4B Carceral Imaginaries

Parallel Session 4B (Day 2 11.-00-12.00)

Carceral Imaginaries

 Aylwyn Walsh (University of Leeds) : The Breach: Fugitivity as/and resistance in Orange is the New Black

In the Netherlands, about a third of the available incarceration space is currently vacant (de Volkskrant 21 March 2016). This space is sometimes used to house prisoners from other European countries like Norway and Belgium, or is made available for refugees. What seems to be a new trend, at least in the Netherlands, is that these prisons are also used for entertainment purposes, particularly escape room games. One example is the Bijlmerbajes in Amsterdam, which was closed as a prison in 2016. Currently, it houses 600 refugees, some of whom run the coffee bar, gourmet restaurant and hotel on the premises. Also, one can take tours through vacant parts of the prison and take part in an escape room game. I am interested in the types of narratives and discourses produced by these escape rooms, where visitors are locked up and need to escape from their cell and cellblock in order to win the game. I explore the (popular) cultural references used in producing a specific look and feel for the visitor, and ultimately how these escape rooms tie in with current discussions about incarceration as a social, political and ethical issue. The paper takes Monika Fludernik’s metaphoric notion of the “carceral imaginary” (2005) as a starting point for studying the ways in which two escape rooms in Amsterdam and Breda respectively engage with cultural representations of incarceration. What type of subject positions (Fiske 1987) and collective carceral imaginaries are presupposed and what alternative readings of prison space are made possible? To what extent is this playful and affective make-belief engagement with prison space structured by exoticism of the “foreign” prison world, rather than by punitive desires on the part of the public (Kearon 2012)? How does this trend relate to cultural beliefs about incarceration?