This wide-ranging study provides the first comprehensive account of the forms, functions, and significance of punishment in modern society. Arguing that penal institutions are social and cultural artefacts as well as techniques of crime control, the book explores the ways in which penality interacts with a variety of social forces, including strategies of power, socio-economic structures, and cultural sensibilities. In constructing his multi-dimensional account, the author re-assesses the interpretations of punishment offered by the Durkheimian, Marxist, and Foucauldian traditions, and goes on to add a more explicitly cultural reading of his own, drawing upon recent work in cultural anthropology and the ideas of Weber and Elias. Throughout the study, the insights of social and historical theory are brought to bear upon the details of contemporary penal practice in a way which illustrates both the particularities of punishing and the general character of modern society. The resulting synthesis is a major achievement which will allow sociologists and historians to gain a better understanding of this complex social institution and will help policy-makers to develop more realistic and appropriate objectives in the field of penal policy.