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Working title of PhD: Reclaimable citizens, incorrigible offenders, and the space between: A socio-historical examination of civic boundaries in a penal welfarist state.

Full or Part time: Full time

Year Commenced: 2024

Supervisors: Fergus McNeill and Angus Ferguson

Funding Source: ESRC funded


Whilst criminology has been critiqued for an analytical proclivity towards ‘presentism’, scholars are increasingly recognising the value of engaging with the past. Detailed historical analysis not only exposes established theoretical accounts of penal change to empirical scrutiny, but also denaturalises the ‘common-sense’ assumptions inscribed into contemporary practice, thereby inviting the possibility of reform. This project will focus on a much-neglected aspect of our penal history; namely, the development of probation in Scotland and its maturation through the twentieth century. Whilst academic interest in the supervision of offenders has risen in recent decades, its Scottish history remains largely overlooked. This project will redress this neglect.

Throughout its history, probation has, to varying degrees, sought the civic restoration of those who violate society’s laws and norms. Yet evaluative judgements have always been involved in determining which offenders can, and cannot, be civically restored. In this sense, probation constitutes a key site of civic demarcation whereby the bounds of our penal ‘tolerance’ are reflected and expressed. Yet little is known about how these boundaries have been drawn, and re-drawn, in Scotland since probation’s inception at the turn of the twentieth century. Whilst Scotland is generally thought to have developed and sustained a distinctively welfarist approach to state punishment, recent research (more focused on the history of imprisonment) questions this characterisation. By undertaking original historical research, this project will examine how the limits of Scottish welfarism have been institutionally drawn, maintained, and re-negotiated within the context of community punishment over time.


Keywords: Probation, Supervision, Historical Criminology



University of Glasgow

Research Themes

Punishment, Citizenship and Communities

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