New papers for carceral geographers

I’ve been lucky enough to be invited to review some terrific scholarship recently. Thought-provoking, incisive, troubling and reflective work which I’m excited to see in print. It’s fascinating to see the ways in which geographers are drawing on criminological work, and vice versa – much in the spirit of the conversation we had last week at the European Society of Criminology conference in Porto, Portugal, in which Yvonne Jewkes chaired a roundtable session to which I contributed alongside Marie Hutton, Jen Turner, Anna Schliehe and Andrew Wooff. We’d hoped to be joined by Ben Crewe and Thomas Ugelvik but unfortunately complex conference scheduling got in the way. In any case, there was lively discussion of the different approaches (methodological, theoretical, political – both with a large and a small ‘p’) taken by carceral geographers, criminologists, prison sociologists and ethnographers, and new connections were made.

So in the spirit of that communication, (albeit without the Portuguese sunshine, back in overcast Birmingham), I wanted to share links to some recently published papers that I’ve really enjoyed reading.

Posing in Prison: Family Photographs, Emotional Labor, and Carceral Intimacy Nicole Fleetwood : Abstract : “Posing in Prison” examines vernacular photography and studio portraiture taken inside US prisons through an investigation of the production practices and the circulation of these images in and out of prisons. The photographs include images that document family visits to incarcerated relatives and portraits taken by incarcerated photographers in makeshift studios designed in prison. The article considers how such photographs function as practices of intimacy and belonging for those imprisoned and their loved ones.

This paper really struck a chord with me, as I’m involved in a research project about prison visitation right now (see job ad!) and grappling with what ‘intimacy’ means in this setting, and how it is expressed. Nicole Fleetwood’s paper also reminded me of Alyse Emdur’s Prison Landscapes collection of photographs of prison inmates representing themselves in front of visiting room backdrops. She writes: “Such backdrops, often painted by talented inmates, are used within the prisons as portrait studios. As inmates and their visitors pose for photos in front of these idealized landscapes they pretend, for a brief moment, that they are someplace else. The photographs are given to these visitors as gifts to take home and remember the faces of their loved ones while they are incarcerated. Prison Landscapes explores this little known and largely physically inaccessible genre of painting and portraiture seen only by inmates, visitors, and prison employees. Created specifically for escape and self-representation, the idealized paintings of tropical beaches, fantastical waterfalls, mountain vistas, and cityscapes invite sitters to perform fantasies of freedom.”

The Rise of a More Punitive State: On the Attenuation of Norwegian Penal Exceptionalism in an Era of Welfare State Transformation Victor L. Shammas : Abstract : While sociologists of punishment have been interested in the notion of Nordic penal exceptionalism, rapid changes are taking place in the penal policies of one of the members of the Nordic zone. Norway’s penal state is growing increasingly punitive, and penal exceptionalism appears to be on the wane, evidenced by a growing incarceration rate, increasingly punitive sentiments in the population, moral panics over street crime, raised sentencing levels, the forcible detention and extradition of asylum seekers, punitive drug policies, and the creation of segregated correctional facilities for stigmatized foreign offenders. Penal transformation should be understood as the outcome of symbolic contestation between politicians eager to present themselves as “tough on crime,” increasing differentiation of the social structure that has led to the declining fortunes of rehabilitationism, and a nascent neoliberalization of the welfare state. As a consequence, Europe’s penal landscape may be growing more homogeneous.

A cautionary tale for these troubled times.

Between a Rock and a Hard Place: Delaware Prison Reform and the Urban Landscape, 1961-1977 Yohuru Williams : Abstract : In the midst of several well publicized prison scandals, numerous lawsuits and a mass of studies revealing the squalid nature of U.S. prisons, in the early 1960s and 1970s Delaware was one of a handful of states experimenting with fresh alternatives to incarceration utilizing urban space. The leader of these reform efforts was Paul Keve, acting Delaware Commissioner of Corrections. Keve’s ambitious program was to be anchored in the state’s two largest cities, Wilmington and Dover, where he hoped to use the opportunities afforded by the urban landscape to facilitate and enhance his program of rehabilitation. Keve’s program, however, met with crushing opposition from Delaware’s two rural southern counties who controlled the state legislature. This essay examines the tumultuous history of the period by looking at the state as a microcosm of the nation and how heated discourse over prison reform intersected with the battle to control urban space and how issues of race and Delaware’s political geography ultimately defeated prison reform.

Having recently worked with Karen Morin to put together an edited collection on historical carceral geographies, I found this paper really fascinating, and it reminded me both of Jack Norton’s 2014 AAG paper and subsequent chapter in that collection, and also of Judah Schept’s piece which contrasted a local community’s critique of mass incarceration with its support for local carceral expansion.

A recent special issue of Kritika: Explorations in Russian and Eurasian History on “The Soviet Gulag: New Research and New Interpretations” is also worth a look. The Editors note that : “This special issue… goes to press at a particular moment, at once promising and troubling. In the first instance, it comes at a time when scholarship on the Soviet camp system, which began to grow relatively slowly after the opening of the former Soviet archives, is now gaining a weight and synergy never before achieved…. The title of this special issue is intended to underscore how the new empirical work presented here, as well as the growing number of important recent works, goes hand in hand with a broader reconceptualization of the nature of the Gulag and its role in the Soviet system.”

Power in motion: Tracking time, space, and movement in the British Penal Estate – Luca Follis : Abstract: This paper tracks the impact of prison transfers (and mobility considerations more generally) on the spatio-temporal regimes pursued within the British Penal Estate. I argue that what appear from outside as static spaces of detention are in fact nodes within a network deeply crisscrossed by internal patterns of mobility and the problematics of time–space coordination. I explore the power relations that shape prisoner patterns of movement and highlight the distinctive states of deprivation they generate.

Having had a longstanding interest in the mobilities inherent in the apparent stasis of imprisonment, and working at present at one of the prisons mentioned, I found this an fascinating and enlightening read. Luca Follis describes “the institutional scaffolding that supports and drives the penal estate’s transportation system which is characterized by two countervailing approaches to prisoner transfers (a top-down, instrumental application of prisoner movement pursued alongside and against an embodied, progressive system of prisoner mobility)” (p3), which see the need to displace prisoners in order to accommodate new committals, or the arrival of other prisoners displaced by overcrowding elsewhere, disrupting the intended movements of prisoners through the carceral estate to undertake the programmes of training and rehabilitation to which they are entitled.

With these papers in hand, and Judah Schept’s new book out soon, I’m excited to welcome the new cohort of final year undergraduates taking carceral geography at Birmingham this academic year…

One thought on “New papers for carceral geographers

  1. Pingback: Reblog> New papers for carceral geographers | Sam Kinsley

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