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“It’s signal blocking”: electronic monitoring, punishment and sociotechnical authority


The article analyzes aspects of the technical and political functioning of electronic monitoring devices for people convicted or prosecuted by the criminal justice system in Brazil. The main objective of the text is to analyze the role of technical, legal and administrative operators, in interaction with electronic systems, in conducting the monitoring policy. Based on ethnographic research carried out in an Electronic Monitoring Center, the text starts from the observation of a brief occurrence of signal blocking, promoted by a monitored user, and takes this punctual moment of violation of the system as a revealing breach of its functioning. In dialogue with the Sociology of Punishment and with Science, Technology and Society Studies, the development of the article reveals the set of implications arising from the opaque qualities that characterize both the technological apparatus and especially Brazilian penal and penitentiary institutions.

Penal System; Control; Punishment; Electronic Monitoring; Black box

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