University of Hertfordshire

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Labouring out of Adversity: Maconochie, Political Economy and Penal Labour

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Original languageEnglish
Article number22
Number of pages203
Pages (from-to)182-203
JournalHoward Journal of Criminal Justice
Journal publication dateJun 2018
Early online date10 Apr 2018
Publication statusPublished - Jun 2018


The modern prison emerged at broadly the same time as the discourse of political economy and a new understanding of the social meaning of work. This research explores how one penal theorist, Alexander Maconochie (1787–1860), deployed the ideas of political economy to answer key questions central to early‐19th‐Century debates about work's exact role in penal regimes. The reformation of the criminal, Maconochie argued, should be the primary aim of State punishment and this could be achieved through deploying political economy's ‘invisible hand’ to organise penal labour. The final section briefly explores Maconochie's two opportunities to test his theories and shows that, however intellectually coherent they were, in practice they proved impossible to implement.

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