Didier Fassin, Punir. Une Passion Contemporaine

Published date01 July 2019
Date01 July 2019
AuthorNicolás Díaz Letelier
Subject MatterBook reviews
untitled Punishment & Society
Book reviews
2019, Vol. 21(3) 364–389
! The Author(s) 2018
Article reuse guidelines:
DOI: 10.1177/1462474518758388
Didier Fassin, Punir. Une Passion Contemporaine, Seuil: Paris, 2017; 208 pp. ISBN
9782021327083, $30 (pbk)
“Punishment, in so far as it is a social institution, is indeed a remarkable analyzer of
societies, of the affects that pass through them, and of the values which they bear”
(Fassin, 2017b: 37 reviewer’s translation).
Adopting a philosophical and anthropological perspective on affects, values, and
multidisciplinary assessment of the idea of punishment, its foundations, and
the peculiar forms of its circulation. Bursting into a long-standing debate
largely animated by philosophers and jurists, Fassin develops his book starting
from three classical questions that are still profoundly actual: What is punish-
ment? Why is punishment inflicted? Who is being punished? Combining a
genealogical approach as his analytical base and an ethnographic gaze as his
critical lens, Fassin weaves a journey through the discussions and reflections
around these three questions, revealing the many tensions underlying certain
assumptions, propositions, and fundamental opacities of the western punitive
In the first chapter, Fassin delineates a path into certain criteria and connota-
tions through which the act of punishing has been imagined and defined. The
highest point of this path is marked by the semantic equivalence that seems to
exist between punishment and suffering, where the association of both terms has
been translated—both in moral philosophy and in criminal law—into the task of
establishing a precise correspondence between the severity of a transgression and
the suffering imposed to sanction it. In this regard, Fassin develops a genealogical
layout in order to elucidate the transition from a logic of repair, as outlined by

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