The Cultural Prison: Discourse, Prisoners, and Punishment

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This book offers a comprehensive critical study of popular cultural representations of prisoners from 1950 to the present. Rather than attempting to explain the causes of crime or the actual conditions of prisons, or providing prescriptions for criminal justice policies, the author describes how prisoners and punishment have been represented in popular discourse, most notably along the lines of race and gender. The readings from the period 1950-59 represent the male prisoner as humorous, patriotic, Caucasian, and hapless. Both male and female prisoners are represented as having altruistic motives and as desiring a reunion with the culture previously shunned. During the period 1960-68, the failure of rehabilitation programs and a renewal of prison riots are cited as evidence for often competing depictions of the male prisoner. Representation of the altruistic Caucasian continues, but a different sort of prisoner also emerges, one who becomes "African-Americanized," while seen as increasingly violent. Another split in the dominant representations of the male prisoner emerges during the period 1969-75. In the readings, although the white male prisoner remains forever open for rehabilitation and reunion, the other male prisoner divides into complex characterizations - both violent and both depicted as African-American. Weighted by the depictions of the past and plagued by economic and political events that increase the number of prisoners, the period 1975 to the present is depicted as a complex time when the public has adopted the concept of "just deserts" for prisoners and when the "willing" prisoner has emerged. The "cultural prison" refers to the way in which this study acts as an investigation of "the discipline of discipline"; it is a study of the way in which discipline is shaped and formed in public discourse. The volume concludes with a fascinating account of the move to electronic means of surveillance, and coupled with the representations of the prisoner
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Editorial Reviews

A study of popular cultural representations of prisoners, drawing on some 600 articles collected from American popular journals and newspapers, films, and public speeches from 1950 to 1992. Describes how prisoners and punishment have been represented in popular discourse, especially along the lines of race and gender, and traces the evolution of the view of the male prisoner as a patriotic Caucasian to a violent African-American. Annotation c. Book News, Inc., Portland, OR (
From the Publisher
"Sloop's The Cultural Prison is a stunning analysis of the roles that race and gender play in the ways in which discipline and punishment are understood in contemporary American culture, as well as the implications such representations have for a wide range of public policy considerations. Moreover, the book is one of the first clear and compelling examples of the possibilities of a critical rhetoric that bridges the tension between the deconstructive impulse of poststructuralist cultural studies and the reconstructive impetus of rhetorical studies."
—John Louis Lucaites, Indiana University

"A fascinating study of the prisoner in America's cultural imagination."
—Maurice Charland, Concordia University

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780817353339
  • Publisher: University of Alabama Press
  • Publication date: 1/8/2006
  • Series: Studies Rhetoric & Communicati Series
  • Edition description: 1
  • Pages: 256
  • Product dimensions: 6.00 (w) x 9.00 (h) x 1.10 (d)

Meet the Author

John M. Sloop is Professor and Chair-elect of the Department of Communication Studies and Theatre at Vanderbilt University and author of Disciplining Gender: Rhetorics of Sex Identity in Contemporary U.S. Culture.

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Table of Contents

1 Introduction: The Historical Force of Rhetoric and the Disciplinary Force of Culture 1
2 Prelude to the Present: American Histories of Punishment 19
3 Rehabilitation and the Altruistic Inmate, 1950-1959 31
4 The Inmate Divide: Rehabilitation and Immorality, 1960-1968 62
5 Rehabilitation, Revolution, and Irrationality, 1969-1974 90
6 The Meaning of Just Deserts: Valuing Our Discipline, 1975-1993 132
7 Conclusions, Beginnings: Into the Future 185
Appendix 1. Theoretical Perspectives 197
Appendix 2. Differentiating Eras of Discourse 200
Appendix 3. Percentage of Prisoners in State and Federal Prisons by Race and Gender 205
Notes 207
References 221
Index 241
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