Carceral Relations



Penton, Turner

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This thesis analyzes modern penal practices and their effects on prisoners to argue that the harm that prison necessarily produces is both ontological and political, and that the relation between these two existential dimensions is revealed most distinctly by penal practices themselves. Chapter 1, which is developed mostly from the work of Lisa Guenther’s Solitary Confinement: Social Death and its Afterlives, will argue that prison-living is a type of existential harm which denies a person a meaningful life; where ‘meaningful’ is understood to depend on one’s capacity to play a role in defining the parameters of their existence. Chapter 2 will utilize the work of Michel Foucault in Discipline and Punish: The Birth of the Prison to retrace the genealogy of punishment, and to explain the dynamics of a disciplinary system and how its functioning deprives a subject of the existential necessities established in Chapter 1. Developed from Hannah Arendt’s The Human Condition, Chapter 3 will argue that prison and carceral practices represent a failure to maintain an open horizon of freedom, even for the non-incarcerated. This conclusion will be based on Arendt’s notion of “the public”, which requires an open-ended plurality absent in the disciplinary carceral systems described in Chapter 2. Concluding this thesis will be the argument that ‘the political’ and ‘the ontological’ coconstitute ‘the existential’, and by severing the ontological from the political (understood in a distinct Arendtian sense), the carceral system amputates the possibility of meaningful existence. Only by reintroducing plurality can the carceral system allow for this possibility and ultimately for justice.



Lisa Guenther, Michel Foucault, Hannah Arendt, Relational self, Prison, Plurality