Session 3: Discourses in/about prison

13:30-15:00    Session 3: Discourses in/about prison Chair: David Scheer 

Carceral photography: Documentar(t)istic representations of prison spaces Dan Kaminski (UCLouvain, Belgium) 

The communication proposal aims to highlight the graphic choices of documentary or art photographers when they work to make visible prison spaces, whether their residents are present or absent. Spatial (access, recoil) and deontological (anonymity) constraints often appear as challenges allowing the distinction of (at least) three ways of representing space in these photographic projects: the geometric documentation of dead space, the visualization of the space inhabited by “body pieces” and the inscription of humans in their environment. The author of the proposal is a criminologist and hopes that his contribution will contribute to establish a useful dialogue between three different areas of expertise: penology, geography, visual studies. This current research field leads to the exploration of basic questions, such as the definition of prison (Milhaud 2009; Turner 2016) and its place in the public space (Milhaud and Morelle 2006), specificities of its space compared to other confinement areas (Altin and Minca 2017), the role of space and its arrangement in the experience of incarceration (Scheer 2016), management of transfers between prison facilities and mobility (Moran, Gill, and Conlon 2013; Turner and Peters 2017; Gill et al. 2016), the use of mobility to manage and legitimate prison (Mincke 2017; Gill 2013), etc.

“You can’t say that in here!” From communication spaces to moral economy in prison Corentin Durand (Université Paris 1 Panthéon-Sorbonne, France) 

This paper introduces a new concept to understand power relations in prison – that of communication space. A particular communication space assembles heterogeneous elements: a spatial and material apparatus, specific modes of participation, and discursive norms about what can be communicated in that space by participants. The concept of communication spaces allows thinking about how formats shape discourses in prison. It offers the opportunity of underlying characteristics – such as distance, initiative, publicity, porosity, openness – to describe the diversity of communication spaces behind bars. The prison corridors where informal and daily communications between prisoners and supervisors take place, the written requests sent by prisoners to prison officials, the face-to-face audiences where one prisoner and one prison manager discuss prison-related grievances and, finally, the disciplinary hearings where communications are polarized by the almost inevitability of punishment set very distinctive spaces in which prisoners and prison officers can negotiate power relations. Studying the opening and renewal of communication spaces between prisoners and prison authorities in France, this paper shows that a proper understanding of the contemporary transformation of prison power relations needs to address the multiplicity and mobility of prison communications between various spaces and various discursive norms. Adopting a bottom-up approach, the analysis of communicational spaces makes it possible to describe a hybrid moral economy of power relations in prison, mixing legal and authoritarian, informal and bureaucratic, cooperative and agonistic. I argue that this may renew our understanding of contemporary pains of imprisonment. This paper mainly draws from fieldwork conducted in two French prisons. It combines ethnographic observation of the expression and handling of grievances, interviews with prisoners and professionals, and analysis of bodies of written or oral communications between prisoners and prison officers.

‘Living in the thieves’ way: The social and cultural capital of carcerality in Georgia Costanza Curro (University of Helsinki, Finland) and Vakhtang Kekoshvili (Georgian-American University, Georgia) 

This paper investigates the construction and organization of space in a shelter for homeless people in Tbilisi, Georgia. The shelter population is largely made up of former prisoners. In late 2000s, zero-tolerance policies and lack of social security dramatically increased the number of inmates, many of whom became homeless after release. Based on observation and interviews with shelter residents, volunteers and medical personnel, our study looks at the ways in which prison experience and familiarity with everyday life prison norms inform understandings, narratives and practices of space beyond prison walls. It has been argued that prison space (architecture and infrastructure) has a pivotal role in shaping inmates’ living experiences (Moran & Jewkes 2015, Piacentini and Slade 2015). How are these experiences transmitted to the shelter space? What kind of boundaries do former prisoners draw between different spaces (public and private, controlled and free)? How do people and items move across spaces within and outside the shelter? Our paper contributes to thegrowing literature on the porosity of prison walls and the interaction of prison and imprisonment with landscapes, livelihoods and relationships ‘outside’ (Johns 2018, Moran 2014, Jefferson 2014, Da Cunha 2008, Wacquant 2001). We aim to delve deeply into ‘carcerality’ from the perspective of space, boundary drawing and boundary crossing, unpacking the metaphorical association ‘this place is like a prison’, which recurs in our participants’ narratives as well as in common speech. The paper addresses the question of what makes a space ‘carceral’ vis-à-vis spaces that are not carceral. We focus on connections and discontinuities between these spaces, and on the ways in which people appropriate these spaces, mark them off and move between them. Finally, we ask what is place of the prison across these spaces and movements, and how locating this place helps broadening our understanding of carcerality.