Solitary Confinement

Solitary Confinement : Social Death and Its Afterlives

4.39 (56 ratings by Goodreads)
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Prolonged solitary confinement has become a widespread and standard practice in U.S. prisons-even though it consistently drives healthy prisoners insane, makes the mentally ill sicker, and, according to the testimony of prisoners, threatens to reduce life to a living death. In this profoundly important and original book, Lisa Guenther examines the death-in-life experience of solitary confinement in America from the early nineteenth century to today's supermax prisons. Documenting how solitary confinement undermines prisoners' sense of identity and their ability to understand the world, Guenther demonstrates the real effects of forcibly isolating a person for weeks, months, or years.

Drawing on the testimony of prisoners and the work of philosophers and social activists from Edmund Husserl and Maurice Merleau-Ponty to Frantz Fanon and Angela Davis, the author defines solitary confinement as a kind of social death. It argues that isolation exposes the relational structure of being by showing what happens when that structure is abused-when prisoners are deprived of the concrete relations with others on which our existence as sense-making creatures depends. Solitary confinement is beyond a form of racial or political violence; it is an assault on being.

A searing and unforgettable indictment, Solitary Confinement reveals what the devastation wrought by the torture of solitary confinement tells us about what it means to be human-and why humanity is so often destroyed when we separate prisoners from all other people.
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Product details

  • Paperback | 368 pages
  • 140 x 216 x 51mm | 408.23g
  • Minnesota, United States
  • English
  • 0816679592
  • 9780816679591
  • 555,600

Table of contents



Introduction: A Critical Phenomenology of Solitary Confinement

I. The Early U.S. Penitentiary System1. An Experiment in Living Death2. Person, World, and Other: A Husserlian Critique of Solitary Confinement3. The Racialization of Criminality and the Criminalization of Race: From the Plantation to the Prison Farm

II. The Modern Penitentiary4. From Thought Reform to Behavior Modification5. Living Relationality: Merleau-Ponty's Critical Phenomenological Account of Behavior6. Beyond Dehumanization: A Posthumanist Critique of Intensive Confinement

III. Supermax Prisons7. Supermax Confinement and the Exhaustion of Space8. Dead Time: Heidegger, Levinas, and the Temporality of Supermax Confinement9. From Accountability to Responsibility: A Levinasian Critique of Supermax Rhetoric

Conclusion: Afterlives

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Review quote

In an unusually vigorous interrogation of philosophy and the social sciences, Lisa Guenther addresses one of humanity's greatest inhumanities and its perversely long, extensive history in America. Guenther offers a compelling critique of solitary confinement, in the course of which she pushes phenomenology beyond its classical limits, revealing our inherent inter-subjectivity, our need for both interaction and anonymity, and the moral imperative that America end this cruel and barbaric form of punishment. An urgently needed, powerfully argued study of one of the nation's gravest moral and socio-political failings.-Orlando Patterson, Harvard University
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About Lisa Guenther

Lisa Guenther is associate professor of philosophy at Vanderbilt University and the author of The Gift of the Other: Levinas and the Politics of Reproduction. She facilitates a weekly discussion group at Riverbend Maximum Security Institution in Nashville, Tennessee.
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Rating details

56 ratings
4.39 out of 5 stars
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4 39% (22)
3 11% (6)
2 0% (0)
1 0% (0)
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