While the institution of incarceration has a long and complex genealogy, its exponential growth and reach in the United States in the last thirty years is palpable and profound, affecting millions of persons, families, and communities. In response to these realities, the Carceral Geographies Course Thread considers imprisonment, its historical and contemporary consequences, and the institutions, knowledges, and interests that have sustained it. Statistics can be used to tell only a small part of the story; conditions shaping “carcerality” require intensive inquiry across the full range of humanities and social sciences disciplines as well. The Carceral Geographies Course Thread grew out of the cross-disciplinary discussions of the Townsend Center’s Strategic Working Group “Critical Prison Studies in the Age of Mass Incarceration.” The Course Thread faculty considered carcerality in a broad plane of social, cultural, and political life from the perspectives of law, medical anthropology, education, history, sociology, literature, critical race studies, architecture, and geography.
In navigating the Carceral Geographies Course Thread, students are invited to explore a range of foundational questions: How do we understand the relationship between carcerality and conceptions of human being? How does carcerality inform concepts of time, place, and space? How does it inform liberal democracy’s formative distinctions (public/private, freedom/enslavement, liberty/security, citizen/alien, peace/war)? What are the formal, affective, and aesthetic contours of representations of and knowledge about carceral life? Beyond asking these questions of the contemporary world, the Course Thread encourages a broad comparative and relational investigation of carcerality across fields related to history, cultural studies, and comparative literature.