Prison Duncan Argues That the Very Metaphors Essay

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Duncan argues that the very metaphors we employ in the criminal / social justice / penal system limit: (1) our understanding of deviants, and (2) possibilities of reform. Explain both (hint: consider metaphors Duncan uses such as "dirt bag," "slime," "cancer," "war" on drugs, etc.)

Martha Duncan's study Romantic Outlaws, Beloved Prisons (1996) explores the limits of language, specifically current metaphorical language to guide society in addressing the problems of crime. For example, to say that a criminal is a dirt bag implies that like dirt, society can be expunged clean of all criminals. But the character of a human being is not an objective 'thing' and criminality, unlike dirt or slime, has more than one source, and although slime makes a criminal seem like a worthless object that can be thrown away -- even though, of course a person is no such thing (4). Likewise, a cancer can be cut out from a human being's physical being, but the roots of crime, which have complex psychological and sociological reasons, cannot fully be eradicated from any human society although they may be tempered.

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Central to Duncan's thesis is that criminals have a complex relationship with non-criminals in wider society. Society both admires the deviant, as well as seeks to cast the deviant as other or beyond the pale. Often the persons who seem most revolted by criminality, "energetically barring from their consciousness" through repression or even persecution those persons who are called criminal, fear becoming deviant themselves (4). When metaphors of us vs. them, like a war, are used to validate such a philosophy, the fact that 'they' are actually 'us,' or produced by our system is easily and conveniently forgotten.

Essay on Prison Duncan Argues That the Very Metaphors Assignment

Societies' metaphors for prisons must not validate and even encourage such limiting conceptions of what is deemed criminal and worthy of imprisonment. Duncan essentially argues that the debate over criminality and prison reform has itself become a prison of limiting metaphors. These limiting metaphors expunge the real, lived experiences of criminals with fantasies of what imprisonment and criminality is or should be, and gives no realistic guide about improving prison conditions or conditions that drive people to commit crimes.


Duncan's methodology was to make use of writings of prisoners themselves rather than consulting criminology scholars. (a) Explain the pros and cons of this methodology. (b) Foucault's analysis is more of a historical analysis of the rise of prisons. The notion of the "Panopticon" and "disciplinary mechanisms" has many applications (prisons, factories, military, school, hospital), particularly in creating bodies of utility and docility." Explain in your own words.

To unpack the limiting conceptions of society's metaphors for criminality, Duncan turns to the original, unvarnished speech of prisoners. Her attempt suggests to some degree that Duncan believes in real, raw experience and the ability of that experience to uncut the current metaphors society uses to describe prisons. Foucault, however, believes that there is no such thing as pure experience, and that experience is always filtered through historical assumptions. Using the words of prisoners themselves, Foucault would believe merely recreates the same sort of linguistic tropes that exist when people who have never been in prison describe prisons and deviancy and locks the scholar in the same metaphorical prison as the prisoners. To try to attempt to escape the prison, a scholar must stand back and locate the construction of the institution as a historical product, before the institution was a given.

Foucault calls his book a study of the creation of the modern prison and methods of punishment, but it really uses the prison as a metaphor for society, as well as explains a shift from seeing criminality as something that must be cut out of society and criminals as persons made examples of, to the medicalization and psychologization of crime. In Foucault's understanding, we are all in prisons, as we dwell in society, constantly scrutinizing out own behavior for variance and deviance from the norm. Once the prisoner, the student, or the patient feels as though he or she is being watched, that person monitors that behavior, makes the behavior part of his or her character, even when alone and ostensibly free from constraint -- as a soldier still makes his or her bed with hospital corners, a student fears authority because of his or he exposure to terrifying teachers in school, or a sick person follows the 'doctor's orders,' and a soldier still walks with the same rigid bearing that he or she learned in basic training.

Question 3 recent Chicago Tribune article (2/18/06) notes 80% of a sample of Chicagoans favoring the use of surveillance cameras in order to reduce crime. 58% support requiring businesses open 12 hours a day or more to install security cameras. Explain the wider ramifications of this by specifically using Foucault's notion of "panopticism." (b) Duncan argues that there is both an attraction to prison and an admiration for the criminal. Consequently, she explains, we get the type of penal system (and criminal justice system) that we deserve. In other words, in its failure it is a success. Explain.

Although we might like to think, as Americans, that we desire freedom and uphold this value above all other values, when forced to look behind the slogan of freedom and justice for all, a different truth begins to emerge. When asked if crime reduction is a virtue, Chicagoans said they would be more than willing to be 'watched,' without considering how the sense of being constantly observed will affect their behavior. Foucault might state that people have become so accustomed to being watched, in schools and hospitals and now, in the workforce (Foucault wrote before the age of mandatory drug testing and background checks) that the idea of being watched in the name of crime prevention, of allowing the Panopticon to encompass the innocent as well as the guilty, seems like a very small sacrifice of what we have already given up. Perhaps, Foucault would say, people will no longer stumble into the 7-11 for two pints of Ben & Jerry's at three in the morning for fear of being spied upon and having the moment caught on camera forever, for who wants to be seen in one's bathroom while binging after a bad day at work? Covert smokers might be more motivated to quit, for fear of being watched, if they are not already embarrassed by the clerk's disapproving stare. But is this supposed better behavior worth living in a fishbowl, even at 12am in a convenience store? How will this footage be used?

Duncan suggests that rather than wishing to create better people, however, the prison system wishes to perpetuate deviance, in the love/hate relationship society has with criminals. America loves the outlaw, the cowboy, so long as the cowboy is caught, and watches with fascination in the news and in series like "Oz" and the "Sopranos" what life is like on the inside and the outside of the criminal world. The fact that crime continues within prisons only fuels the fascination, although publicizing prisons might also give people the opportunity to seem superficially outraged -- another attraction of such shows, because it allows people to be voyeurs yet confirm their own goodness and normalcy.


Assess Rusche and Kirchheimer's "less eligibility" thesis ("If penal sanctions are to deter the lower social classes which are the most criminally inclined- those whose class, poverty and demoralization drives them to crime - they must be worse than the living conditions this 'lower strata'") in light of Duncan's thesis on the attractions of prison.

Rusche and Kirchheimer suggest that prison has its attractions because it provides a society based upon community and solidarity for people with few social ties or prospects at bettering their lives. The terrible food, housing, and constraints upon freedom… [END OF PREVIEW] . . . READ MORE

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