The Cultural Prison: Discourse, Prisoners, and Punishment (Studies Rhetoric & Communicati)

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9780817308223: The Cultural Prison: Discourse, Prisoners, and Punishment (Studies Rhetoric & Communicati)
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The incarcerated in America's cultural imagination.

The Cultural Prison brings a new dimension to the study of prisoners and punishment by focusing on how the punishment of American offenders is represented and shaped in the mass media through public arguments. The study is based on an analysis of 642 articles collected by the author from American popular journals and magazines, as well as newspaper accounts, films, and public speeches, spanning the years 1950 to 1992. By piecing together and studying these popular narratives, he divides the history of prisoners and punishment into four eras, each marked by a shift in value system. He argues that the discourse, or rhetoric, surrounding prisoners and punishment on the public level works as a historical force that shapes contemporary culture.

The author is concerned that the public seems to have an inability or unwillingness to question or resist cultural definitions of normalcy and legal behavior. He explains that ideally moral behavior should be a matter of public debate rather than of unquestioned perpetuation, and he urges increased understanding of institutional and cultural discipline and our questioning the ways in which the constitution of punishment and prisoners influences us culturally.

The"cultural prison" refers to the way in which this study acts as an investigation of "the discipline of discipline"; it is an examination of the way in which discipline is shaped and formed in public discourse. The volume concludes with a fascinating account of the move to electronic means of surveillance; coupled with the representations of the prisoner along the lines of race and gender, it explains what these new techniques mean to contemporary culture.

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From the Back Cover:

This book offers a comprehensive critical study of popular cultural representations of prisoners from 1950 to the present. Rather than attempting to explain the causes of crime or the actual conditions of prisons, or providing prescriptions for criminal justice policies, the author describes how prisoners and punishment have been represented in popular discourse, most notably along the lines of race and gender. The readings from the period 1950-59 represent the male prisoner as humorous, patriotic, Caucasian, and hapless. Both male and female prisoners are represented as having altruistic motives and as desiring a reunion with the culture previously shunned. During the period 1960-68, the failure of rehabilitation programs and a renewal of prison riots are cited as evidence for often competing depictions of the male prisoner. Representation of the altruistic Caucasian continues, but a different sort of prisoner also emerges, one who becomes "African-Americanized", while seen as increasingly violent. Another split in the dominant representations of the male prisoner emerges during the period 1969-75. In the readings, although the white male prisoner remains forever open for rehabilitation and reunion, the other male prisoner divides into complex characterizations - both violent and both depicted as African-American. Weighted by the depictions of the past and plagued by economic and political events that increase the number of prisoners, the period 1975 to the present is depicted as a complex time when the public has adopted the concept of "just deserts" for prisoners and when the "willing" prisoner has emerged. The "cultural prison" refers to the way in which this study acts as aninvestigation of "the discipline of discipline"; it is a study of the way in which discipline is shaped and formed in public discourse. The volume concludes with a fascinating account of the move to electronic means of surveillance, and coupled with the representations of the prisoner along the lines of race and gender, its explains what these new techniques mean to contemporary culture.

About the Author:

John M. Sloop is Professor and Chair-elect of the Department of Communication Studies and Theatre at Vanderbilt University and author of Disciplining Gender: Rhetorics of Sex Identity in Contemporary U.S. Culture.

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9780817353339: The Cultural Prison: Discourse, Prisoners, and Punishment (Studies Rhetoric & Communicati)

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