The practice of incarceration, defined as the fact of being involuntarily restrained within a prison or place of confinement, is a key subject of research within contemporary criminology. Building on the work of mid-century studies of the ‘prison society’, empirical research on imprisonment has developed a rich account of experiences of confinement within penal facilities. Similarly, much of contemporary criminological theory has been indelibly shaped by Michel Foucault’s (1972) account of discipline, power, and the ‘birth of the prison.’ Attention to the causes, consequences, and politics of mass incarceration have brought new critical perspectives from history, political science, and law. Overall, this research has made vital, defining contributions to our shared understanding of incarceration. 

Nonetheless, this research has often reflected a narrow picture of what constitutes incarceration, where it is practiced, and how it might be studied. Existing research on carceral confinement has been predominantly concerned with specific carceral forms, devoting attention to the study of formal penal facilities. Much like the rest of criminology, research on incarceration has focused pre-dominantly on northern countries, while paying comparatively less attention to the historical experience of the global south, and historical links with colonialism and empire building. Further, while a body of literature on incarceration explores the enmeshment of race and imprisonment, criminology has tended to focus on the numerical incidence of racial disproportionality in incarceration, without critically theorizing the often-subtle manifestations of race in criminal justice practices that occur at the micro, meso and macro level. Although much has been made of the ‘curious eclipse of prison ethnography’ , research on incarceration continues to be dominated by either detailed, micro-level ethnographic case studies of single institutions, or macro-level analyses of the ‘grand narratives’ of incarceration.

The Carceral Studies seminar series aims to bring together research that expands and re-frames existing empirical and conceptual studies of incarceration. To this end, we are interested in research that examines practices of incarceration and confinement across the carceral continuum, draws attention to incarceration outside of the global north, critically theorizes the intersection between race and incarceration, and incorporates new, inter-disciplinary methods for studying involuntary confinement. Moreover, although many members of the Centre conduct research on prisons, detention, and other forms of involuntary confinement, there is no existing forum for the discussion of research on incarceration. By filling this gap, the Carceral Studies seminar aims to increase dialogue between members of the Centre researching incarceration in different contexts, develop an organized network for this study, and promote research on this subject in the future.

The seminar series will be comprised of three events per term, with the inaugural event to be held during Hilary term of the 2022/23 academic year. We are particularly interested in presenting the work of early-career researchers and aim to showcase research from early-career scholars associated with the Centre for Criminology while also bringing a diverse range of perspectives from outside of the University.