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PRISON PRIVATIZATION: A POLITICS OF SIGHT

because it would likely result in economic losses. Thus, concealment and sequestration serve the political purpose of maintaining public ignorance about cruelty within slaughterhouses in order to maximize the meat industry’s profit. One effective way of limiting sight is through creating distance between the observer and the appalling situation. Physical, social, and linguistic distances serve to restrict sight and prevent strong emotion. Pachirat describes the physical distance created in the slaughterhouse as a means to preserve sequestration. Holding the live cattle in a distant, closed off area of the slaughterhouse reduces the number of workers who actually interact with animals. This system of separation makes the killing process more distant and abstract for the workers. The social barriers that exist in the hierarchies of the slaughterhouse also contribute to sequestration in that they hinder open and honest communication. Without communication and an exchange of ideas, workers remain largely isolated from the perspectives of their superiors, so a meat hanger will likely not hear about a quality control worker’s experiences in the slaughterhouse. This isolation cripples workers in the sense that they are unable to broaden their sight beyond their specific job or knowledge about the slaughterhouse. Linguistic distancing is also a useful tactic of concealment in a politics of sight. Using euphemisms offers a sanitized version of reality that can prevent people from seeing the repugnant process of routinized slaughter. Pachirat provides an example of such linguistic manipulation in terms of animals becoming meat: “from steer to steak” and “from heifer to hamburger” (2011, p. 30). Labeling meat with terms that exclude the living animal from the conversation also removes the living, breathing animal from metaphorical sight. These distancing tactics create effective sequestration and shelter people from the truth; industrialized slaughter remains efficient and ignored because methods of distancing prevent or warp sight in a way that discourages questioning and moral objections. Pachirat theorizes that, ideally, increased transparency surrounding repugnant activities will lead people to mobilize for change in existing arrangements. However, he offers a counterargument to the politics of sight: the shock spiral conundrum. This is the idea that if slaughterhouses were made visible to the public, with complete transparency and glass walls, that people would not remain outraged and disgusted permanently. Moreover, Pachirat offers an alternate reaction to that of horror and motivation for improvement: fascination. The shock spiral conundrum addresses the possibility that people, with increased exposure, will become numb to the terrible routines of the slaughterhouse. Some of the public may even enjoy the gore. Pachirat explains the paradox of both sight and sequestration in generating emotional reactions: “The politics of sight feeds off the very mechanisms of distance and concealment it seeks to overcome; sight and sequestration exist symbiotically” (2011, p. 252). With total transparency, a practice can become commonplace and may not elicit a reaction of disgust or a desire for transformation. Both complete sequestration and entire visibility inhibit emotional reaction and the incentive to renovate degenerate systems. Similar to the shock spiral conundrum is the role of pity in the politics of sight. Pachirat says pity is essential to achieve change: “In a politics of sight, pity and its related emotions carry the burden of transformation” (2011, p. 248). In order for people to resist inhumane practices, they must feel a sufficiently strong emotion: horror, disgust, and shock (Pachirat, 2011). So, with consistent, absolute sight, people

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Ellie Fuller

may become accustomed to certain situations and will not react emotionally. Individuals must feel connected with the subject of abuse, to a certain extent. Significant emotional distance between the observer and the victim (e.g. cow, prisoner, etc.) is not conducive to the observer advocating for justice. Background This paper focuses on two different types of prison privatization. The first type of privatization is contracting out specific services, e.g. health care, to corporations while the government still runs the prison. The other form of privatization is more comprehensive; the government shifts responsibility for management and operation of an entire prison to the private sector (Cheung, 2000). According to Aman and Greenhouse (2015), the government has come to rely on these privatization tactics in the past decade to respond to the political climate. Many politicians view privatization as a solution to taxpayers’ resistance to expanding government budgets. In fact, Aman and Greenhouse argue that privatization reflects discourse regarding the relationship between the government and businesses more generally (2015). In an era of globalization and the U.S. pursuit of neoliberal capitalism, ceding control of prisons to corporations seems like a theoretically attractive approach to citizens who want limited government. However, while privatization is not inherently disgusting, it yields negative consequences. The government runs prisons out of obligation, as part of their sovereign duty to provide for law and order, whereas private companies run prisons for profit. Corporations are not accountable to the people and thus do not have the same motivations as the government does to provide proper care for inmates. Prison privatization has also been a response to the exploding prison population and current system of mass incarceration. The War on Drugs contributed to the overcrowded prisons and provided an impetus to increased privatization (Cheung, 2000). While racism in the criminal justice system and mandatory minimum sentencing laws play important roles in the prison system and in privatization, these issues are beyond the scope of this paper. Although something must be done about the expanding U.S. prison population, privatizing prisons will not fix the current prison industrial complex and may be part of that problem. Sequestration and Corruption, Increased Sight, and Distancing The aspects of the politics of sight that I discuss are the processes of sequestration and corruption, the role of increased sight on political change, and distancing. I discuss privatization—as well as cutting state funding from prisons—explicitly in the sequestration and corruption section. Most of the examples I use in that section are of corruption within Florida state prisons. I expand beyond Florida in the increased sight section by identifying three different cases in which activists have attempted to increase sight and awareness about the negative effects of prison privatization. I then look at specific policy changes resulting from such activism. In the distancing section I do not address privatization specifically, but I analyze the ways people distance themselves from prisoners in general. Distancing tactics do not always operate in terms of visibility and invisibility; instead, they prevent the public from

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Hinckley Journal 2017  

The Hinckley Journal of Politics is the only undergraduate-run journal of politics in the nation and strives to publish scholarly papers of...

Hinckley Journal 2017  

The Hinckley Journal of Politics is the only undergraduate-run journal of politics in the nation and strives to publish scholarly papers of...

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