Foucault News

News and resources on French thinker Michel Foucault (1926-1984)

Schliehe, A., Philo, C., Carlin, B., Fallon, C., Penna, G.
Lockdown under lockdown? Pandemic, the carceral and COVID-19 in British prisons
(2022) Transactions of the Institute of British Geographers

DOI: 10.1111/tran.12557

The relationship between pandemic, or chronic infectious diseases, and the carceral, meaning set-apart spaces of enforced confinement for “wrong-doers,” has a long, tangled history. It features in Foucault’s inquiries into disciplinary power and its associated spatial formations, not least in the shape of the modern prison. Drawing lightly from Foucault’s claims about disciplinary and biopolitical power, as well as on his anti-prison activism, this paper explores three possibilities for penal transformation arising during the early months of COVID-19 in UK prisons (circa March to August 2020). Consulting primary source material, these possibilities are respectively identified as “retrenching,” “reworking” or “reducing” the carceral. A chief finding is that under the press of pandemic “emergency,” the tilt of emphasis has been towards a retrenched or reworked “carceral state,” disappointing any promise of abolition, let alone more humble reduction in carceral conditions. The “biological sub-citizens” of prisons are hence being left especially vulnerable to the press of pandemic, in part precisely because of how carceral spatialities are being intensified.

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