Big House: Women, Prison, and the Domestic
Big House: Women, Prison, and the Domestic, addresses the development of the contemporary US carceral state, foregrounding the confinement and control of women and the evolving ideological frameworks and disciplinary techniques that guided women’s incarceration beginning with the inception of state-run women’s prisons in the nineteenth century. These new prisons for women reproduced and refined modes of capture intrinsic to the modern domestic home and, in turn, served as a laboratory for the further development of domestic forms of discipline, making up what I term “the carceral domestic.” By focusing on the women’s prison, and on women’s confinement more generally as it relates to the home and housing, this project expands the critical archive that accompanies contemporary critiques of mass incarceration. The dissertation consists of three sections. The Birth of the Carceral Domestic, A Women’s Prison in Three Acts, and Home Economics, covering the early period of the sex-segregated women’s prison in the nineteenth century, the development of gendered forms of carceral control through practices of confinement and exclusion over the twentieth, and the contemporary women’s prison in the age of mass incarceration and neoliberal privatization. I draw on a broad range of materials and genres, including personal narratives, domestic homemaking manuals, TV shows, judicial opinions, prison policy codes, and acts of Congress. Through these varied accounts of the intersecting spheres of prison and home, Big House contests the fixity of the boundaries between them, and writes gender into conversations about mass incarceration.
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