The shadow of penal supervision

Teaching Pervasive Punishment

Over the last 7 weeks, since the start of this semester, I’ve been teaching a Sociology Honours class based on the book. We’re not quite finished yet (it’s a 10 week, 20 credit course), but reading some of the students’ initial work has inspired to write a little about the process now.

Given that the book contains the short story (‘An Invisible Collar’), uses pictures from the Supervisible and Picturing Probation projects and the songs from the  Seen and Heard EP, and relates the development of Jo Mango’s new ‘System Hold’ EP,  it has been possible — indeed necessary — to integrate all of these materials in the teaching and learning.  In a sense, teaching the class has given me the chance to test some of the book’s arguments (in chapter 6) about how creative methods and outputs might stimulate a deeper dialogue about supervision as a largely invisible and unimaginable form of punishment.

As a mid-term assignment, I asked the students to write a reflective essay. I’m going to copy and paste below some of the guidance that I gave them, and then over the next few days, with their permission, I’m going to share a few examples of the excellent work that the students produced. I’ll leave it to you to judge whether this all ‘worked’– and, if you are an educator — whether you might want to try something similar?  Maybe if you are teaching a class for which the book is relevant, you could adapt my approach and use the materials? If you do, all I ask is that you let me know how it goes…

Here’s the student guidance:

Pervasive Punishment: Reflective writing assignment 

The reflective writing assignment is an essay of 1,000-1,500 words, due 22/18/18, 3pm. This accounts for 30% of your mark for the course.

This short piece of reflective writing is to be based on engaging with creative representations of supervision in the forms of photographs and/or songs and/or stories. You can choose which and how many of these materials to engage with. You might choose to focus on just one picture or one song or one episode of the story, or you might span all the representations (i.e. 10 pictures, 8 songs and 8 episodes) in all three media.

No reading and no referencing is required for this task. The focus is on reflecting (looking back at) experience. The task involves making reflective connections between 2 experiences:

  1. The experience of engaging with the pictures and/or songs and/or story
  2. Your own experience of being supervised by or supervising someone. [There is absolutely no need to think about a difficult experience; indeed, the focus is supposed to be on the everyday, the banal, the ordinary.]

Reflective writing should focus on affect, emotion, atmosphere, feelings and thoughts. The emphasis is not so much on the action(the picture, song, story) as on your reaction. Hence, you don’t need to discuss the nature or detail of your own experience (indeed, there isn’t enough space to do that). Rather, you should write about your reactions to the pictures/songs/stories in the light of your experiences, looking for resonances and dissonances: what do you and don’t you relate to?

The key question you are trying to address in the task is this:

How and to what extent did engaging with these pictures/songs/this story, in light of your own life experience, affect your understanding of what it might be like to be a subject of (penal) supervision?

You might also think about what these representations have highlighted and what might they have concealed or failed to reflect?