This paper explores the intellectual production of Massimo Pavarini contributing to the sociology of punishment. It sustains that it is possible to identify there some general tensions of this field of studies in its contemporary form, between keys for reading penal discourses and practices that stress alternative points: global versus local, convergence versus divergence, homogeneity versus heterogeneity, deep versus proximate, diachronic versus synchronic. Diverse descriptive and interpretative options are reflected in different moments and segments of Pavarini's contributions to the debate about the penal change in the last 25 years, produced around diverse research questions. I think that the exploration of this intellectual production of Pavarini helps to map these tensions but, at the same time, to define an agenda for future research, particularly important for those that are interested in researching - as the same Massimo did - about national contexts that has not been at the centre of the international debate about contemporary penality in the last decades. In this way, the paper tries to evaluate one of the many legacies that the work of Pavarini left to us.