Geographies of confinement : America's carceral bulwark, 1973-2022

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2022-11-28

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Barber, Judson Grant

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Abstract

This study examines two distinct planes along which prisons have become naturalized in the United States during the late twentieth and early twenty-first centuries, paying special attention to the ways in which the carceral institution has been used to generate capital value. Focusing on museums and tourist attractions, narrative fiction, visual media, and real estate development in rural California, this study considers the prison’s novel importance to the cultural and economic function and survival of the state and nation at-large. The proliferation of the prison, in both real space and the cultural imaginary, has produced barriers to abolition that now appear indestructible and insurmountable. The primary attempt in this study is to demonstrate why and where these barriers now exist, and to consider what cultural and economic revolutions must occur for the prison to be supplanted by more productive, equitable, and just alternatives as activists and academics have championed for decades. The prison, like taxes or insurance, is one of many things we have come to assume the existence and necessity of in American culture. This assumption is so deeply rooted that we’ve lost the ability to analyze its integrity objectively and critically. This interdisciplinary project contributes to discourses in cultural geography, museum studies, and carceral studies by examining the prison as a broad cultural event rather than as a narrow social or political issue, locating the crux of abolition most prominently in economic dependence and cultural assumption.

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