Unlocking Prisons: Toward a Carceral Taxonomy

  • James C. OlesonEmail author


Jean Baudrillard famously and ominously observed, “prisons are there to conceal the fact that it is the social in its entirety, in its banal omnipresence, which is carceral.” Similarly, Michel Foucault suggested that the prison looms at the center of a carceral landscape, from which radiate attenuated and subtle forms of penal discipline. The spaces in which human liberty is restricted are too numerous to count: prisons, penitentiaries, reformatories, and jails are joined by dungeons, penal colonies, asylums, factories, orphanages, POW camps, immigration detention, police lockups, concentration camps, halfway houses, homeless shelters, and slave quarters. The label, prison, is extended to characterize all of these locations, but what is truly a prison and what is merely metaphor? Several ontological questions are examined: Are prisons necessarily spatial? Must they include buildings? Must they be administered by the state? Does duration of confinement matter? Must confinement be involuntary?


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Copyright information

© The Author(s) 2020

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.University of AucklandAucklandNew Zealand

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