Author Archives: Zoe Alker

Conference Notice: Juvenile Justice in Europe: Past, Present and Future

Juvenile Justice in Europe: Past, Present and Future

University of Liverpool, 26-27 May 2016

The conference/symposium is being organized and hosted by the International Criminological Research Unit (ICRU) at the University of Liverpool in association with the British Society of Criminology (Youth Criminology/Youth Justice Network – BSC YC/YJN) and the European Society of Criminology (Thematic Working Group on Juvenile Justice – ESC TWGJJ).

It will address a range of pressing questions relating to the historical origins, contemporary manifestations and future prospects for juvenile justice at a time when Europe is witnessing major social, economic and political challenges and transformations.

Past

2016 marks the 200th anniversary of the first major inquiry into ‘juvenile delinquency’. How has the history of juvenile justice evolved across Europe and how might the past help us to understand the present and signal the future?

Present

What do we know about contemporary juvenile crime trends in Europe and how are nation states responding? Is punitiveness and intolerance eclipsing child welfare and pedagogical imperatives, or is ‘child friendly justice’ holding firm? How might we best understand both the convergent and the divergent patterning of juvenile justice in a changing and reformulating Europe? What impacts are sweeping austerity measures, together with increasing mobilities and migrations, imposing?

Future?

What might the future hold for juvenile justice in Europe? How might researchers, policymakers and practitioners shape the future?

It is a crucial time for juvenile justice in Europe and the conference/symposium will comprise a series of plenary presentations delivered by some of Europe’s leading researchers in their respective fields. It will also facilitate ample opportunities for discussion, debate and delegate participation in order to address such questions alongside other past, present and future challenges.

Further details can be found here

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Building Bentham’s Panopticon

This post describes a project that myself and a colleague from the Architecture department at the University of Liverpool, Dr Nick Webb, are currently working on–Building Bentham’s Panopticon– which is creating a 3D model of the Panopticon prison viewed through virtual reality software, Oculus Rift.

 1787PANOPTICON

Bentham’s Panopticon was imagined as the ‘ideal’ prison; it was designed as a circular building with prisoners’ cells arranged around the outer wall and dominated by an inspection tower. From the tower the prison inspector would be able to gaze upon the prisoners at all times. The central inspection principle, Bentham argued, would result in ‘morals reformed, health preserved, industry invigorated, instruction diffused, public burdens lightened…all by a simple idea in architecture’ (Bentham, 1787).

Due to its escalating cost, his designs were never put in to practice. But the recent digitization of Bentham’s plans by Transcribe Bentham, alongside advances in virtual reality software, means that we now have the opportunity to digitally construct the Panopticon and venture inside.

PANOPTICON

This small element of the wider Digital Panopticon project seeks to explore how we can use digital technology to examine and recreate alternative ways of seeing and experiencing, in a particular space and place-the Panopticon prison- had it been built. Through the use of 3D modelling and virtual reality technology, we can recreate the perspective, positioning and movements- through sight lines, walking routes, and height and weight records- of the gaolers and prisoners who could have potentially been imprisoned within the walls of the Panopticon.

In doing so, this project takes its inspiration from Tim Hitchcock, who is currently modelling the Old Bailey courtroom, and contends that by, ‘building something in three dimensions, with space, physical form and performance, along with new forms of analysis of text; can change how we understand the experience of imprisonment; allow a more fully empathetic engagement with offenders; along with a better understanding of how their experience impacted on the exercise of power and authority’.[1]

Building Bentham’s Panopticon rests upon two lines of enquiry. Firstly, it seeks to rebuild and re-examine the idealized construction of prison discipline at its most ideological- to examine the beginning of the separate, silent system and the development of modern prison reform through architecture. But it also seeks to contribute to a history from below and examine how, by adding in height and weight records of offenders, we can rebuild the perspectives, movements, and thereby explore the potential for transgression that could have occurred within a prison like the Panopticon.

