07:20 PM to 10:00 PM W
David King Hall 2054
Section Information for Spring 2019
The United States has not always been the world’s leading jailer, the only affluent democracy to make “incapacitation” its criminal justice system’s goal. Once upon a time, it fashioned itself as the very model of what Michel Foucault called “the disciplinary society.” That is, it took an enlightened approach to punishment, progressively tethering it to rehabilitative ideals. Today, it is a carceral state, plain and simple. It posts the highest incarceration rate in the world — as well as the highest violent crime rate among high-income countries.
Nothing in Foucault’s analysis — or anyone else’s, as David Garland has remarked — predicted these developments, which started in about 1973: a sudden punitive turn designed to incapacitate offenders rather than rehabilitate them. The practice of locking people up for long periods of time became the criminal justice system’s organizing principle, and prisons turned into a “reservation system, a quarantine zone” where “purportedly dangerous individuals are segregated in the name of public safety.”
Today, politicians, reporters, and activists from across the political spectrum have analyzed the ongoing crisis of mass incarceration. Their accounts sometimes depict our current plight as an expression of puritanism, as an extension of slavery or Jim Crow, or as an exigency of capitalism. But these approaches fail to address the question that ought to be foremost in front of us: what was the nature of the punitive turn that pushed the US off the path of reform and turned its correctional system into what Loïc Wacquant has called a "rogue institution?"
This course will try to give a clearer understanding of the complex institutional and cultural shifts that created and reproduce the phenomenon of mass incarceration. It will also examine the increasingly decentralized (and even “democratic”) forms of surveillance that have spread with the advent of new media, and which are now multiplying. By the end of the course, we will try to discern a clear path out of the current impasse.
Enrollment is limited to Graduate level students.