Jay Borchert is a PhD Candidate in the Department of Sociology and a Population Studies Center Trainee at the University of Michigan, as well as a Visiting Scholar at the Center for the Study of Law & Society at UC Berkeley School of Law. We discuss research he conducted for his dissertation titled “Mass Incarceration, The Profession of Corrections, and the Way Prison Workers Construct Meanings about their Participation in our Punishment State,” where he conducted ethnographic observation of prisons and semi-structured interviews with correctional officers.

“Dramatic things happened all the time in the prisons. It’s important to be able to manage your emotions and your reactions in those situations. Many prisons have been built in areas of extreme poverty and isolation, particularly in the case of Kentucky. The characteristics of local political economies make going to work in prisons – which is a stable job, with benefits – a logical, if not pleasant, choice for a lot of people. Their choices are understandable. Going in with a judgmental attitude just makes no sense if we claim to know anything about our history and our politics – particularly our racial politics. It makes no sense to do that if we really want to work toward solving social problems.”
 – Jay Borchert – 

In this episode, we are joined by co-authors David Scott FitzGerald, Associate Professor of Sociology and Co-Director of the Center for Comparative Immigration Studies at the University of California at San Diego and David Cook-Martín, an Associate Professor of Sociology at Grinnell College and director of its Center for International Studies. We discuss the historical, comparative approach that the two employed in their book Culling the Masses: The Democratic Origins of Racist Immigration Policy in the Americas, for which they conducted analysis of legal records of twenty-two countries between 1790 and 2010.

“Getting access to the so-called hidden transcripts, as James Scott would call them, was difficult. That was something that came out of our archival work. We didn’t set out expecting to find the volume of such secret confidentials that we came up with. Some of the more exciting archival research that we did was to uncover some documents that had never been reported before in either the English or Spanish language literature. For example, there are some confidential restrictions on Chinese in Mexico that I found in the archives in Mexico City, where some of the documents were written partially in cypher. Then I found other documents that de-coded that and showed that it referred specifically to Chinese. David found some similar documents that have never been written about before in the archives in Argentina.”
– David Scott FitzGerald & David Cook-Martín –