Carceral Space, Prisoners and Animals

Reviewed by James Gacek, PhD Candidate, Edinburgh Law School, University of Edinburgh, UK

Morin, K. M. (2018). Carceral space, prisoners and animals. Routledge.

In Carceral Space, Prisoners and Animals Karen M. Morin proposes a novel analysis of human and nonhuman carceral geographies, exploring resonances from a broader vantage point of examining ‘the carceral’ than has been recently endeavoured. As her book suggests, we are within a key moment in history in which the spaces and sites of incarceration and exploitation for human and their nonhuman counterparts are continuing to appear more similar than they are distinct. Such similarities can also be witnessed in and through the carceral logics and processes that operate these spaces of confinement, and Morin’s book provides an excellent step in the right direction to examine key connections across these human and nonhuman carceral spaces.

A thought-provoking and well-structured book, Carceral Space, Prisoners and Animals has six chapters. In Chapter 1, Morin sets the stage by introducing readers to carceral geographical scholarship, bringing together insights from criminology and critical animal studies to expose how constructions of humanness and animality are deeply embedded within the politics and regimes of domination throughout some of the major industries in the United States today. It is through this undertaking that her exploration of the linkages across prisoner and animal carcerality become more apparent and concerning, calling into question processes that have become normalized within various institutional domains. As Morin contends, the further examination of the cross-pollination of themes and brokerages between literatures offers an apt opportunity “to reflect not only on the ways in which industrialized violence against humans and nonhuman animals is naturalized and made possible, but also on the ways that these regimes of violence are maintained together—they are enmeshed and entangled in similar processes, co-constituted and co-articulating in their basic carceral logics” (Morin, 2018: 4; italics in original). Indeed, such similarities can be witnessed within the prisoner death row and/or execution chamber and the animal slaughterhouse (in Chapter 2); sites of laboratory testing of pharmaceutical and other products on incarcerated individuals and captive animals (in Chapter 3); sites of exploited prisoner and animal labour (in Chapter 4); and the prisoner solitary confinement cell and the zoo cage (in Chapter 5). In these chapters Morin persuasively and successfully problematizes the carceral logics at play that pervade and mobilize through these industries. In her attempts to recognize these carceral logics, Morin provides a captivating account of the commodification of vulnerable populations and capital accumulation strategies which become part and parcel to legitimating the sensibilities of power and hierarchies of ‘worthiness’ inherent in the Prison-, Medical-, Agricultural-, and Entertainment Industrial Complexes. Chapter 6 is the Afterword of the book, where Morin recapitulates several significant similarities between the carceral geographies of humans and nonhumans, suggesting that important and policy-related reforms must be progressed if we are to witness the development of “transspecies ethics that is not specifically anthropocentric” (Morin, 2018: 46).

Morin’s work provides an excellent ‘carceral comparison’ that is complicated, sophisticated, warranted and timely. While one could argue that offering a consideration for non-anthropocentric justice for both incarcerated individuals and captive animals does not effectively reconcile the almost indefinite differences across human and nonhuman groups, Morin recognizes this limitation of her project. Indeed, such differences do not mean that advocating for transspecies ethics is all for naught; rather, as Morin argues, acknowledging “the entangled structures, forms, operations, and embodied experiences that span species boundaries at these sites” matter and still matters to the critical resistance already in play (Morin, 2018: 220) where her work to expose some of the interlocking processes involved will aid those of whom fighting to challenge prisoner and animal vulnerability, exploitation, and killing in carceral spaces (Morin, 2018: 221).

Developing a ‘trans-species carceral geography’ that includes spaces of nonhuman captivity, confinement and enclosure alongside that of the human is not a simple task, and as the reader learns of the forms of violence that spans species boundaries at these sites, such a task is not for the faint of heart. However, it is clear that Morin is successful in this endeavour. Morin upsets these normalized processes and calls into question the ordinary and everyday sensibilities that have legitimized such industrialized violence both in the United States and elsewhere. While this book is intended to be educational in the main, it also opens up broader, critical discussions for readers of how they could cultivate an appreciation for their nonhuman counterparts in society. Indeed, one of the main strengths of this book lies in making visible and revealing aspects of our sociality, some of which may be troubling for the reader. The fomentation of knowledge Morin’s book brings to the fore and crystallizes a more capacious conception of the realities many incarcerated individuals and captive animals face and endure on a daily basis. It encourages us to develop enhanced sympathies for complex social situations and ethical commitments towards vulnerable and exploited populations in society, human and nonhuman alike. There is considerable social value in researching trans-species carceral geography, and Carceral Space, Prisoners and Animals is an achievement of this venture.