Webinar series examines science, technology and the ‘carceral state’


The myriad issues playing a role in an exploding prison population in the United States and around the world will be addressed in a University of Michigan webinar series running May 14-June 11.

“Behind Walls, Beyond Discipline: Science, Technology & the Carceral State” is a collaboration between the Science, Technology, and Public Policy Program at the Gerald R. Ford School of Public Policy and U-M’s Science, Technology, and Society Program, with 19 co-sponsors from around the university.

The free virtual series will bring together an international and interdisciplinary group of scholars to investigate themes ranging from biometric surveillance and do-it-yourself forensic technologies to food and health care in prisons from global perspectives.

The global prison situation is seen by many as a crisis, as the growth is mainly attributable to high incarceration rates among low-income and minority communities. Science and technology lie at the heart of the “carceral state” — the policies, ideologies, technological innovations and social science theories that influence criminal justice systems and may contribute to the growing inmate numbers. 

“Convening this diverse group of experts will provide a fresh perspective on what is certainly one of the major social justice and human rights issues of our times,” said Shobita Parthasarathy, director of the Science, Technology, and Public Policy Program. “We had originally planned it as a conference last year, but reimagined it due to the pandemic, and we hope it will have at least as much impact.”

The expanded use of technology raises many questions: What kinds of carceral technologies are being produced and what worlds do they imagine? How must citizens and societies remake themselves in order to fit these new technologies? How do people evade, resist and endure carceral technologies and expertise?

“Our goal is to encourage deeper investigations of the role of science and technology in shaping the carceral state while also inspiring research on how the carceral state has influenced science and innovation,” said Perrin Selcer, lead co-organizer on behalf of the Science, Technology, and Society Program.

All events are from noon-1 p.m. Fridays. Discussions will draw from short, pre-recorded talks, which will be available to registrants two weeks before each event. Attendance at each event’s webinar requires separate registration.


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