"Beyond Bars: The Future of Prisons"

Keynote address: Andrew Dilts (Loyola Marymount University)

Plenary panel: Lisa Guenther (Vanderbilt University),Kym Maclaren (Ryerson University), Joshua Dohmen (University of Memphis)

Date and location: February 27-28, 2015; University Center; University of Memphis, TN

A pdf version of the conference program is available for download here.

Conference description:

Punishment has featured prominently in the development of Western political thought as a vital component of developing and maintaining a polity. Philosophers ranging from Aristotle to Mill to Foucault have engaged the use of disciplinary and punitive practices. In the public sphere, debates have been waged over the purpose of prisons, the morality of capital punishment, and the political status of incarcerated persons both during and after incarceration. Over the last decade, in particular, there has been an explosion in the number of discourses surrounding incarceration practices, capital punishment, and criminal law in the United States. Debates about the wars on drugs and terror, the school-to-prison pipeline, and the moral and legal status of capital punishment have featured prominently in the media and in the political landscape. Recent demonstrations in response to police violence have drawn attention to both the militarization of police forces and the disproportion of this violence directed at communities of color. In intellectual circles, solitary confinement practices, felony disenfranchisement, and the proliferation of the prison-industrial complex have all been scrutinized. This conference seeks to provide a forum for these discussions on the status and meaning of prisons, incarceration, and punishment. Particular questions of interest include but are not limited to:

  • What do figures in the history of philosophy have to say about punishment and what can we learn from them?
  • How does imprisonment, or any practice associated with the prison, affect our understanding of notions like the self and subjectivity?
  • What moral issues are raised by the prison or incarceration?
  • What epistemological issues do practices relating to the prison raise?
  • Does prison reform or prison abolition provide the more satisfactory or useful response to criticism surrounding prisons? What do these terms even mean?
  • What broader historical trend might the rampant use of imprisonment as a means of punishing criminal behavior signify?
  • Are there more just alternatives to current incarceration practices?
  • What does imprisonment punish?
  • Are the stated goals/ends of imprisonment aligned with its practices or effects?
  • What responses to imprisonment practices can we get from critical race, feminist, queer or trans*, disability, or intersectional approaches?
  • What do philosophical or theoretical treatments of these questions have to offer more practical pursuits like activism or prisoner's rights advocacy?
  • What value does the practice of philosophy have for incarcerated persons?

Submission information:

We welcome contributions from philosophers working from any orientation, as well as contributions from scholars in a variety of disciplines and contexts.

To submit, please prepare a proposal (500-700 words) for blind review in either .pdf or .rtf format. Send the file as an attachment to memphispgsa@gmail.com with a body containing the title and the author's name, contact information, institutional affiliation and status (graduate student, faculty member, independent researcher, etc.) If accepted, final papers need to be suitable for a presentation approximately 20 minutes in length (roughly 3000-3500 words).
The deadline for submissions is December 10, 2014.