Foucault News

News and resources on French thinker Michel Foucault (1926-1984)

Carmona, S., Casasola, A., Ezzamel, M.
Penal accountancy and the Spanish Inquisition
(2022) Journal of Accounting and Public Policy, art. no. 107031.

DOI: 10.1016/j.jaccpubpol.2022.107031

In this paper, we examine how accounting and financial conditions mediated public policy processes of prosecution, punishment, and imprisonment in the Spanish Inquisition during the late 16th and early 17th Centuries. Foucault’s (1979) notion of penal accountancy addresses the extent to which punishment is proportionate to the offence; drawing on this notion, the paper asks two research questions. First, what form of penal accountancy was implicated in determining the punishments of offenders? Second, to what extent was penal accountancy malleable to the financial conditions of the Spanish Inquisition? We examine original archives and extant literature on the Spanish Inquisition and draw on the work of Foucault (1979, 1980, 2002) to address these questions. We show that the Spanish Inquisition operated with two modes of punishment; one similar to that of the Ancien Régime where punishment was public execution as sovereign revenge, and a differentiated system of illegality with a penal accountancy that graded punishment according to the severity of the offence. Our findings suggest that the financial and social status of individuals impacted inquisitorial decisions about prosecution, sentencing and imprisonment. Furthermore, we argue that during periods of resource availability sentencing offenders was dominated by religious/political concerns, if at the margin moderated to reflect the offenders’ social conditions. However, sentencing became malleable to shortages in finance whereby penal accountancy worked out equivalences between reduced or commuted sentences in return for money or reduction in prison costs. © 2022 Elsevier Inc.

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