Last Words, Last Meals, and Last Stands: Agency and Individuality in the Modern Execution Process

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Abstract:

Despite the historical transformation of executions in the United States into cloistered, bureaucratic affairs, two past practices have persisted in modern executions: the opportunities for the condemned to request a special last meal and to make a speech to those assembled to witness the execution. The retention of these practices and the communication of their contents by the state and the media to the public reinforce a conception of those executed as autonomous actors, endowed with agency and individuality. Through these practices, the state and the media reflect and strengthen the oxymoronic construction of offenders in contemporary discourses as self-made monsters who are intrinsically different by choice. Presenting offenders in this way may ultimately maintain the emotional satisfaction needed to sustain the death penalty. Arguments are supported by published last meal requests and final statements in the state of Texas.

Document Type: Research Article

DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.1111/j.1747-4469.2007.00074.x

Affiliations: University of Minnesota, Twin Cities

Publication date: September 1, 2007

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