Tinkering with the Machinery of Death: The Body-as-Gauge in Discourses About Capital Punishment

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This essay argues that the metaphor “body-as-gauge” guides capital punishment discourse, from advocates who protest the death penalty to the protocols employed to administer the punishment and from the government that enacts the penalty to appellate judicial opinions that determine its constitutionality. The body-as-gauge provides auditors an instrument through which to evaluate how pain and suffering are processed through the corporeal form of the accused. The body-as-gauge does not deter crime; the body-as-gauge evaluates method of punishment. Notable deaths demonstrate how, when the body-as-gauge reads suffering as high, the government abandons certain methods of punishment or hides the mechanism of death. The sense of suffering read, upon the bodily meter requires the judicial branch to consider the Eighth Amendment mandate that punishment not be cruel and unusual. Yet the body-as-gauge extends beyond the material borders of the accused to take up the question of how the body politic responds to different forms of execution. Evolving standards of decency have resulted in certain bodies-as-gauge forbidden from use in the machinery of death.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)153-170
Number of pages18
JournalArgumentation and Advocacy
Issue number3
StatePublished - 2015


  • Eighth Amendment
  • body
  • capital punishment
  • cruel and unusual
  • metaphor
  • rhetorical criticism


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