Talk Title: "Incarceration, Debt, and the Paternal Politics of Poverty"
Abstract: Over the last 40 years, while the laws of mass incarceration have filled up U.S. jails and prisons, major policy changes have been underway in other state arenas. One system often overlooked in this period of state restructuring is also one of the largest: public child support enforcement, which has grown by over 1000 percent since the 1970s. This talk, which based on material from my forthcoming book Incarcerated Fatherhood: Punishment, Debt, and the Paternal Politics of Poverty, explores how the state systems of punishment and of child support enforcement intersect. Through the concept of incarcerated fatherhood, I analyze the matrix of laws, policies, and institutional practices that create webs of inequity for formerly-incarcerated parents. Based on three years of ethnographic research in U.S. child support courts and 125 in-depth interviews with fathers, I show how criminal justice and child support provisions work in tandem to entangle parents. On the one hand, I analyze the debt of imprisonment—or the material costs of paternal incarceration. On the other hand, I examine the imprisonment of debt—or the punitive costs of child support debt. Instead of “piling up” in fathers’ lives, these entanglements work in circular ways to form feedback loops of disadvantage. I argue that these loops exacerbate existing patterns of social inequality and complicate precisely those relationships proven essential for re-integration after prison: familial relations of care, reciprocity, and interdependence.