Leviathan: Exploring The Monstrous Agency of Prison

SCCJR Director Sarah Armstrong (University of Glasgow) will present on Leviathan: Exploring The Monstrous Agency of Prison as part of the University of Edinburgh Centre for Law & Society’s seminar series. 4.15pm-6pm, free and open to all.

A pervasive reading of the prison, one which connects a range of diverse literatures from ethnographies to statistical reports, is in terms of the (raced, massed, classed and gendered) body contained. That is, we generally treat prison as a setting of human action. Thus prison is reduced to imprisonment, institutions to institutionalization. I think this perspective is understandable but also dangerous. It directs attention away from the container and onto the contained, thus training critique and reform on the needs (and behaviour) of the inmate. This paper argues for an understanding of the prison’s own, distinctive agency. It uses two films (both titled Leviathan) in combination with approaches in ANT and STS to elaborate this claim. The first step of the argument is an act of dis-assembly, juxtaposing diverse penal representations to see how the problem of prison is translated into the problem of prisoners. The second part of the paper fleshes out the prison’s agency, further claiming that the prison acts partly by obscuring and misrepresenting its agentic role.