We are about halfway through our research, and are yet to add in biometric data of prisoners taken from the Digital Panopticon project. Yet, in building the model using SketchUp, we have already begun to discover important findings.

 methods_panopticon

The use of 3D modelling has been essential to visualising Bentham’s process and building the interior of the Panopticon. Bentham’s plans, letters and writings about the Panopticon represent a conversation- between himself, architects, managers, and politicians- that include a series of changes to the design of the building and its regime. We are very early on in our findings, but constructing the Panopticon using 3D software, SketchUp, has demonstrated the significance of using this technology to investigate different lines of historical enquiry. Bentham’s never completed the design for the Panopticon, and the debate continued from the 1780s to 1820s. However, plans exist from 1787 and 1791 and these designs are the source from which we have built the 3D models.  However, the interior was never fully decided upon due to conflicts between, amongst others, Bentham, John Howard, and William Pitt the Younger.[2]As Nick Webb has argued previously, ‘This is important, as inferences have to be made due to representational source data such as architectural drawings almost always being incomplete’.[3] Therefore, it is necessary to delve in to primary and secondary resources to explore the context, and fill in the gaps in an informed way. For example, Bentham initially wanted the Panopticon to be made out of glass and cast iron. ‘Architecturally’, according to Janet Semple, ‘the Panopticon foreshadows Paxton’s Crystal Palace rather than Pentonville’.[4] However, despite technological innovation in glass manufacture in the late eighteenth century, the building materials were never decided upon, so Nick and I decided to use London stock brick as this was the most commonly used material in London at the close of the eighteenth century.

Panopticon build

The models take the form of an idealised, architectural plan, and our current focus is to examine how a series of changes and compromises in the design, seen through the application of 3D modelling, demonstrate the political ideas behind the introduction of the separate, silent system and solitary confinement, but also the relative positions and viewpoints of the different historical actors, in this case, the gaoler, chaplain, and inmates.

Capture

What currently interests us at the moment is lines of vision and mobilities as, for Bentham and Foucault, panopticism as a principle is about the power of the gaze- of observation, regulation and power. But I would argue that Foucault and Bentham both had simplistic arguments when it comes to this aspect. In terms of sight lines, or what people can see when stood or walking through a particular point in space, this study builds upon the work of Philip Steadman (UCL). Steadman sketched out two dimensional axonometric drawings of the Panopticon, but with the use of 3D, we are able to build the interior of the Panopticon and therefore provide a space in which the viewer can walk around the prison and inhabit the potential routes of the gaolers, chaplain, and offenders. Steadman draws upon architectural research to plot the totality of what can be seen from a fixed position- also known as an ‘isovist’. (Steadman, 2012: 16).

STEADM

In Steadman’s image here, you’ll see that the shaded area shows the warder’s isovist. The warder must circulate continuously to watch all the prisoners on his floor. But Steadman’s method, while highlighting the problems in Bentham’s design, is set from a fixed point. Our study builds on this in two crucial ways: firstly, we are able, through the use of Oculus Rift and Virtual Reality Software, to recreate the viewpoints and sight perspective of the gaoler, chaplain, visitors, and offenders, and secondly, we are able to move beyond fixed isovist points to follow the potential mobilities of both gaoler and offender had they been incarcerated in the Panopticon.

  Off_Perspective_1791

So Bentham designed the process of observation to be one way; that is, that the governor, gaolers, other prison staff, and prison visitors to be able to observe the convicts, but that the convicts could only look upon the inspectors gallery. This was, in essence, the central inspection principle. The idea was that every prisoner should be under constant apprehension that he might be observed, night and day, even if no-one was actually looking in his direction at that very moment. He would thus be constantly fearful of being discovered in any misdemeanour.

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The Panopticon was a disciplinary technique for making a new social individual; a social laboratory where new subjects were made. Under Bentham’s design, the inmate doesn’t know when they are being watched, and assumes that they are under surveillance at any time. Therefore the prisoner is the subject of observation and power – and this is power through observation. By learning to internalize system of discipline, to watch himself or herself, the Panopticon, theoretically at least, aimed to produce reform through the regulation of the self. The aim of this kind of discipline was, according to Foucault, to turn inmates into quiet, orderly, tractable, malleable subjects or what he provocatively calls ‘Docile Bodies’. As Foucault stated, ‘solitude is the primary condition of total submission’ (Foucault, 1975: 237). Each individual, in his place, is securely confined to a cell from which he is seen from the front by the supervisor; but the side walls prevent him from coming into contact with his companions.

He is seen, but he does not see; he is the object of information, never a subject in communication (Foucault, 1975: 201).The prisoner is therefore, the object of power rather than an agent of power – ‘the object of information’ – never a ‘subject in communication’.

