Academic journal article Spatial Practices

Conclusion and Outlook

Academic journal article Spatial Practices

Conclusion and Outlook

Article excerpt

Having established from the outset that media representations tend to present a slanted and highly problematic image of prison officers, I would like to return to the questions that have guided the present work: Why are prison officers marginalised, even though their profession is created and maintained by society? What misapprehensions about the profession fuel its stereotypes? What are the profession's 'inconvenient truths' that feed into the stereotypes, and what are their origins? What does the inside of the prison heterotopia look like from the perspective of prison officers? How can narratives, particularly literary texts, contribute to the deconstruction of stereotypes?

As part of the Spatial Practices series, this book has approached these questions predominantly from a spatial angle. Space, as de Certeau and others have pointed out, is constituted and structured by frontiers - by lines of demarcation. For prison officers, a variety of places and boundaries intersect and impact their self-perception, their position in society and their role identity. The most obvious of the boundaries constituting these places is the one separating officers' place of work from the outside. Here, the topological boundary that delimits the prison as a heterotopia of deviation as a subsystem of the semiosphere is even more crucial than the physical prison walls. I have argued that prison officers are not only confined by the disciplinary places established by the institution, by their occupational cultures and by their tactical dependence on prisoners, but also by the attribution of culturally charged meaning to the prison in general and officers in particular. Their social marginalisation effectively causes the disassociation of the topographical boundary of the prison - its perimeter walls - from the topological boundary of the prison, i.e. the culturally constructed dividing line between a place that is associated with the notion of social deviancy (the heterotopia of deviation) and society at large. In consequence, even when prison officers leave their workplace, they often feel as though they are not only associated with the prison, but basically equated with it and topologically allocated to the place of the social deviant or 'Other'. This inhibits the cultural translation and the social mediation that Lotman envisaged for such interstitial figures as prison officers.

The cultural contamination through association with a place of social deviance is merely one of the factors that contribute to prison officers' marginalisation. As the pervasive identification of narratives with prisoners as victims suggests, the construction of social deviancy is infused with a latent sense of guilt, in compensation of which prison officers are usually constructed as scapegoats. While the deleterious aspects of the system are conveniently projected onto these figures, sanitised institutional discourse can be safeguarded, and the rest of society can figuratively wash their hands off the corollaries of punishment and avoid productive of handling their ambivalent and conflicting attitudes towards it. Apart from the compensation of guilt and issues of contamination with 'deviancy', the almost hermetically sealed nature of the prison and the resultant absence of autoptic experience serves as a breeding ground for conjectures and the proliferation of misapprehensions for the majority of the public, which the present book and the texts under discussion in it contest.

To comprehend the actual position of prison officers and to understand their present-day image, it is necessary to take into account out of what the role emerged, how it developed in relation to the institution and which of these aspects linger on in the public imagination. Considering that the dungeon still features prominently in various media representations - both literally and metaphorically - and that knowledge about actual, contemporary prison officers is usually, to say the least, rudimentary, it is hardly surprising that, in the public imagination, prison officers are sometimes conflated with their precursors, the jailers. …

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