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Behind Walls, Beyond Discipline: Science, Technology and the Carceral State, April 2020


Preliminary schedule. For the complete listings and to register, visit the STS Carceral State website.

Panel 1: Privatization, Technology, and the Carceral State (Thursday, 2-3:50pm)

From investment in surveillance technologies to relying on prison labor, the carceral state--like so many other traditional state functions--is being privatized. The state is turning to the private sector in the hopes that it can reduce costs and corruption and produce scalable technologies for risk assessment, monitoring, and incarceration while generating entrepreneurial activity and even economic growth. But STS scholarship teaches us that technologies are deeply shaped by and embedded in context, and when transported carry with them particular values, assumptions, and imaginaries. What kinds of carceral technologies are being produced and what worlds do they imagine? How must citizens and societies remake themselves in order to fit these new technologies and privatization of the carceral state? What new economies are emerging, and how does this shift the dynamics of power and responsibility among the state, industry, and the people? How might better understandings of carceral privatization advance STS understandings of the public and private sectors vis-a-vis innovation and technology?

Lindsay Smith, Arizona State University
Andrea Quinlan, University of Waterloo
Christina Mejia Visperas, University of Southern California

Keynote (Thursday 4:30-6:00pm)

Keith Breckenridge University of Witwatersand, South Africa

Panel 2: Criminal Knowledge: Evidence, Expertise, and the Carceral State (Friday 9-10:50am)

From physiognomy to predictive policing, technoscience has long been central to the power of the carceral state. At the same time, carceral sites such as prisons, courtrooms, and crime scenes facilitate and even demand technoscientific interventions. Forensic and legal ideals of truth, neutrality, and incontrovertible evidence coexist uncomfortably with the complicated politics of technoscientific expertise. This panel seeks to extend STS insights into the production and politics of expertise through engagement with research on the carceral state. It addresses questions including: How do forensic ideals of evidentiary truth and legal ideals of guilt, innocence, and punishment shape scientific and technical expertise and vice versa? What kinds of expertise do carceral sites make possible, and how does carceral expertise compare across these different sites? 

Kelly Gates, University of California, San Diego
Anthony Ryan Hatch, Wesleyan University
Jorge Nuñez, Kaleidos, Ecuador

Panel 3: Living in a Carceral State (Friday 11-1:00pm)

The twenty-first century carceral state inspires anxieties of a national or even global-scale panopticon. Omniscient and omnipresent technologies report our movements, purchases, communications, and even desires to invisible and unaccountable corporations and government agencies (the public/private distinction having lost effective meaning). In practice, however, some people are obviously more vulnerable to coercive state power than others; intrusive surveillance techniques predate the Internet; and socio-technical systems routinely fail. Moreover, while middle-class consumers fret over exposure of their digital lives, prisoners labor in the shadows of material walls that obstruct democratic oversight. This panel investigates the experiences of the state’s target populations to better
understand the mundane ways people negotiate, evade, reproduce, and resist carceral infrastructures.

Tawana Petty, Detroit Community Technology Project
Carolyn Sufrin, Johns Hopkins School of Medicine, Dept. of Health, Behavior & Society
Ursula Rao, University of Leipzig

Roundtable (Friday 2-3:30pm)

Melissa Burch, Univeristy of Michigan
John Carson, University of Michigan
Heather Ann Thompson, University of Michigan
*with special guest Courtney McClellen, Roman J. Witt Artist in Residence
       & Invited Panelists and the Audience