Lead: Professor Anthony Hatch

“Visualizing Corporate Ecologies in the Carceral State” aims to visualize the private corporations that do business in the carceral state, and through that visualization we draw attention to the design features of carcerality, open possibilities for anti-capitalist and abolitionist responses to mass captivity. 

METABOLIC DOMINANCE The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency launched a new military biomodification program called “metabolic dominance.” Its purpose was to create a super soldier whose biochemistry could be manipulated to overcome the biological limits imposed by their environment, such as the need to eat, sleep, breathe. Like Captain America, they would no longer be subject to the normal metabolic constraints of the human body. Imagine the military implanting microcomputers into soldiers’ endocrine glands that can turn on the hormonal signals that say “eat” or “stop eating.” It makes sense why the US military would be interested in metabolism as a medium to make super soldiers. From a biomedical perspective, metabolism encompasses all of the chemical reactions that unfold within the body, processes that allow us to derive energy from food, take oxygen from air, and interact with a host of biochemicals that connect us to our environments. This is an extreme form of biopolitics where manipulating how bodies interact with ecologies is the very battleground on and through which metabolic dominance is waged. Metabolic dominance is all about using a wide range of technologies to control and transform the biochemistry that creates interdependence between bodies and ecologies.

How does the carceral state participate in metabolic dominance?

METABOLIC CAGE: The prison is a metabolic cage that is designed to facilitate the flow of commodities through imprisoned people, a movement of biotechnologies that creates patterned effects on bodies and larger ecologies. Metabolic cages are experimental devices that allow researchers command-and-control over a subject’s metabolism. Metabolic dominance offers us new language to talk about the flow of food and pharmaceuticals through prisoners’ bodies and through the prison corporate environment. While the military has been trying to tinker with the metabolism of its troops, transnational food and pharmaceutical companies have long successfully altered and profited from the transformations of prison metabolisms. Here, The Prison is a Metabolic Cage:

Prison is a Metabolic Cage, 2021

MAPPING THE FLOW: Foods and pharmaceuticals reconfigure the body-minds of imprisoned people as they are forced to live in corporate ecologies as consumers within carceral space. Moreover, the circulation of industrialized quantities of food and pharmaceuticals through prisons (and all the processes of production, transportation, processing, distribution, and waste that circulation entails) creates ecological and metabolic externalities that contribute to human suffering, systematic environmental degradation, and climate change. Consider recent events in Michigan:

Visualizations like Aramark’s Exceptional Record of Achievement (below) bring into the same visual and discursive field the pronouncements of glory and testimonies of horror that flow from metabolic dominance.  

Aramark’s Exceptional Record of Achievement, 2021

To learn more, read “The Pharmacy Prison: Auditing Pharmaceutical Regimes” in Silent Cells: The Secret Drugging of Captive America, “Billions Served: Prison Food Regimes, Nutritional Punishment, and Gastronomical Resistance” in Captivating Technology: Race, Carceral Technoscience, and Liberatory Imagination in Everyday Life, and “Fighting Metabolic Dominance” in Culture as Catalyst.