Social Justice Research

, 22:351 | Cite as

Subjective Proximity to Crime or Social Representations? Explaining Sentencing Attitudes in Switzerland

  • Raphaël Hammer
  • Eric D. Widmer
  • Christian-Nils Robert


Lay sentencing attitudes are considered in the light of two theoretical perspectives. The first perspective views sentencing attitudes as parts of broader sets of social representations anchored in one’s position in the social structure. The second perspective explains sentencing attitudes by their subjective experiences of crime. This paper tests both theories by performing a series of multiple regressions on two dimensions of sentencing: punishment goals and severity of punishment. Empirical data comes from a quantitative survey conducted in Switzerland. Findings reveal that indicators of subjective proximity to crime largely account for sentencing attitudes. Nevertheless, social representations of crime measured by causes of crime also have a significant impact on sentencing attitudes. Implications of these findings for sentencing in Western democracies are discussed.


Sentencing attitudes Punishment goals Severity Subjective proximity to crime Social representations 



This research was supported by grant 100011-112032 (“Les déterminants sociaux des finalités et de l’évaluation d’une juste peine dans les mentalités contemporaines”) of the Swiss National Science Foundation.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media, LLC 2009

Authors and Affiliations

  • Raphaël Hammer
    • 1
  • Eric D. Widmer
    • 2
  • Christian-Nils Robert
    • 3
  1. 1.Centre d’étude, de technique et d’évaluation législatives (CETEL), Faculty of LawUniversity of GenevaGeneva 4Switzerland
  2. 2.Department of Sociology, Faculty of Economic and Social SciencesUniversity of GenevaGeneva 4Switzerland
  3. 3.Department of Criminal Law, Faculty of LawUniversity of GenevaGeneva 4Switzerland

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