This talk focuses on penal knowledge production practices; in particular, it explores how paroled subjects in the USA are evaluated, predicted, and rendered knowable. In the first part, Dr Werth traces the ways in which evaluation represents a techno-moral assemblage that integrates different sources of information (e.g. risk assessment instruments, state documents, face-to-face interaction) and different ways of knowing (technical, moral and intuitive). He attends particularly to how affect – as a preconscious force, a way of sensing or suspecting without knowing why – impacts evaluation through structuring other knowledges. The second part examines the performative effects of technologies of evaluation (algorithmic risk assessments, classificatory schemas). These techniques influence the beliefs of parole personnel and establishing a self-fulfilling prophecy. They also trigger material and bureaucratic effects – independent of or even contrary to beliefs – that turn risk/dangerousness into a legal and institutional ‘fact’.

Presenter biography

Dr Robert Werth is a senior lecturer in the Department of Sociology at Rice University. He received his PhD in Criminology, Law and Society from the University of California, Irvine. Broadly, his work explores how societies think about, produce knowledge on, and govern crime, ‘criminality’ and penal subjects. His current research entails two overlapping foci. First, it ethnographically explores how individuals on parole experience and navigate state efforts to regulate their conduct and personhood. Second, it examines the ways in which parole field personnel utilize and deploy technical (e.g. algorithmic risk assessments, institutional classifications), moral and affective knowledges in supervising individuals in the community and instantiating agency mandates (e.g. promoting public safety, fostering rehabilitation). His work has been published in journals including Social & Legal Studies, Punishment & Society, Theoretical Criminology, and the British Journal of Criminology, and in Ruth Armstrong and Ioan Durnescu (eds.), Parole and Beyond: International Experiences of Life after Prison (London: Palgrave MacMillan). His new research project explores how treatment courts (e.g., drug courts, veterans’ courts) – that encourage alternatives to incarceration – understand, frame, and attempt to address trauma and offending.


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