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The slide of Punishment. An anthropological study of Post-Modern prison governance

Final Report Summary - TSPAASPMPG (The slide of Punishment. An anthropological study of Post-Modern prison governance)

Project context and objectives
%The development of this anthropological investigation can be summarized in five consecutive phases.
A) To produce the conceptual framework and theoretical construct of the study. In the contemporary debate about the transformation of prison systems, the conceptual development of the investigation has been focused on three interwoven aspects: A.1 Main sociological transformations and philosophical questions related to the transition from a disciplinary society (Modernity) to the control /security society (Postmodernity) from the field of studies regarding prison; A.2 Anthropological and philosophical approaches to the constitution of the subjectivity at the interior of the so-called "total institutions", with particular regard to the relationship between organised practices of power (technologies of dominations) and the definition of subjects (technologies of the self); A.3 Elaboration of an analytical framework to use in therapeutic treatment programmes from the point of view of their social function regarding the system of government of prisons. Critique and elaboration of the concept of governmentality.
B) Design and implement the fieldwork. Using a qualitative approximation inherent to anthropological work (participant observation of the dynamics inside prisons, semi-structured interviews, in-depth interviews, life histories, thematic focus groups, photography register, etc.) the central objective of the fieldwork was focused on the descriptions and analysis of the practical and discursive principles of treatment which are currently being conducted within the Spanish penal system. The methodological decision was made to centre the fieldwork on the various axes and programmes of penitentiary treatment, in two interrelated directions: B.1 Treatment programmes and agents (therapeutic, corrective, preventative, educative, etc.) inside of the prison; B.2 Rehabilitative programmes and agents and those to reintegrate individuals into society (parole, integration, and rehabilitative programmes) which the institution conducts together with NGOs, foundations and other social and community agencies.
C) To produce an ethnographic archive. The analysis of the data obtained has been classified in three main domains: strategies, technologies and discourses. Several specific analytic variables may also be mentioned: (1) criteria and axes which guide treatment in different autonomous communities; (2) different perceptions and opinions of the people involved in penitentiary treatment programmes; (3) conflicts and problems in the treatment programmes; and (4) types of subjectivity associated with different roles.
D) To write the final text: this phase consisted in an interdisciplinary analysis of the data and the framed of conclusions of the study. Based on the results of the fieldwork and systematised in the ethnographic archive, the investigation expects to develop a critical vision about the transformation and effects of the therapeutic devices in the Spanish prison system. In addition, the researcher tries to conceptualise it in terms of a biopolitics strategy over the existence in the context of the transition from the modern punishment to postmodern punishment regime.

The complete final conclusions of this project will be edited in collaboration with the Max Planck Institute and the Duncker & Humblot editorial in Germany. This work is expected to be published in October 2012. With this book, the researcher expects to contribute to delivering information, knowledge and analytical tools to help understand the phenomenon of therapeutic governmentality. This will be useful not only for academic and scientific colleagues but also for other governmental and non-governmental agencies maintaining programmes and activities in the prison environment. It will also contribute to disseminating information about prison in the remainder of society and stimulate a public debate about how and whom we punish and with what consequences for democratic status in postmodern societies.

Project results

The principal project results can be described in four fields:
-a) Theoretical: taking as the point of departure the two main concepts of the proposal (therapeutic governance and punitive agora) the theoretical performance of project has permitted actualisation of the critical debate on three principal notions related to prison issues: post correctional punitive rationality, governmentality, and biopolitics.
-b) Empirical: by carrying out the fieldwork in the investigation it was possible to create a complete database on treatment and rehabilitation programmes inside the Spanish prison environment.
-c) Scientific exchange: the activities of the project have implied a permanent exchange of knowledge between the researcher and several important institutions dedicated to prison issues.
-d) Career consolidation: the researcher has become an expert in charge of investigations into Prison Studies and Total Institutions at the GRECS (Research Group on Exclusion and Social Control at the University of Barcelona). Likewise, he has been invited to join the staff of professors for the official Master's degree in Criminology and Sociology of Law at the Faculty of Law at the University of Barcelona. He has also delivered conferences and lectures in different organisations interested in the problems of incarceration.

Main conclusions

The project has developed a theoretical framework for the analysis of an emerging model of penal management in contemporary Europe (using Spain as the case study) which the researcher has designated therapeutic governmentality (TG). The study analysed the emergence of a type of therapeutic prison that declares itself openly as philanthropic, rehabilitating, and invokes a discourse of social integration.

TG introduces a discourse on health and security through which it mobilises the population towards the build-up of consensus, in a process of clear reformulation of friend/enemy relationships, i.e. of the political problem of order inside prisons. Through this abstract political operation the therapeutic government's practice is creating new disciplinary and control territories at the threshold of a new punitive era and of a new type of "legitimate" violence inside the Spanish prison system.

The TG can be considered as the forefront of a long-term strategy through which (or with which) the Spanish penal environment delineates a clinical-therapeutic solution in the administration of its governance, both to the prison population and the body of guards and professionals who make up the anatomy of the system.

TG contributes to disseminating a neo-political penal discourse whose punitive effects are flexible, mobile and interchangeable. Subjugation is no longer held only by the state agencies, but through NGOs, foundations, social networks, neighbourhood associations, family ties, interpersonal communication, etc.

TG imposes a new regime of truth that denies and eliminates all reference to the social realities (structure of class, marginality, migration, etc.), where the distinction between legal and illegal moves into the background. From this a new clinical moral consensus emerges in the everyday life of the prison: the perspective of social illness/insecurity as commonsense, and the cure as a technique of accessing citizenship and the enjoyment of rights.

The TG moves towards the normativisation of life (existence) as the main preventive strategy; it generates a series of modulations, networks made up of exam, survey and control, through which a delocalised, displaced and disperse punitive action is articulated.

While in the repressive prison the sovereign order deals with life through a "distribution" of death, the TG uses the horizon of death (illness, violence, the drug world of the "other prison") for the conservation and care of life.

This why it is only from a biopolitics paradigm from which the therapeutic metamorphosis of the Spanish prison system can be understood, as a transformation that sets the course towards prison politics of life; about/over life. Once again, the TG problematises the concept of biopolitics because it takes it to the limit, where the power of punishment is at the service of an imminent finality: the mobilisation and management of life itself.