Farah GodrejMay 18, 2023
Yoga and Meditation in the Carceral State
Oxford University Press 2022
Are meditation and yoga offered to prisoners merely to have them acquiesce to being incarcerated and degraded? Or can they help prisoners interrogate the political and social structures that incarcerate and degrade?
In Freedom Inside? Yoga and Meditation in the Carceral State (Oxford University Press, 2022), Farah Godrej explores the tension between narratives of quiet contemplation and social or political liberation in meditative and yogic practice that the carceral condition exacerbates or exposes. Godrej resists the impulse to treat personal wellbeing and systemic critique as if they are in a binary relationship. By leveraging her own knowledge of yogic philosophy and practice of yoga, and drawing on Gandhian political theory, she offers an account of how incarcerated people in the United States can and do sometimes practice meditation or yoga subversively by going beyond the palliative logics of prison officials and the organisations that train and bring volunteers to teach them. The meaningful question, she shows, is not whether meditation and yoga should be taught inside, but how they are taught. By describing how, her book reveals the contingent possibilities that meditation and yoga provide incarcerated people to cope with degrading coercive conditions and also sometimes hinder mass incarceration, while deferring or foreclosing other possible freedoms.
Farah Godrej joins this episode of New Books in Interpretive Political and Social Science to discuss access, ethics and risk in prisons research; ethnographic observation and scholarly activism inside; the character of resistance to physical and structural violence in the carceral state; the nexus between activism and academic work; joys of co-authorship with research participants; the delicacy of checking research participants’ meanings; and the importance of self-care in research on violent and opaque institutions.
Freedom Inside is the winner of the 2023 Charles Taylor Book Award.
Nick Cheesman is associate professor in the Department of Political and Social Change, Australian National University where he co-convenes the Interpretation, Method, Critique network. He is also a committee member of the Interpretive Methodologies and Methods group of the American Political Science Association.