 

And it is this very notion- the power of the gaze and the power relations that manifest through looking- that Building Bentham’s Panopticon seeks to investigate. The use of 3D and Virtual Reality technology, allows us to put Foucault’s theory, and Bentham’s designs, to the test.

 

NB Please note that the models are incomplete at present, so may contain errors and inconsistencies.

[1] T. Hitchcock, ‘Voices of Authority: Towards a history from below in patchwork’, https://blog.digitalpanopticon.org/?cat=25 [Accessed 22 April 2016].

[2] J. Semple (1993), Bentham’s Prison: A Study of the Panopticon Penitentiary (Oxford University Press: Oxford).

[3]  N. Webb & A. Brown (2016). Digital re-analysis of lost architecture and the particular case of Lutyens׳ Liverpool Metropolitan Cathedral. Frontiers of Architectural Research.

[4] J. Semple (1993), Bentham’s Prison: A Study of the Panopticon Penitentiary (Oxford University Press: Oxford), pp. 116-117.

Life stories and their Historians: Bridging a divide?

Most of us have at one time or another wondered about our ancestors. Even the historians whose bread and butter is the study of social, political, economic or cultural histories speculate about their own family’s part in the unfolding of the wider movements and economic changes down the ages. Many others have studied the genealogical websites, and laboured in the archives, simply to chart the family line further and further back until either reliable data or stamina are exhausted. New pieces of information that are discovered may offer a glimpse of a family ‘on the make’ or a family ‘on the slide’. Whatever the case, family history has become a persistent and compelling pastime enjoyed by millions of people.

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(Image via RootsChat)

For those without an aristocratic pedigree to fall back on, family piety used to amount to little more than repeated anecdotes about half-remembered relatives.  Now that the internet has democratized information, anyone with a computer and a measure of determination can go much further.  Archives and public records and censuses are accessible to all, and there’s plenty of advice on how to make sense of them.  The viewing figures for the BBC’s series ‘Who Do You Think You Are?’ have held up for a decade, while  ‘Secrets From the Clink’, its lurid ITV cousin, adds a distinctively Dickensian preoccupation with forebears who served time. The investigation of family history has become the third most popular online activity, after shopping and pornography. Primary research is no longer exclusively a matter for academic historians, traditionally concerned with movements that shape national destinies – wars, politics, conquest, or trade.  Amateurs can share the buzz of a first-hand encounter with discovery, retrieving neglected documents and filling in the gaps in a family tree.  If you have ancestors and a search engine, you too can be a historian.

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(Image via http://www.victorianchildren.org)

Unsurprisingly, professionals in the business of history have mixed feelings about the swarm of explorers among the databases. Every historian sympathizes with the impulse to learn about the past.  But bare facts about long-buried members of a family can’t reveal much about the broader cultural and economic circumstances that defined their lives, and those who pursue them often do so in the context of their own interests and priorities. Objective analysis takes second place to the resurrected details (revealing self-made success, lost grandeur, anti-authoritarian spirit or helpless victimhood) that best confirm the values of the investigator. Trained historians observe, sometimes disdainfully, that such researchers are looking for archival comfort food. But in general family detectives are too busy digging for the next piece of evidence to take offence, while their denigrators are not seriously threatened by part-time rivals.  The two breeds of historians are more or less prepared to tolerate each other, though there isn’t much traffic between them.

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(MEPO 6, 8 March 1907. Available at findmypast.co.uk)

Perhaps the Digital Panopticon can help to bridge the divide? The data provided is clearly of use and of interest to those researching their family history. Indeed the information that can be found in the prison records can reveal more about the character, physique, and exploits of forefathers than almost any other record. In this respect they are a boon to the genealogist, and a first-rate source of information. Each of the life stories revealed by the Panopticon is varied and interesting enough to be studied in its own right. However, when taken together they are invaluable to the social historians as a guide to (for example) the height and weight of the ordinary Londoner, the character of crime and punishment in the nineteenth century, and the long-term effects of transportation and imprisonment on generations of families living in Australia and in the United Kingdom. The next trick might be to persuade the two communities (genealogists and social historians) that they have something in common. They might even learn something by talking to each other, not least because descendants can provide valuable information to historians about the identities and experiences of their forebears. They can fill in the gaps and silences that punctuate the records. In return, historians can add context to family histories by revealing the social conditions in which our ancestors lived, loved, and laboured.

 

Professor Dinah Birch

Pro-Vice-Chancellor for Research and Knowledge Exchange

University of Liverpool