Society for Cultural Anthropology
Oral Presentation Session
Contemporary institutions that combine carceral and therapeutic functions pose ramifying questions for the anthropology of care. In specialized prisons or criminal courts that enforce psychiatric treatment on supervised populations, it is impossible to locate care through its opposition to other forms of relatedness (compassion vs. control, intimate concern vs. bureaucratic regulation, ameliorating suffering vs. disciplining conduct). The institution itself mixes up these dissonant ethical intentions in the details of work. Ethnographies of carceral/therapeutic settings thus reveal the enactments of care (whatever its precise definition) when boundaries between punishment, surveillance and treatment blur. This paper examines two main “care-full” tactics in the operation of mental health courts. Such courts provide psychiatric and welfare services instead of jail for people with severe mental illness and charged with criminal offenses. The colloquies between defendants and the judge exemplify the first tactic. The judge’s encouragement and warnings are formulaic, performative and moralizing. Defendants are effectively interpellated as “cared-for” – and that new identity has real consequences – even though the judge may not sincerely feel obligated to alleviate suffering (see Aulino 2016 and Carr 2011). Secondly, the court’s operation depends on finding exceptions to its own default punitive logic. The court team invents policy as it carries out in order to manage people imagined as dangerous to the public and themselves (Fassin 2015). Speech that does not assume inner sincerity, and everyday work that must deviate from institutional mandates, accomplish the ambivalent and fragile care at the overlap of penal and psychiatric logics.