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'Imaginary Rehabilitation in the Imaginary Prison'

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Although not the focus of prison scholarship until very recently when researchers in criminology and carceral geography prompted a ‘spatial turn’ in qualitative studies of imprisonment, it is now common to highlight the spatial features of incarceration, or to note the contribution physical environment makes to the pains of imprisonment, even when the study is ostensibly about something else. Opinions are often expressed from an externalist, privilege-centric viewpoint, based on fleeting and impressionistic experiences about what incarceration in these buildings must be like. This seminar will develop Carlen’s notion of ‘Imaginary Penalities’ to explore the ways in which penal architecture and design have become regarded as symbolic indicators of rehabilitative intentions and outcomes. It will problematise the cultural export of Nordic penal exceptionalism and its half-hearted importation into UK prisons and will argue that ‘rehabilitative culture’ is a myth that ignores material reality, perpetuates the ‘imaginary prison’, and masks the fact that not all penal objectives, however well-meaning, are realisable.

This talk is part of the Public Thursday Seminars, Institute of Criminology series.

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