Louise Brangan

PhD Student


Working Title of PhD: Comparative penal sensibilities in Irish and Scottish politics and policy

Year commenced PhD study: 2011 (Part-time)
Institution: University of Edinburgh
Funding Source: Fulbright Visiting Scholar Award 2015
PhD Supervisors: Professor Lesley McAra and Professor Richard Sparks

Synopsis: This research is concerned with the organisational dynamics and cultural practices of penal politics and policy-making in Ireland and Scotland from 1970-1998. Penal policy-making during this period in Ireland and Scotland is generally characterised as having been pragmatic and welfarist, respectively. Interestingly, in many ways Irish and Scottish penal policy-making did not appear to mirror the punitive patterns of late modern penality which are often observed as having dominated penal politics in other Anglophone countries during this time. Therefore, I am interested in how and to what degree the policy-making and political dimensions have shaped Irish and Scottish patterns of punishment.

Currently I am tracing the outline of the institutions which formed the locus of penal policy-making in Ireland and Scotland during this period. As such, I am interested in mapping the various bodies, NGOs, public lobby groups, civil servants, experts and political departments that had a voice in or influence upon the penal policy-making process. Organisations matter as they formally shape the very concrete regulations, expectations and constraints which direct the day to day practice of policy-making. Charting the difference in Irish and Scottish penal policy-making institutions and their operational boundaries is an important first step in comparatively reviewing convergence and divergence in Irish and Scottish penality.

Secondly, this research is also exploring the cultural currents within these sites of penal power. At present I am in the midst of trying to locate those civil servants, policymakers and other invested actors, experts and agencies from this period to discuss their work and reflect upon their careers and the points at which intersected with punishment. Employing qualitative interviewing techniques, the study aims to capture the texture of values and unravel the dense penal sensibilities which constituted the policy-making culture and formed the interpretive and constructive practice of penal politics and policy-making in Ireland and Scotland.

Publications: Sparks, R., Bird, J. and Brangan, L. (2015 forthcoming) ‘The Politics of Imprisonment’ in Handbook on Prisons. Bennett, J., Crewe, B. and Jewkes, Y., (eds.). Willan Publishing.

Keywords: Sociology of punishment, penal sensibilities, politics



School of Law
University of Edinburgh
Old College, South Bridge

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