Friday, February 20, 2009

Methodology Shift

So, I'm still on the fail side of things, it being Friday and me having posted on-- uh-- one previous day this week.
And to be honest, I've been sort of a bum. I definitely spent at least 4 hours today fucking around on the internet. That is way too long to be fucking around on the internet.
<<<whines-- but I'm tireeeeddd, and it's colllldddd>>>>

That being said, I've been thinking about it a lot, and I'm pretty sure that the way I'm leaning towards things is that I am going to end up doing some interviews.
Here's how it's going: To understand how society conceptualizes and has conceptualized punishment, I have to decide what makes up a social view. I think that historical accounts are part of that, but I also think that there might be something really powerful about having people whose lives surround punishment reflect on how they conceive punishment.

Then I have something material to attach the theoretical analysis to.

My argument about theory, I suppose, is that political theories describe the formalization of ideas that people hold about political phenomenon. They may also be able to explain the source of those ideas.
Wait, but I also think that it's more than just ideas that political theories may be able to explain, but also all those other things that Marx talks about: technology, science, industry, etc.

But anyway, in order to see how political theory explains something, I need to be able to talk about what it's explaining, thus a need to see how people envision punishment.

I think I'd like to interview a cross-section of people involved in punishment: probationers, parolees, corrections officers, corrections union types, wardens, legislators (who have written/sponsored punishment legislation), as well as 'regular' people. I don't think I want to interview prisoners, because that is a whole different kettle of fish in regards to IRB protocols, etc. I think parolees should be enough for this project.

From there, I can sort of see in whose minds different explanations (political theories) make sense-- for example, do corrections officers see things differently than wardens, than prisoners. What factors affect this perception? What effects do these perceptions have? Etc.

I need to clarify all this. Like a lot. I think I might need to re-read some Das Kapital for some ideas about how to express all this. Or maybe not, Marx wasn't terribly clear on it either.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Thoughts from and inspired by Durkheim

Durkheim presents crime as an aberration from social solidarity. Also, the fact of punishment defines the boundaries of crime.

"We use the term 'crime' to designate any act which, regardless of degree, provokes against the perpetrator the characteristic reaction known as punishment." (39).
"Indeed the only feature common to all crimes is that, saving some apparent exceptions to be examined later, they comprise acts universally condemned by the members of each society." (42).
"If adults are encountered who are ignorant of these basic rules or refuse to recognize their authority, such ignorance or insubordination are irrefutably symptoms of pathological perversion." (43).

So, from the Durkheim-ian perspective, anyone who ends up punished (so long as their punishment occurs along the lines of social demarcation [ie due process]) that person must be viewed as pathologically perverted.

From here, I have two things to think about:

1.) This idea of pathology. Social solidarity is natural and self-reproductive(?), it develops along with industrialization and the division of labor (I don't know much about this, and I'm not sure if it's worth exploring-- we'll see). Therefore, if you act/think outside of the socially constructed bounds, then you are pathologically perverted. I suspect that an underlying flavor here is that there is something irredeemable about the pathological. -- Which would lead to a particularly careless treatment of punishment.

2.) Okay, so how do I used this particular theory as part of my research? I can say that if we are analyzing society from this perspective-- then xyz. But how can I argue that this is how society works? My critique, thus far, is that the elite powers in society institutionalize social mores (that are developed dialectically with the populace), but that this development takes place in the context of fundamental social conflict. Therefore the construction of social solidarity takes on a specific narrative with a specific end in mind.
Therefore, the designation as pathological of those outside the bounds of social morality functions to define these people for those people within the bounds of social morality. The conflict is externalized. The criminals are problematic, and possibly uncurable, and therefore we can be pretty damn cavalier in what happens to them.

But how do I argue that? How can I use Durkheim to respond to material conditions, or can I only respond to Durkheim?

How do I discover how 'society' things about punishment? Do I maybe need to do interviews?
If I do interviews, how do I deal with IRB stuff. It would be pretty impossible to get to speak to prisoners, I think. But less difficult to speak to others in the punishment field (including possibly, probationers, parolees). I think I need to look at IRB rules.

Tuesday Before Working

Okay, so I already failed at getting two posts up last week. I will still try to get five posts up this week.
Dissertation-y thoughts:
1.) I don't know what the hell I'm doing.
2.) I am debating buying that Dissertation in 15 Minutes a Day book, but I am hesitant because I am relatively sure that's a self-help book, and I think that is lame.
3.) I've been reading a Durkheim on Crime & Punishment introduction for about three days now. I really like the introduction and am looking forward to getting to what Durkheim actually said. The fact that it should have taken me two solid hours to get what I needed out of this book only slightly bothers me.

Thoughts from Durkheim intro:
- The intro points out that central to Durkheim's thought on crime/punishment is the idea that conflict in society is pathological and intermittent. It is something that can be fixed, and it is something abnormal.
- This is fundamentally bourgeois and rather flat.
- The intro also argues that Max Weber's view is similarly situated but more sophisticated and nuanced than Durkheim's.
- I need to find the writing to which the author refers in regards to Weber's thought. I suspect that it is in his 'professionalization' stuff and is not directly related to punishment.

Friday, February 13, 2009

Post #1 for Dissertating.

My goal here, is that if I do nothing else, I catalog on this blog the progress made each day of working. I am going to try to do this at least five days each week (Monday-Sunday). Today is Friday, so I will try to get one more post up before starting on Monday.
My topic is punishment and political theory. By punishment I primarily mean prisons, but occasionally this will extend beyond to greater discussion of the criminal justice system, especially systems of parole and probation.

I hope to use canonical political theories as the hypotheses to test. I know that doesn't make much sense, but I'm at the beginning. I don't really know what the hell I'm doing.

In trying to break down this project, I have come up with this task list so far:
Project 1:
- A historical-material depiction of American punishment.
- Read some history books.
- Compile current statistics.
- If possible:
- Look at contemporary lobbying.
- Look at changes that coincide with the transformation of prison numbers.
This should be an approximately 10-15 pages, no more. Ultimately, this is sort of a book report that will be transformed into the central case for study.

Project 2:
- A review of classical punishment - Plato, Aristotle, Augustine, Aquinas
- Just do the damn work and draw your conclusions.
- Collect discussions of punishment from the central work of these thinkers, cobble together to make an argument as to what these all are actually saying.

Project 3:
- Do the same for Enlightenment thought
- Beccaria, Locke, early Americans

Project 4:
- Look specifically at race and punishment in American history. Write an essay highlighting the path that this history has taken. Needs to start at slavery, go through black nationalism, and to contemporary gang stuff.

Project 5:
- A Marxist view of punishment.
- I need to essentially make an argument about how Marx and orthodox Marxists (Lukacs will probably be of great significance here) deal with punishment. This obviously turns a lot of law itself on its head, but what do Marxists want to do with people who have killed their neighbors?

Project 6:
- Foucault, method & relevance.
- I need to analyze Foucault's method, make an argument about what it ignores and what it successfully synthesizes. I am pretty sure this argument is largely going to be about the need for materialist inquiry, but I suppose I'll get there eventually.

Project 7:
- Continental philosophy
- Kant, Hegel, etc.
- They may fit into the Enlightenment paper. We shall see.
When I've done all this, I need to pull together an argument. All along the way I need to be asking questions and developing hypotheses to insert/test as I synthesize the rest.

I don't really know why I'm having such a hard time getting moving on any of this.