When we say “carceral logic,” we’re referring to more than just incarceration. We’re talking about a punitive framework: the idea that an action outside the scope of normative behavior (e.g. a crime, a transgression, a misbehavior) must be met with punishment and negative consequences (Foucault, 1977; Wang, 2014). Carceral logic also refers to the ways that the threat of punishment and the feeling of being watched and observed serves to push people and their behaviors towards an envisioned norm (Foucault, 1977).
Carceral logic shapes how we live our lives. For example, from a young age we’re told that certain colors can only be worn by specific genders––if you go against this norm you are deviant. If you’re a boy who wears pink, you are too feminine and are disciplined for not being masculine enough. This consequence is used to make sure that people don’t stray from the norms of gender presentation that our society wants to uphold. Both discipline and punishment are about control and creating an idealized norm so that it is easier to identify deviance against this norm, and are inherent in all power dynamics that run through our social institutions.
The logic of crime and punishment extends far beyond prisons and jails. We see this narrative in various organizations and institutions––emerging most often where there are hierarchical relationships, where there’s a specific moral code or set of norms everyone is expected to follow, and where there is a process for examining how people succeed or fail to behave appropriately (Foucault, 1977). Schools have long been considered the institution in which members of our society are trained and groomed to become well-respected model citizens. From grade school on, we’re taught what’s good and bad, what’s acceptable and not acceptable. This constant narrative cultivates the idea that deviations require a sense of shame, a sense of failure, or a sense of moral lacking. Integrity, success, and honor are at stake. It’s difficult to define concepts like honor and responsibility, that are loaded with emotional and historical character. Honor, in some senses, can be seen as inherent value tied to adherence to larger norms, and dishonor as connected to deviance from these norms.
The honor code is a central part of the Davidson experience, marketed to prospective students and families as an institutional tool for keeping the college community safe and honest. The school is respectable in part because of its strict adherence to the code. On campus, it features most heavily in situations regarding academic honesty, allowing unproctored exam rooms and prohibiting cheating. This relates to ideas of intellectual and academic property, and knowledge not as a communal good but as a proprietary thing. Knowledge and discipline are two of the things that colleges and universities produce, and this is reflected in the Davidson honor code.
On campus, the honor code features into the interactions we have with each other and the world. From the moment that first years sign the honor code in a ceremony within their first few days on campus, we must adhere to the notions of honor it lays out. The code not only encourages self-surveillance through the idea of “honor” and respectability, it also encourages the surveillance of your peers: you are in violation of the code if you have firsthand knowledge of another student committing an honor code violation and do not report it. This surveillance extends the scope of the honor code beyond what the institution itself needs to enforce. We don’t need professors and administration to surveill the students when the students surveill themselves. In many ways, the honor code is propagated and spread by students.
As we’ve laid out in our timelines, honor codes emerged from a history rooted in Protestant morality, in classed and gendered conceptions of “gentlemen,” and to regulate appropriate behavior related to academic and intellectual work. As the honor code at Davidson is often framed as the moral center of campus, it’s important to consider the ways carceral logic impacts the way we think about “honor,” and how discipline, punishment, and the morality used to frame both processes play out on our own campus.
Foucault, M. (1977). Discipline and Punish: The Birth of the Prison. New York: Pantheon Books.
Wang, J. (2014). Against Innocence: Race, Gender, & The Politics of Safety. Ill Wills Edition.