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Shadows of the self: personhood in recent ethnographies of imprisonment

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  1. Introduction.
    1. The human individual.
    2. The modern world fading into postmodern uncertainties.
    3. The particular topic of imprisonment.
  2. Michel Foucault's 'Discipline and Punish'.
    1. The underlying commonality of theory between Foucault's later works.
    2. Banishing the temporal infinity of a social idea.
    3. Extension of Foucault's theory of imprisonment to a theory of self is justified.
  3. Lorna Rhides' 'Total Confinement'.
    1. A distinctive study of imprisonment.
    2. Reviews of Rhodes' work.
    3. The postmodernism of Rhodes.
    4. The nature of self within Rhodes' analysis.
  4. Harry Dammer's 'Piety in Prison'.
    1. Analysis of motive.
    2. The implications for public policy.
    3. The common concern among prisoners with sincerity toward religion.
  5. Conclusion.

The human individual holds the ultimate position of importance to ethnographic research. Undeniably, no aspect of anthropological study escapes the contact of a person, whether as a subject forming a data point in the research, as an informant providing wider arrays of information and perspectives, or as an ethnographer though whose lens the final analysis must be drawn. Yet, the nature of the individual as a concept in itself lacked critical examination throughout the modern history of the social theory. From Cartesian metaphysics, to Fichte's formulation of the psychological ?I', to the plethora of early anthropological theorists, the self remained a real and definite social atom, reified as a solid foundational core in the empirical approaches of the social scientist.

[...] lorna rhodes' Total COnfinement Lorna Rhodes undertakes a distinctive study of imprisonment from Foucault with Total Confinement: Madness and Reason in the Maximum Security Prison. With a traditional ethnographic methodology, Rhodes examines several prisons in Washington State, concentrating on the specific prison element of the control unit (the maximum security area within a larger prison facility). In an attempt to comprehend the community of the prison, Rhodes interview not only prisoners and guards, but also the legion of administrative personnel, psychologists, counselors, educators, and general staff involved in and impacted by the policies governing imprisonment as an institution. [...]


[...] This effort to rationalize the prisoner mindset appears to dehumanize prison community interactions to permit use of stable paradigms in modern prisons. Rhodes suggests that tensions develop from this effort to clinically modernize an institution so thoroughly imbued with human interaction, leaving no ultimate conclusions for understanding imprisonment beyond the impossibility of universal application of singular models. The modern self, for Rhodes, is a reified concept constructed by efforts at rationalizing identity. Whereas original mission of the nineteenth century prison [was] to the shape of experience? in order to shape the inmate's consciousness,? the modern prison expects the prisoner exercise rational self-regulation in response to disciplinary shaping? (Rhodes 2004:63). [...]


[...] In analyzing these recent ethnographies of imprisonment, we witness the effort of the ethnographer to reformulate a functioning theory of self under postmodern criticisms. Through this effort, the unique theoretical approach of the ethnographer generates interesting assessments on the nature of personhood. Michel Foucault's Discipline and Punish Michel Foucault's Discipline and Punish serves as the foundation for all current research on imprisonment for both its wealth of evidence and its theoretical strength. This seminal study details the rise of the present penal system with extensive reference to archival materials from European and North American sources, providing a rich backdrop to the carefully formulated analysis of the relationship between society and the prison. [...]

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