"Carceral Trafficking": Social Cognition, Ideology and Discourse of an American Carceral Tradition

2019-08-05T00:00:00Z (GMT) by Nikki A Weihe
This dissertation research introduces the term carceral traffic to distinguish the historical ‘market in human flesh’ from the commonly used term “prison labor.” This research formalizes a carceral traffic ideology using historical, carceral-centered, political discourses found in the National Archives, the Roosevelt Presidential Library, UIC special collections, the digitized Library of Congress and the UNICOR website. The “text and talk” of elite, political and business actors in the context of “abolition”, “convict lease”, and “prison industries” were identified and measured through three significant legislative periods: 1865, 1934, and 1979 (respectively, the Thirteenth Amendment is constitutionalized; Federal Prison Industries, Inc. is established, and the Prison Industry Enhancement Act is approved.) Using data from congressional hearings, speeches, letters, and other archival discourse, this dissertation demonstrates the function and power of sociocognitive mechanisms in political processes by signifying the constitutive variables in discourse that animate ideologies of white supremacy, male domination, commerce, and the racialized and class-based tradition of instituting mass incarceration. Federal Prison Industries, Inc. (known today as UNICOR) and its marketing materials provided the fulcrum for this project. This dissertation argues the nationwide, federal juggernaut, UNICOR, is part of an American carceral tradition - representing the latest stage on a U.S. carceral continuum that is cognitively connected to the African slave trade. To invigorate critical race and critical criminology literatures, I advance the multidisciplinary theory of ideology by Teun A. van Dijk. His theory combines social cognition, discourse, and action to aid efforts for explaining how trafficking “convicted” human beings remains a legalized American tradition despite centuries of social harm. A critical study of the archives and the construction of social memory imbricates with theoretical goals of this research to exhume historical, political and economic narratives that constitute the “public-private partnership” model of carceral trafficking – a practice deemed illegal when utilized outside the realm of privileged political relationships. The formalized carceral traffic ideology reveals a complex of overlapping themes as well as hierarchical, harmful and culturally entrenched ideologies; however, interdisciplinary research indicates sociocognitive structures in the group mind can be positively transformed over time by introducing and reinforcing non-harmful ideologies.