Title page for ETD etd-05012001-122101

Type of Document Dissertation
Author Seitz, Katrina Nannette
URN etd-05012001-122101
Title The Transition of Methods of Execution in North Carolina: A Descriptive Social History of Two Time Periods, 1935 and 1983
Degree PhD
Department Sociology
Advisory Committee
Advisor Name Title
Bryant, Clifton D. Committee Chair
de Wolf, Peggy L. Committee Co-Chair
Axsom, Daniel K. Committee Member
Jones, Kathleen W. Committee Member
Shoemaker, Donald J. Committee Member
  • Executions
  • North Carolina
  • Deviance
  • Capital Punishment
Date of Defense 2001-04-18
Availability unrestricted
The Transition of Methods of Execution in North Carolina:

A Descriptive Social History of Two Time Periods, 1935 and 1983

Katrina N. Seitz


The death penalty has been an area of focus in several academic disciplines, yet modest literature has been generated which examines the sanction from a sociological perspective. Most of the sociological interest in capital punishment is directed at examining and explaining racial disparities in sentencing, its effectiveness as a deterrent to violent crime, or its use as a mode of formal social control. Although execution methods have changed frequently over time in the United States, there is a paucity of research examining this phenomenon through a sociological lens. The extant literature identifies changing societal ideologies regarding the use of institutionalized violence as the impeti for legislative shifts in methods of execution. While these studies are useful in partially explaining method changes through time, there is a dearth of work which specifically addresses the dialectical process by which meanings attached to methods of punishment are socially constructed and negotiated, what social agents are engaged, and how this process occurs with respect to historical context.

This dissertation examines the legislative changes in execution methods at two points in time in North Carolina’s history, 1935 and 1983. Grounded in a hybrid theoretical foundation of functionalist and interactionist perspectives, this study is a qualitative analysis of historical primary and secondary data. One goal of this project is to identify how social context informed ideologies of state-sanctioned death. Furthermore, this study attempts to reveal some of the various social agents who engaged in the process of negotiating meaning, how this process manifested itself, and how historical context may have influenced differences in legislative motive during the two transition years.

A comparative analysis of the data reveals that deference to the institutions of science, technology, and medicine was vital to the process of socially reconstructing and redefining methods of execution at both points in time. However, findings also indicate that public exposure to an existing method of execution as well as historically relative ideologies concerning state-sanctioned death greatly affect how the negotiation of meaning transpires.

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