Dead or alive? Reassessing the health of the death penalty and the prospects of global abolition

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There is a growing position among human rights advocates, academics and UN officials, predicting “the death of the death penalty”, and forecasting that it will completely disappear soon. This article questions and problematizes this prediction, exploring the assumptions, premises and gaps that underpin the optimistic outlook. Based on analysis of abolitionist discourse, three fallacies are identified and analyzed: a progressive fallacy, assuming the death penalty is a barbaric anachronism in the “civilized” modern world and displaying a teleological belief in its demise; a classificatory fallacy, entailing defining-down the prevalence of the death penalty through the category of “de-facto abolition”; and a functional fallacy, assuming that repudiating the death penalty as a crime-fighting tool will cause its demise, overlooking its transformation into an institution serving political-symbolic functions. In concluding, I suggest viewing the global death penalty as bifurcated: dying as an ordinary law-enforcement tool, but relatively healthy as an extraordinary political symbol.

Original languageAmerican English
Pages (from-to)139-156
Number of pages18
JournalTheoretical Criminology
Issue number2
StatePublished - 1 May 2024


  • Israel
  • abolition
  • death penalty
  • human rights
  • penal reform

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Law
  • Pathology and Forensic Medicine
  • Sociology and Political Science


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