Mathiesen studied sociology at the University of Wisconsin (B.A. 1955). He graduated as M.A. in 1958 (major subject: sociology, minor subject: psychology and social anthropology) from the University of Oslo, where he did his doctorate in 1965. In 1972 he was appointed Professor of sociology of law at the Faculty of Law, University of Oslo (emeritus 2004).
He was a visiting professor at the University of California in Santa Barbara (1967) and Berkeley (1975), the University of Tromsø (1980), also the University of Warsaw (1988) and the University of Bremen (1988).
Together with Nils Christie and Louk Hulsman he is a distinguished representative of the prison abolition movement. He writes in Norwegian and English, several of his books have been translated into other languages, including Swedish, Danish, German, Italian and Spanish. Some of Mathiesen's books in English include The Politics of Abolition (1974), Silently Silenced (2004) and Towards a Surveillant Society (2013). His 1995 work The Defences of the Weak was selected for the Norwegian Sociology Canon in 2009–2011.
In The Viewer Society: Michel Foucault's 'Panopticon' revisited (1997), Mathiesen presented the concept of the Synopticon or "surveillance of the many by the few", as the sociological reciprocal of Panopticism, which Foucault described in Discipline and Punish.
Mathiesen also presented a paper at the eleventh symposium of the National Deviancy Conference in September 1972 entitled 'Strategies of Resistance within a Total Institution'.
Publications & Articles (Selections)
- Mathiesen, T. (1965) The Defences of the Weak: A Sociological Study of a Norwegian Correctional Institution, London: Tavistock
- Mathiesen, T. (1972) Beyond the Boundaries of Organisations, California: Glendessary Press
- Mathiesen, T. (1974) The Politics of Abolition, London: Martin Robertson
- Mathiesen, T. (1983) "The future of control systems - the case of Norway" In: Garland, D. & Young, P. (eds) The Power to Punish, London: Heinemann
- Mathiesen, T. (1986) "The Politics of abolition", Contemporary Crises 10: 81-94
- Mathiesen, T. (2004) Silently Silenced, U.K.: Waterside Press
- Mathiesen, T. (2013) Towards a Surveillant Society, U.K.: Waterside Press
- Mathiesen, T. (2017) Cadenza: A Professional Autobiography, U.K.: European Group Press
- Mathiesen, T. (1997) The Viewer Society, Theoretical Criminology, Vol 1(2), Sage Publications, London
- Fitzgerald, M. (1977) Prisoners in Revolt, Harmondsworth: Penguin pg.142