority ethnic (BME) people among those capitally punished in the twentieth century (roughly 5% of civilian executions were BME compared to 0.3% of the British population in 1950). Classic Sociological studies have established how, by the 1970s, BME and Afro-Caribbean people in particular were criminalised, ?over-policed? and disproportionately punished, portrayed in the media as synonymous with criminality (Hall et al., 1978; Gilroy, 1987). Indeed, it is well established that the BME population of England and Wales continue to be subjected to disproportionate rates of imprisonment, police brutality and deaths in custody in the present (Pemberton, 2015; Williams and Clarke, 2016). ?Race and the Death Penalty? seeks to provide much needed historical context to this contemporary picture, exploring issues of racial discrimination in relation to capital punishment, including the ways in which prosecutions for capital crimes were in practice made racist. Narratives and stereotypes of racial difference and racialised interpretations of defendant?s behaviour are explored through critical readings of archival material produced by police and the courts, and newspaper reporting on individual cases. Further, these case studies are situated within their wider social, cultural and political contexts, including colonialism and postcolonialism, shedding new light on the penal culture of contemporary England and Wales. This paper will share some of the cases emerging from the project, highlighting illustrative narratives that can be understood as ?cultural distance stories?–contemporary narratives that were told by police, courts, press and public to enable the othering of BME defendants.


Race, Racialisation and the Death Penalty in England and Wales, 1900-65; G2062; LEVERHULME TRUST; RPG-2016-352


Publication status

  • Published

Presentation Type

  • paper

Event name

European Social Science History Conference

Event location

Queen's University Belfast

Event type


Event date

4-7 April 2018

Department affiliated with

  • Sociology and Criminology Publications

Full text available

  • No

Peer reviewed?

  • No

Legacy Posted Date


Usage metrics

    University of Sussex (Publications)


    No categories selected


    Ref. manager