2B Contrasts and Contradictions

Monday 17th December 2018 11:30-12:30

2B Contrasts and Contradictions


An ethnography of power, regulation and gender in women’s prisons

Anna Schliehe and Julie Laursen (University of Cambridge)

Comparative analyses generally emphasise the differences between the penal regimes of the Nordic and the Anglo-American countries. Interestingly, however, we found the results from our ethnography on women to be strikingly similar. In this paper we want to explore this further by looking at the relationship between gender and power in England & Wales and Norway. Focussing on women’s experiences and interpretations of space, relationships and order, we analyse women’s narratives through the conceptual lens of ‘weight’ and ‘tightness’ (Crewe 2015). Specifically, our approach involves a horizontal (prisoner-prisoner relationships) as well as vertical (staff-prisoner) analysis of the relational and gendered texture of imprisonment. We are particularly interested in the ways in which the relational and socio-spatial nature of prison life interacts with the feeling of being closely regulated, and thereby contributes to the experience of a particular form of penal oppressiveness. Looking at female prisoners serving different kinds of sentences and at different stages of their imprisonment, the paper advances our understanding of the gendered aspects of confinement as well as adding to comparative carceral research.


So much information, so little knowledge? Questioning prisons as sites of knowledge production and places of circulation of ignorance

Olivier Milhaud (Sorbonne Université)

The purpose of this paper is to present a research project questioning prisons as sites of knowledge production and knowledge circulation in French prisons. Michel Foucault considered prisons as key sites in the nexus of Power/Knowledge. Yet, one can be surprised by the immense loss of knowledge for social workers and medical caregivers when an inmate leaves the prison. As if the detailed information produced in prison is lost when the inmate leaves the walls (from the sudden end of a medical treatment because the medical care outside is not connected enough in relation to the medical care inside, to the end of a professional qualification process because the inmate leaves one prison to another where this professional qualification process is not developed!) From a theoretical standpoint, this questions the notion of carceral circuitry if people “travel” in the circuit without the key knowledge relevant to their situation. How to explain such a situation? Is it due to the standardized information produced in the prison which does not bring enough knowledge about the real situation of the inmate? Is it due to the medical secrecy that leads to a loss for social workers? Is it due to the difference between factual information and knowledge understood as real understanding? Is it due to the difference between knowledge production and knowledge circulation? Lastly, one needs to bear in mind the importance of the right to oblivion for inmates and the risk that this research projects increased the subjectivation of inmates and tighten the control of the criminal system.


Litigation by attrition: Power, order, and capability in US immigration detention

Hallam Tuck (University of Oxford)

Located in the southeastern United States of America, Stewart Detention Center (SDC) is a carceral facility holding roughly 1,900 non-citizens in immigration removal proceedings. Since opening in 2006, SDC has become an emblematic example of the harshness of the national detention system. From 2007 to 2018, 96.7% of detainees at SDC were ordered deported. Moreover, three detainees have died at SDC since May 2017, allegedly due to medical neglect on behalf of CoreCivic, the private corporation that operates the facility. Based on ethnographic fieldwork conducted at SDC in January 2018, this paper examines how a process of exclusion so harsh is made compatible with the established legal and political order of the liberal state. To address this question, this paper develops the concept of ‘litigation by attrition’, referring to a defined relationship between the legal process of removal and the daily order of privatised confinement. At SDC, as nationwide, detainees pass through a court process during which they are provided with concrete legal rights. At the same time, detainees are tightly controlled, faced with multiple uncertainties, and constrained from access to assistance. As such, detainees are practically unable to meaningfully contest removal. Foregrounding lived experiences of detained life, this analysis demonstrates how power operates at a granular level. This paper argues that the system of detention functions precisely because the process of ‘litigation by attrition’ preserves the formal legal order of the liberal state, while constraining the capacity of detainees to exercise legal agency in practice.