Access and Ethics in Prison Research (Farah Godrej)
How do the requirements of “scholarly” research—including and especially ethics reviews by institutional bodies—serve to shape and constrain the access that researchers can gain to prisons? How does it shape the researcher’s engagement with their incarcerated research participants? This talk is an excerpted segment of my forthcoming book, Freedom Inside? Yoga and Meditation in the Carceral State (forthcoming, Oxford University Press, 2022). I bring the reader into my struggles for research access to prisons, describing the limitations of attempting to learn about prisons and engage with incarcerated persons as a researcher. The norms that govern prison research force researchers to defer to the punitive, restrictive, custody- and- control mission of prisons— a mission intrinsically at odds with the open inquiry needed for research. The scope of what can be seen, said or known about prisons and incarcerated persons is tightly controlled by prisons themselves, and prioritizing the needs and concerns of prison officials can stand in tension with respect for incarcerated research participants. Standard research protocols and recommendations gloss over the very real power relations and hierarchies entailed in prison- based research.
Farah Godrej is Associate Professor of Political Science at the University of California, Riverside. Her areas of research and teaching include Indian political thought, Gandhi’s political thought, cosmopolitanism, globalization and comparative political theory. She also studies contemporary issues such as environmental justice, food politics and mass incarceration. Her research appears in journals such as Political Theory, Political Research Quarterly, Theory & Event, The Review of Politics, and Polity, and she is the author of Cosmopolitan Political Thought: Method, Practice, Discipline (New York: Oxford University Press, 2011). Her forthcoming book Freedom Inside? Yoga and Meditation in the Carceral State (Oxford University Press, 2022) examines the role of yogic and meditative practices in U.S. prisons.
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Access and Ethics in Prison Research: