Metaphors for Prison: A Dialogue

(Day 2 15.20-16.25)


Metaphors for Prison: A Dialogue

Chris Philo (School of Geographical & Earth Sciences, University of Glasgow) : Back to Foucault, again (sorry): ‘star power’ and another look at Foucauldian carceral geographies

It may be that carceral geographers/prison researchers feel that we know all we need to know about Michel Foucault, the French intellectual and critical social historian.  His seminal work Discipline and Punish (1975/1976), with its discussion of Bentham’s Panopticon, related penal forms and a widening ‘carceral archipelago’, is relatively familiar – if still maybe not as fully appreciated as it might be – as part of the furniture behind the emergence of carceral geographies as a new sub-field.  The recent publication (first in French [2013] and then in English [2015]) of Foucault’s 1972-1973 research-based College de France lecture series, The Punitive Society, arguably prompts further reflection on what more or else he can potentially tell us in this respect.  This lecture series sees Foucault preparing the ground for Discipline and Punish, but there is much that is different (not least the very limited attention paid to Bentham’s Panopticon) to what appears in the later monograph.  He worries away at the now largely taken-for-granted nature of imprisonment as punishment, digging deeply into the whole phenomena of ‘confinement’ (or ‘sequestration’) as a tool for dealing with troubled and troublesome populations.  He thereby speaks across the years to ongoing debates in carceral geographies about the spatial fundamentals of the sub-field: namely, the status of a spatial shutting-away of certain peoples in set-apart places.  Moreover, central to The Punitive Society is a thorough-going critical appraisal of what is meant by ‘exclusion’, and the lectures effectively stage a shift in a focus from exclusionary spaces to inclusionary spaces (the latter comprising spaces that simultaneously exclude and include, seeking ultimately to enable the re-inclusion of their occupants in wider society).  In short, here Foucault engages with what I term the ‘spatial primitives’ of carceral geographies, and his provocations should hence remain central to our sub-field.

Ben Crewe (University of Cambridge) : Depth, weight, tightness, breadth: spatial metaphors and the texture of imprisonment

Recent years have seen renewed interest in comparative levels of punitiveness and the political economy of punishment (e.g. Wacquant 2001; 2009; Cavadino and Dignan 2006; Dignan 2008; Pratt 2008a, 2008b). However, few of the studies that have considered such issues have reached very far inside the prison walls to explore the ways in which punishment is experienced in practice. In relying on measures and indicators such as imprisonment rates, material conditions, and ‘inputs’ such as staff training, penal scholars risk providing a superficial analysis of the nature and experience of imprisonment. Furthermore, accounts ‘from above’ tend to assume that all prison institutions within a jurisdiction are similar, flattening differences in the lived experience that prisoners themselves identify as being highly significant. This paper presents a framework for conceptualising and comparing prisons, based on a set of physical and spatial metaphors, namely ‘depth’, ‘weight’, ‘tightness’ and ‘breadth’. It argues that, in differentiating between different aspects of penal treatment and authority – such as interpersonal treatment (‘weight’) and security restrictions (‘depth), for example – this analytic vocabulary enables a more nuanced appreciation of variations between prisons and prisoners’ subjective experiences of confinement. Specifically, it helps in describing the texture of imprisonment, the specific configuration of power that underlies it, and the relationship between these different dimensions of penal power. Drawing on emerging findings from a major comparative study of imprisonment in Norway and England & Wales, the paper explains how the original framework has been refined through empirical enquiry, and considers the wider benefits of a conceptual framework whose terminology is both metaphorical and spatial.