On October 18, Robson Crim launched the new Manitoba Law Journal special issue on Criminal Law. As part of that event we invited Professor Rebecca Bromwich to speak about the Ashley Smith affair ten years after the tragedy.
Professor Bromwich undertakes a critical discourse analysis (CDA) of public texts, revealing how sense was made of Ashley Smith in the official record, where she was configured as a carceral subject: an inmate. Smith's is a case fundamentally like those of many inmates. This can be better understood if a new language is deployed for theorizing these recurring deaths. Smith’s death can be read not as an isolated system failure, but as a necropolitical success.
CDA of this official story reveals that the Smith case is an extreme result of everyday brutality. It is not anomalous, but rather a predictable and recurring result, of a society and bureaucracies’ gradual necropolitical exclusions. Drawing on theorizations about logics of exclusion from Giorgio Agamben and Achille Mbembe, Profesor Bromwich argues that forms of governance in power and knowledge that allow some people, and in particular certain women and girls, to be categorized as homo sacer, neither alive nor dead, were actively involved in Ashley Smith’s death both before and after her transfer to CSC custody. These forms of governance remain in operation with widely felt consequences in prisons, not just in Canada, but across neoliberal societies, and not just in prisons, but also in those societies in general.
She argues that, on this analysis, the death of Inmate Smith speaks to a need for broad-based and fundamental change to operating logic deployed in the operation of the criminal justice and correctional systems, and in consequence, it is quite correct for reference to the Smith case to be situated in the Ministerial Mandate Letter to the Minister of Justice.
Excerpted and adopted from Theorizing the Official Record of Inmate Ashley Smith: Necropolitics, Exclusions, and Multiple Agencies.
Check out her remote video blawg below: