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Michael Gibson-Light

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I am an Assistant Professor of Sociology & Criminology at the University of Denver specializing in the study of punishment, work, and inequality. Through research, I seek to illuminate the often-obscured experiences and struggles of working prisoners through ethnographic observations, interviews, and historical and archival analyses. I also engage with local and national advocacy groups to help improve prison policy.

My book, Orange-Collar Labor, examines lived experiences of prison life and work. Following 18 months of ethnographic fieldwork and over 80 interviews conducted within a US state prison, it explores the structure and practices of work behind bars. It reveals how prison labor systems today actually reproduce inequalities between prisoner groups in ways that impact experiences while inside and preparations for release.

My current research investigates the prison labor movement of the 1970s, through which American prisoners sought to unionize in pursuit of improved rights and protections. I document the rise and fall of this labor struggle behind bars, which stood as a final barrier to the eventual rise of mass incarceration. This untold history of the dawn of punitive excess offers insights for policymaking and organizing today.



My card game, Dead Theorists, offers a satirical look at academia while engaging with some of the most famous thinkers in the social sciences and humanities. You're a ghost with unfinished business: train one final protégé. Order it from me directly (for a discount) or from Microcosm.

My recent book, Orange-Collar Labor, draws from ethnographic fieldwork within a US state prison as well as over 80 interviews with working prisoners and prison staff members to explore the realities of prison labor today. Get it from bookstores or Oxford University Press.

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