Academic journal article Environment and Planning D: Society and Space

Carceral Geography and the Spatialities of Prison Visiting: Visitation, Recidivism, and Hyperincarceration

Academic journal article Environment and Planning D: Society and Space

Carceral Geography and the Spatialities of Prison Visiting: Visitation, Recidivism, and Hyperincarceration

Article excerpt

"Against the backdrop of unfettered markets and enfeebled social-welfare programs, when the penal system has become a major engine of social stratification and cultural division in its own right, the field study of the prison ceases to be the province of the specialist in crime and punishment to become a window into the deepest contradictions and the darkest secrets of our age" Wacquant (2002, page 389)

The so-called 'punitive turn' has brought new ways of thinking about geography and the state, and has highlighted spaces of incarceration as a new terrain for exploration by geographers. Geographical engagements with incarceration have put these spaces, and experiences within them, firmly on the disciplinary map. In this paper I argue that human geography and specifically the evolving subdiscipline of 'carceral geography' have much to offer to the study of incarceration, and that taking the carceral as a locus of research offers useful opportunities both to invigorate ongoing developments within human geography, and to contribute to positive social change.

In the paper I first synthesise the research agenda of carceral geography, suggesting that geography, as a disciplinary lens, can add significantly to the contemporary study of the carceral, and in particular to understandings of some of the 'accepted tenets' of criminology and prison sociology. Taking one such longstanding 'tenet', the observed relationship between prison visitation and reduced recidivism, I posit prison visitation as a vital and political space, and a set of social practices. To demonstrate the potential contribution of carceral geography, I then consider the spatialities of prison visiting, and develop an agenda for research which conceptualises prison visiting rooms as liminal carceral spaces, arguing that relationships and experiences which take form within these transformative spaces could be key to understanding the link between visitation and recidivism, and that a 'grounding' of recent scholarship in emotional and affectual geographies may enhance understandings of these relationships and experiences in the context of growing concern over hyperincarceration and the carceral continuum of recidivism and repeat imprisonment.

Carceral geography

The term 'carceral geography' (Moran et-al, 2011a; 2011b; Moran et-al, 2013) was coined to describe the new and vibrant field of geographical research into practices of incarceration, viewing such carceral spaces broadly as a type of institution (Hopkins, 2010) whose distributional geographies, and geographies of internal and external social and spatial relations, could be explored. Such work is often informed by and in dialogue with the work of Goffman (1961) on the 'total institution'; of Foucault (1979) on the development of the prison, surveillance, and the regulation of space and docility of bodies; and of Agamben (1998; 2005) on the notion of a space of exception, where sovereign power suspends the law, producing a zone of abandonment. Although the ideas advanced by Goffman, Foucault, and Agamben frequently underpin work in carceral geography, other theoretical frames are also deployed, for example de Certeau's concept of tactics (Baer, 2005), along with theories of liminality and mobility (Moran et-al, 2011b).

Carceral geography is a new but fast-moving and fast-developing subdiscipline. Although the first paper by a geographer published squarely in this field was probably the work of Dirsuweit (1999), the enormous potential of spaces of incarceration for geographical enquiry was highlighted by Philo, who turned a book review into an agenda-setting article (Philo, 2001) germinating the ideas which have informed the development of this area of research in terms of a critical engagement with spaces of confinement and a dialogue with the work of Foucault. The early work of Gilmore (1999; 2002) also ignited geographers' interest in prisons as a 'project of state-building' (2002, page 16). …

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