Markers of entanglement: Survival strategies within the neoliberal university and the promise of carceral futures

Published date01 January 2024
AuthorMitra Mokhtari
Date01 January 2024
Subject MatterArticles
Markers of entanglement:
Survival strategies within
the neoliberal university
and the promise of carceral
Mitra Mokhtari
Department of Sociology, University of Toronto, Toronto,
Ontario, Canada M5S 2J4
Within the neoliberal era, the universitys form and function have shifted. These shifts
necessitate an unraveling of the synergies of institutions of higher education with car-
ceral institutions. Building from the scholarship of the college-prison nexusand the
academic-prison symbiosis,this paper converges on the criminology depar tments
role within these synergies. Based on an analysis of department websites and the intro-
ductory course syllabi of English-speaking criminology departments in Canada (n =50),
I interrogate the methods used to advertise to students. I identify six markers of entangle-
ment that are part of how departments market themselves in the neoliberal era to the
studentconsumer. These markers include career prospects, f‌ield placements, faculty
research, pracademics, job training, and dual/bridging degrees. Utilizing these markers
as a departure point, I analyze these indicators of relationships that exist between the
university and the carceral apparatus. In doing so, I interrogate how these relationships
can (re)produce carceral logics and systems and offer the university an articulated path-
way of survival through carceral intrenchment.
carceral state, higher education, neoliberalism, criminology
Corresponding author:
Mitra Mokhtari, Department of Sociology, University of Toronto, 725 Spadina Ave., Toronto, Ontario,
Canada M5S 2J4.
Punishment & Society
2024, Vol. 26(1) 128146
© The Author(s) 2023
Article reuse guidelines:
DOI: 10.1177/14624745231189242
On May 25, 2020, George Floyd became the 504th person to be killed by police in the
United States in 2020 (Mapping Police Violence, 2020). Floyds murderalong with
countless other Black and Indigenous victims of police violence
served as a catalyst
to worldwide uprisings that demanded changes to the racist violence of policing. When
it was revealed that two of the police off‌icersJ. Alexander Kueng and Thomas Lane
responsible for Floyds murder were graduates of the sociology department
at the
University of Minnesota, the cloak of invisibility was torn off, exposing the intimacies
the discipline has with the states most violent tendencies(Brown and Schept, 2017:
In a tweet directly calling out the complicity of the department of sociology at the
University of Minnesota, Dr Amber Hamilton wrote, if you actively market your
courses to folks who want to be in law enforcement, you have to accept the consequences
down the line. When those off‌icers kill/abuse/main citizens, you cant shy away from
your role in that(Kelsky, 2020 emphasis mine). Highlighted within this indictment is
the way departments such as at the University of Minnesota have used marketing strat-
egies that identify their strengths and relevance to those seeking policing careers.
DeKeseredy and MacLean (1993: 361 emphasis mine) asses that at many U.S. institu-
tions of higher education, at almost every Canadian university and community college, no
social scientif‌ic discipline attracts more students than criminology.However, crimin-
ology does not just passively attract students, departments (and the universities they
are housed in) engage in advertising tactics and marketing strategies. The neoliberaliza-
tion of higher education that articulates the student-as-consumerhas seemingly made
these approaches increasingly common and important to how departments might
approach attracting students. Disentangling this approach to marketing and its reliance
on the continued expansion of carcerality requires further analysis. As the university
increasingly becomes entrepreneurial, the marketing tactics it employs have become
more aggressive, and these tactics can be indicative of the survival strategiesa univer-
sity is tapping into (Pizarro Milian, 2017: 54).
In this paper, I take up the Canadian
context to provide a framework of analysis to inter-
rogate how these survival strategies reveal the synergies that exist between criminology
departments and carceral systems. In doing so, I extend previous conceptualizations of
how the university and carceral systems are linked (see Johnson and Dizon, 2021;
Oparah, 2014) and bridge sustained critiques of the discipline of criminology for its role
in carceral expansion (see Cohen, 1998; Jackson, 2020; Schept et al., 2014) to develop a
specif‌ic framework of analysis that situates the discipline of criminology within the
current neoliberal-carceral university. Previous work has made clear that the university
offers credentials and therefore legitimacy to employees of the carceral state (Oparah,
2014) and that criminology, in particular, is at the ready to staff its institutions (Schept
et al., 2014). However, absent from these interrogations is a systematic analysis of crimin-
ology departments wholesale and the tactics used within these reproductions. As such, I
focus on how the criminology department takes up its role with attentiveness to the material
and ideological manifestations of the production of knowledge and labor that (re)produce
Mokhtari 129

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