Future Research

My next book, The Cell and the City Square: Prison Writing and American Politics, continues my interest in personal experience in a new context. Responding to changes in prison reform policy and growth in the penal population in the past several decades, scholars across the social sciences and humanities have turned to study American crime and punishment for its historical, philosophical, sociological, literary, and legal causes and consequences.[1] My research brings these political and literary perspectives together by examining how political actors have written behind bars or on the prison in critique of American democracy. Since Gustave de Beaumont and Alexis de Tocqueville wrote On the Penitentiary System in the United States after their 1830s visit (the same that would inspire Tocqueville’s Democracy in America), those writing from or on prison have used the institution as a heuristic device through which to analyze American democracy. My research draws on that text to examine three relations between incarceration and democracy relevant for prison writing: the prison as popular proof of state injustice, the prison as a microcosm of American democracy, and prison as an institution of political education. To examine prison writing as a distinct form of political thought, I will examine the works of authors such as Henry David Thoreau, Austin Reed, Alexander Berkman, Martin Luther King, Jr., Angela Davis, Eldridge Cleaver, and George Jackson. Like my first project, The Cell and the City Square considers how democratic thinkers appeal to personal experience in the public eye, with prison writing serving as a wedge between state justice and popular conceptions of justice held by readers.

[1] See Marie Gottschalk, Caught : The Prison State and the Lockdown of American Politics (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2015); Andrew Dilts, Punishment and Inclusion: Race, Membership, and the Limits of American Liberalism (New York: Fordham University Press, 2014); Lisa Guenther, Solitary Confinement : Social Death and Its Afterlives (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2013); Henry Ruth and Kevin R. Reitz, The Challenge of Crime: Rethinking Our Response (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2006); Caleb Smith, The Prison and the American Imagination (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2009).