Arthur Matuszewski ’11

Bio:  Broadly engaged in the process of independent, interdisciplinary study, I have studied the formation of individual and institutional worldviews, with particular emphasis on the historical development and values of universities and prisons. I have also coordinated the Brown Education Link for the past three years, bringing Brown and Providence faculty into the ACI for collaborative learning experiences and have been active on several university committees. My TIA project focuses on the connections between prisons, labor and the American experiment — tracing a history of prisons as the moral litmus test of American exceptionalism, with labor as the cardinal virtue promising to redefine a new ethic of reformation.

TIA Poster_a.matuszewski

Abstract:  Prisons have long been sites of ethical contestation — why we remove individuals from society is fraught with complex questions about how our values of moral and just life operate in the lived experience. In early colonial America, prisons served as representations of America’s exceptional qualities as articulated by thinkers who saw them ‘as hospitals for patients laboring under moral diseases.

Labor, representing the highest virtues of early American life and embodied in a ‘Protestant ethic’ valuing thrift, integrity, and self-reliance along with hard work, became a key fixture of America’s earliest prison experiments. Meant to offer a means of reform that would allow the offender to return to a state of liberty via personal atonement and gradual reintegration, labor challenged the moral culpability of idleness by transforming offenders into working practitioners of the American ethic.

My project traces the history of American prison labor, finding in its various incarnations glimpses into the broader question of incarceration itself as it relates to our shared vision of America and its moral identity. With 1 in 100 Americans now incarcerated, prison and the concomitant question of prison labor raise the ethical gambit between equality and liberty that ultimately defines our shared humanity.

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