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Reviewed by:
  • Disability Incarcerated: Imprisonment and Disability in the United States and Canada ed. by Allison C. Carey, Liat Ben-Moshe, Chris Chapman
  • Joshua St. Pierre
Disability Incarcerated: Imprisonment and Disability in the United States and Canada (edited by Allison C. Carey, Liat Ben-Moshe, and Chris Chapman)
New York: Palgrave MacMillan, 2014, 316pp.
ISBN 9781137393234

Disability Incarcerated is a book of connections, a book that interlaces discourses of disability, incarceration, colonialism, nationalism, race, class, gender, late capitalism, and neoliberalism in order to, as the editors Liat Ben-Moshe, Chris Chapman, and Allison C. Carey explain, “explore various ways that seemingly distinct and unrelated sites of mass incarceration are often interconnected in terms of their effects on individuals, populations, and society as a whole” (x). The theoretical pairing of disability and incarceration foregrounded by this project is both so apparent and urgent it is surprising the book is the first of its kind. Indeed, while the field of disability studies has often reflected on eugenic histories of institutionalization, it has not always situated these experiences within the complex matrices of power excavated and interrogated in this book. Likewise, as Angela Davis notes in her foreword to the collection, the structural conflation of deviant and disabled people has not been properly explored within critical prison studies. This book is a timely intervention for both disability studies and critical prison studies. [End Page 125]

Authored by a group of scholars and activists from a broad range of disciplines, backgrounds, and experiences with incarceration and disability, this book seeks to open up rather than close off lines of discussion. The editors frame the collection through four primary goals: 1) to situate disability within critical prison scholarship, 2) to expand notions of “incarceration,” 3) to theorize intersections of incarceration and disability, and 4) to invite further dialogue and collaboration between scholars and activists. The collection largely succeeds at this ambitious task, though at times unevenly due to unclear writing and argumentation. The book is formally divided into two sections of analysis—historical and contemporary—which trace systems of incarceration on both sides of the Canada-U.S. border.

Leading off the first section, and authored by the editors, “Reconsidering Confinement” provides a broad theoretical and historical framing of the intersection of disability and incarceration across diverse populations and at multiple sites of confinement. This chapter expertly weaves a complex analysis of confinement and resistance that foregrounds the ensuing chapters’ more detailed exploration of specific careral locations and experiences. Chris Chapman’s essay, “Five Centuries’ Material Reforms and Ethical Reformulations of Social Elimination,” retraces much of this terrain, albeit more laboredly and opaquely, through a loosely Foucauldian genealogy of the transhistorical political rationalities of incarceration.

The intersection with race and class is examined most directly in chapters 4 and 5. Geoffrey Reaume offers two straightforward case studies of immigration practices in relation to ethnicity, disability, and nationalism in “Eugenics Incarceration and Expulsion,” arguing that disability acted in these instances as a master disqualifying narrative. In her essay “Crippin’ Jim Crow,” Nirmala Erevelles focuses on the historical contexts that dislocate and mark out racialized and disabled bodies at an early age to become commodities of exchange for transnational capitalism. Erevelles’s chapter exhibits a sophisticated awareness of “crip” theory and politics in its complex imbrication with race and class pointing toward transformative praxis.

Chapters 3, 6, 7, and 8 focus on the history of institutionalization. While much attention is given throughout the collection to the systemic attempts to rehabilitate non-productive bodies, in “Creating the Back Ward” Philip M. Ferguson alternatively tracks the abandonment of those significantly disabled, deemed “the most hopeless of prognoses” (46), within institutional systems. Ferguson further insists, quite compellingly, that the creation of the secluded back ward was the precursor to the still operative “continuum of care.” In “Walking the Line between the Past and the Future,” Allison C. Carey and Lucy Gu detail the emergence of advocacy groups as a complex response to institutionalization, while Jihan Abbas and Jijan Voronka, in “Remembering Institutional Erasures,” reflect somewhat straightforwardly on governmental attempts at erasure—a [End Page 126] quite different response to a history of institutionalization. Following in this vein, yet...


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