Chris Uggen's Blog: beyond the walls

Thursday, August 11, 2005

beyond the walls

Philadelphia is currently hosting the World Congress of Criminology, which sort of makes it easy for sociologists in town for the ASA meetings to participate in WCC as well (On the other hand, doubling up on meetings works better for me in principle than practice. I'll be baked by Tuesday). I've seen some terrific sessions, but one was especially moving: "Beyond the Walls" is a spoken word, dance, music, and video presentation that stirs together strong perspectives that seem fundamentally incompatible on the surface.

A couple former inmates shared the stage with the mother and sister of a homicide victim and two mothers of homicide offenders. The normal socially prescribed roles for these groups are well-established. Offenders are viewed as self-serving and manipulative; anyone speaking for prisoners is a "Pollyanna;" victims' families seek only vengeance; and, offenders' parents react against their child's stigma, haunted by thoughts of their own culpability or complicity. Beyond the Walls used the disturbing lived reality of crime and punishment to blur and ultimately subvert these roles. It could have come off as hollow, but the performances were too real and too intense to dismiss as standard feel-good "let's start the healing" stuff. These performers did the work -- and it must have been a lot of work -- to get to the point of constructive dialogue. I'm not sure what the (other) criminologists in the audience took from the performance, but it helps me see that "loss" and criminal harm are neither discrete events in the life course nor individualized "processes" to get through. Rather, criminal harm creates a set of interwoven trajectories whose crossings can be both explosive and restorative.

6 Comments:

At 8:09 AM, Blogger tina said...

Chris - I hope we get to see you at the bloggy get-together on Monday!

 
At 10:27 AM, Blogger christopher uggen said...

Hey Tina, Thanks for the invitation. I've got a thing at 4, but I'll definitely stop by! See you

 
At 7:59 PM, Anonymous Sassy said...

Sounds like some interesting things are going on at this conference. Anything that challenges the one-dimensional view of offenders is a major contribution. That correlates of crime stuff is getting old...

 
At 8:27 PM, Anonymous sarah said...

Hey, I'm kickin' it with the activists at SSSP down the street! Maybe I'll see you 'round the neighborhood. Gotta go pay homage to the Liberty Bell and all...

 
At 12:03 AM, Anonymous chris said...

Hey Sassy, Yes! Great point. It made a lot of crim and soc research (incl. mine, no doubt) really seem one-dimensional. Physicists since Einstein have been saying we live in a ten-dimensional universe, so I guess we've got a little work to do if we're still stuck on one.

Sarah, Have fun at SSSP! I'll have to miss it this year (in nyc tomorrow), but there are some good ASA crim sessions on Saturday (I organized a punishment session at 10:30 that should be good) if you're still in town.

 
At 8:32 AM, Anonymous sarah said...

Well, Chris, I'm very sorry to say that you've missed what may go down in the annals of SSSP history as the greatest AIDS benefit reception of all time. Although this is my first year of attendance, I submit the following evidence in support of my claim: a stunning exhibit of senior sociologists gettin' giggy wit it on the dance floor during back-to-back rousing performances by the live band of "Sweet Home Alabama" and "Play that Funky Music White Boy." Also, early on in the first set, the band cranked out a version of our very own Prince's "Kiss" which nearly lured me to the floor. However, given my awe-inspiring ability to cut a rug, I refrained, not wanting to outshine the elders on my first SSSP appearance. All in all, I'm quite sure that whatever is in NYC does not hold a candle...

 

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