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The atmospherics of incarceration

Authors: Jennifer Turner*, University of Liverpool
Topics: Cultural Geography
Keywords: carceral geography, carcerality, atmosphere, incarceration, senses
Session Type: Paper
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Imprisonment – with its monotonous regimes, restrictions on movement and sparse surroundings – is often deliberately engineered to be a desensitising environment, where sensory deprivation is used with punitive effects (Scott and Gendeau, 1969). However, conversely, research has also explored carceral spaces as those filled with a cacophony of sounds; a potent concoction of smells; and brimming with competing emotions (Crewe et al., 2014; Herrity, 2008). Accordingly, we can raise a number of questions: What does prison feel like? Can prison smell a certain way; or conjure certain sights and sounds? This paper focuses on the ‘carceral atmospheric’ (Turner and Peters, 2015) that is emergent in the prison landscape. An atmosphere is a molecular form that surrounds us, permeating the body through the air we breathe. It is something that is understood and felt by each part of our being. This paper examines how visible, tangible and experiential components of prison architecture coalesce to produce an atmosphere particular to the penal institution, which is something of a paradox to the anaesthetising environment that the prison suggests. By considering the production and consumption of prison space in examples from individuals working and living in these environments, it explores how visual aspects of architecture and design also have a more pervasive impact on sensory experience to unlock a discussion of the carceral atmospheres that are designed, engineered, co-constituted and seep unexpectedly from these prison sites.

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