Friday, August 14, 2020 - 11:00 to 12:00

By Robert Werth, Ph.D. , Senior Lecturer , Rice University ,



This talk explores how the figure of the dangerous sex offender is understood and governed by parole personnel. It is widely observed that sex offenders are perceived as monsters beyond repair or redemption. This talk proposes that in addition to monstrosity, we can and should consider the ghostly and haunting characteristics of sex offending. While not effacing the role of monstrosity, I suggest that much of the power of sex offenders to incite affect and actions stems from their perceived spectrality. Specifically, I contend that sex offenders’ potential reoffending represents a spectral threat – an apparition-like absent presence – that troubles temporal, spatial and epistemological boundaries. Drawing from ethnographic fieldwork, this talk traces the ways in which the specter of sexual recidivism becomes an intolerable, haunting threat for parole personnel that legitimizes the extremely punitive and exclusionary ways in which they govern sex offenders.


Robert Werth is a Senior Lecturer in the Department of Sociology at Rice University. Broadly, his work explores how societies think about, produce knowledge on, and govern penal subjects. His current research explores the way in which parole field personnel in the USA utilize and deploy technical (e.g., algorithmic risk assessments, institutional classifications), moral and affective knowledges in enacting agency mandates and supervising individuals. His work has been published in journals including Social & Legal Studies, Punishment & Society, Theoretical Criminology, and the British Journal of Criminology, and in Ruth Armstrong and Ioan Durnescu’s (eds.), Parole and Beyond: International Experiences of Life after Prison (London: Palgrave MacMillan). His newest research project focuses on individuals working within legal and criminal justice institutions (e.g., judges, prosecutors, correctional officers) who advocate for reform of criminal justice practices; that is, with what could be termed ‘progressive insiders.’ It explores how these individuals understand reform and how they attempt to bring it about.