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Peter Scharff Smith

Professor in the Sociology of Law, University of Oslo

Peter Scharff Smith holds a Master’s degree in social science and history from Roskilde University (1998). Peters early research focused on Danish collaboration during World War II and he co-authored his first two research monographs while still a student, including the bestseller “Under hagekors og Dannebrog. Danskere i Waffen-SS 1940-45” (1998). After this Peters work became more cross-disciplinary and his PhD. was on prison history and the rise of the modern penitentiary. He became a PhD in 2002 at the University of Copenhagen. His thesis “Moralske hospitaler. Det moderne fængselsvæsens gennembrud 1770-1870” was published in 2003. Since 2003 Peters research has primarily lied within the fields of criminology, sociology of law and history. Peter has throughout his career been doing research at the Danish Institute for Human Rights, the University of Copenhagen, Cambridge University, New York University, The Danish National Archive, Roskilde University, The Royal Danish Defense College and Oslo University. Peter has also worked as Research Director at The Danish Institute for Human Rights. He’s articles has been published in, for example, Crime and Justice, Punishment and Society, and Criminal Justice and Behavior as well as in a wide range of other Scandinavian and international journals.

His research monographs and edited collections has been published by Oxford University Press, Palgrave Macmillan, Brill, Gyldendal and several other publishers. Peter’s latest books are “Prisons, Punishment, and the Family: Towards a New Sociology of Punishment?” (Oxford University Press, forthcoming 2018. Co-edited with Rachel Condry) and “Scandinavian Penal History, Culture and Prison Practice: Embraced By the Welfare State?” (Palgrave Macmillan 2017. Co-edited with Thomas Ugelvik).

Peters research falls within four broad thematic clusters:

Punishment and prisons – history, principles and practices.
The human rights system – its practices, principles and normative framework
The criminal justice system and the relatives of offenders
War crimes and the Holocaust

Some of the focal areas within the first two fields of research has been the use and effects of solitary confinement in prisons, remand imprisonment, prisons and human rights, as well as torture prevention and monitoring places of detention. A focal area within the third field of research has been children of imprisoned parents – their situation, problems, and rights. Focal areas within the fourth field of research has been the Waffen-SS, perpetrators, techniques of ‘Othering’ and the Nazi war of extermination at the Eastern front.

Peter also has extensive experience working systematically and methodologically with a combination of research, project work, dialogue, partnerships, awareness raising, and advocacy in an attempt to create concrete prison reforms in Scandinavia and internationally. He has, for example, worked with practical reform projects in Danish prisons, on the promotion of alternatives to solitary confinement practices internationally, and on the creation and promotion of soft-law prison standards in the international human rights community.


  • –present
    Professor in the Sociology of Law, University of Oslo