Forthcoming book: Historical Geographies of Prisons: Unlocking the Usable Carceral Past

Karen Morin and I are excited to announce that our new edited volume is forthcoming with Routledge, in their new Historical Geography series. This book, Historical Geographies of Prisons: Unlocking the Usable Carceral Past, arises from conversations between Karen and I over the past couple of years, and builds both on her Distinguished Historical Geographer Plenary Lecture: Carceral Space and the Usable Past (published here in the Journal of Historical Geography) and on themed sessions we organised at the AAG conference in Tampa earlier this year.

The book, which Routledge intend to launch at the International Conference of Historical Geographers in London in July 2015, analyzes and critiques practices of incarceration, regimes of punishment, and their corresponding spaces of “corrections” from the eighteenth through twentieth centuries in sites spanning the U.S., Canada, Asia, and Latin America. It will be the first volume of its kind to use an explicitly historical-geographical lens to study the development and evolution of prisons. Contributors to the volume collectively argue that an historical geographical approach to studying corrections can improve our understanding of the prison crisis that we see in many parts of the world today (most notably the U.S.), but in order to do so, argue that we must first pragmatically distinguish a “usable” historical geography of the carceral past.

We are delighted to have the opportunity to bring together a volume of original papers, expansive in geographical and historical reach. Our authors range from senior established professors to emerging junior scholars. Contributors to the volume include self-identifying historical geographers as well as experts in carceral pasts who follow historical geography logics and methodologies. We are excited to work with these colleagues, and to bring their work to a diverse audience.

We plan a session at the ICHG in 2015 around the book itself, the themes that it addresses, and the wider context within which it sits – watch this space for more details!


New papers in carceral geography

I’ve been away for a little while, and in the meantime there have been some fascinating papers published which may be of interest to carceral geographers:

For geographers of incarceration working with Agamben’s notion of the space of exception, Marco Antonsich’s recent paper in Area may be of interest. In his paper about the buffer zone between the two sovereign entities of the island of Cyprus, he draws “on a post-colonial reading of this Agambenian notion”, and “analyses the specifics of a ‘terrain of resistance’ deliberately located in the exception”. The paper argues that “rather than being a dispossessing condition, the exception might actually be empowering, because it offers the activists a terrain from which to contest the very norm that they are escaping.”

Karen M Morin’s new paper, published earlier this year in Environment and Planning D: Society and Space, entitled “”Security here is not safe”: violence, punishment, and space in the contemporary US penitentiary” addresses the applicability of Agamben to the carceral context. The paper takes as its focus the US penitentiary at Lewisburg, Pennsylvania, which was retrofitted in 2008 to offer the country’s first federal Special Management Unit (SMU) programme of its kind. This model SMU is designed for federal inmates from around the country identified as the most intractably troublesome, and features double-celling of inmates in tiny spaces, in 23-hour or 24-hour a day lockdown, requiring them to pass through a two-year programme of readjustment. These spatial tactics, and the philosophy of punishment underlying them, contrast with the modern reform ideals upon which the prison was designed and built in 1932. The SMU represents the latest punitive phase in American penology, one that neither simply eliminates men as in the premodern spectacle, nor creates the docile, rehabilitated bodies of the modern panopticon; rather, it is a late-modern structure that produces only fear, terror, violence, and death. This SMU represents the latest of the late-modern prisons, similar to other supermax facilities in the US but offering its own unique system of punishment as well. While the prison exists within the system of American law and jurisprudence, it also manifests features of Agamben’s lawless, camp-like space that emerges during a state of exception, exempt from outside scrutiny with inmate treatment typically beyond the scope of the law.

This paper represents part of Karen Morin’s current research focus, which she discussed in her “Carceral Space and the Usable Past” Distinguished Historical Geography Plenary Lecture, presented at the Annual Conference of the Association of American Geographers in Los Angeles, 2013. Focusing on mass incarceration trends in the U.S., her talk built on an historical geography of the carceral state. It asked what have historical geographers contributed to discussions of U.S. mass incarceration – what spaces, knowledges, and practices have caught our attention, and why? And where should we go from here? Karen argued that in order to build towards other possible non-carceral futures we need to pragmatically distinguish the “usable past.”

In early view on the website of the Annals of the Association of American Geographers, Anne Bonds’ new paper “Economic Development, Racialization, and Privilege: “Yes in My Backyard” Prison Politics and the Reinvention of Madras, Oregon” takes further her work on prison siting. The article draws from geographic engagements with theories of racialization and NIMBYism to explore connections between economic development and the relational construction of racial identities. In the paper, Bonds investigates the discourses of local white leadership surrounding two interconnected economic agendas crafted with the goal of remaking the central Oregon town of Madras into an upscale, white community, including (1) entrepreneurial prison development, and (2) an urban renewal project emphasizing high-income residential construction and the removal of “blighted” housing. Community leaders framed these developments as essential to changing perceptions of Madras based on its racial makeup and entrenched poverty. White officials promoted prison recruitment and upscale housing development through a normative racial framework that reaffirmed the privileged status of whites, stigmatized Latinos and Native Americans, and (re)produced unequal spaces. Through this empirical focus, she calls attention to the centrality of race in economic practices, emphasizing how racialized privilege and marginalization are reproduced through development agendas that give shape to geographies of opportunity and (dis)advantage.