Using the future to predict the past: prison population projections and the colonisation of penal imagination

Armstrong, S.C. (2013) Using the future to predict the past: prison population projections and the colonisation of penal imagination. In: Malloch, M. and Munro, B. (eds.) Crime, Critique and Utopia. Series: Critical Criminological Perspectives. Palgrave Macmillan: Basingstoke, pp. 136-163. ISBN 9781137009791

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This paper considers a common method of imagining the future – statistical forecasting – through the particular case of prison population projections. In drawing a line between past and future, prison projections deny their own function as imaginative devices, and in so doing mount a claim that the future they see is inevitable rather than imagined. The aim of the paper is to expose the machinations of forecasts by which, first of all, they obscure their role as an imaginative resource and, second of all, squeeze out other ways of thinking about the future. With regard to the first aim, I argue that statistical projections operate as narrative, finding order, patterns and normality to tell a story of growth or decline. A hidden feature of this technology of knowing the future is the imposition of narrative coherence on the (penal policy of the) past. I then pursue the second aim, probing how this statistical tactic, as one example of the quantification of policy discourse more generally, undermines other ways of thinking and talking about penal systems and reform. Planning for ‘inevitable’ expansion of prison populations displaces normative debate about the appropriate quality and quantity of punishment in society. Pushing back against such a hegemonic and dystopic way of relating to the future will require embracing the possibility of counter imaginaries, taking on board Bauman’s (2010) contribution that the future is a unique property of human imagination and one which we must join together in order to cause.

Item Type:Book Sections
Keywords:Statistics, prison population projections, imaginaries, actor-network-theory
Glasgow Author(s) Enlighten ID:Armstrong, Professor Sarah
Authors: Armstrong, S.C.
Subjects:H Social Sciences > HM Sociology
College/School:College of Social Sciences > School of Social and Political Sciences > Sociology Anthropology and Applied Social Sciences
Research Group:Scottish Centre for Crime and Justice Research
Publisher:Palgrave Macmillan

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