Prison history and the ethics of public engagement

Tennant, M. (2018) Prison history and the ethics of public engagement. In: Difficult Heritage Conference, 13th April 2018, York.

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Dark tourism sites, including prison museums, have been recognised as important spaces through which the public can explore morality in an individualised and secular society (Stone, 2009).

The growing academic literature on prison heritage has recognised problems with existing interpretations of penal heritage, with calls for “more ethical, multi-perspective and politically diverse interpretation” (Barton and Brown, 2015: 237). This chapter argues that greater engagement with the reality of contemporary punishment is necessary in such discussions because of the penal expansionism that has accompanied the growth of former prisons as tourist attractions. There also needs to be further exploration of whether, and how, such multi-perspective approaches can be achieved. In doing this the chapter explores the nature of dissonance in relation to penal heritage. Tunbridge and Ashworth (1996) contend that heritage is inevitably dissonant. Here it is argued that so, too, are crime and punishment. Most discussions of penal heritage, however, focus mainly on particularly controversial and highly politicised sites. Dissonance in relation to the more ordinary use of the prison for criminal containment is less sensational but persistent and complex. It has been recognised that traditional heritage responses to dissonance tend to “obscure the wider cultural and political contexts within which heritage both sits and serves (Smith, 2006: 82). Dissonance, then, may generate problems for these approaches in relation to penal heritage, particularly in processes of stakeholder engagement. This raises challenges for the ways we produce interpretation at such sites and could hamper our ability to develop multi-perspective understandings of prison history. As such we need to engage with the difficulties that dissonance generates for such interpretation.

Notable absences within discussions of multi-perspective approaches are the experiences of crime victims and the families of offenders and prison staff. This obscures female perspectives as women are often affected by the prison through these experiences. Victimisation plays a prominent role in contemporary discourses of crime but is normally absent at penal heritage sites, both in terms of the experiences of offenders’ victims and the high incidence of victimisation which many prisoners themselves have experienced. Despite the complexities of dissonance in relation to crime and punishment, however, the chapter argues that embracing the dissonance of crime and punishment may provide a way of challenging contemporary perceptions which rest on strict binaries between victims and offenders. The creative arts in particular might assist in engaging with the complexities of dissonance and providing ways of developing such interpretations.
Barton, A. and Brown, A. (2015) ‘Show me the Prison! The Development of Prison Tourism in the UK’, Crime, Media, Culture, 11(3). 237-258
Smith, L. (2006) Uses of Heritage, Routledge: London.
Stone, P. R. (2009) ‘Dark Tourism and New Moral Spaces’ in R. Sharpley and P. R. Stone (eds) The Darker Side of Travel: The Theory and Practice of Dark Tourism, Channel View Publications: Bristol. Tunbridge, J. E. and Ashworth, G. J. (1996) Dissonant Heritage: The Management of the Past as a Resource in Conflict, Wiley and Sons: Chichester.

Item Type: Conference or Workshop Item (Paper)
Uncontrolled Keywords: Prison heritage; ethics; public history; dark tourism
Subjects: B Philosophy. Psychology. Religion > BJ Ethics
H Social Sciences
H Social Sciences > HV Social pathology. Social and public welfare. Criminology > HV8301 Penology. Prisons. Corrections
Divisions: Faculty of Social and Applied Sciences > School of Law, Criminal Justice and Computing
Depositing User: Maryse Tennant
Date Deposited: 13 Nov 2018 09:44
Last Modified: 13 Nov 2018 09:44

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Last edited: 29/06/2016 12:23:00