Looking for Ashley: Re-Reading What the Smith Case Reveals about the Governance of Girls, Mothers and Families in Canada

ashley final cover

Price: $34.95

Page Count: 255

Publication Date: October 2015

ISBN: 978-1-926452-69-2

The 2007 death by self-induced strangulation in prison of nineteen year old inmate Ashley Smith drew a great deal of public attention. The case gave rise to a shocking verdict of homicide in the 2013 inquest into the cause of her death. In this book, I inquire into questions about of what social problem or phenomenon Ashley Smith is a “case,” and what governmental work is done by prevalent constructions of her as an exemplar. This book performs a critical discourse analysis of figures of Ashley Smith that emerge in her case, looking at those representations as technologies of governance. It argues that the Smith case is read most accurately not as an isolated system failure but an extreme result of routine, everyday brutality, of a society and bureaucracies’ gradual necropolitical successes. It critically analyzes how representations of Ashley in the case leave intact, and even reinforce, logics and systems governing gender, motherhood, security, risk, race thinking and exclusion, in power and knowledge that make it predictable for similar deaths in prison to recur. It argues that, in the logics underlying constructions through which Ashley Smith was celebritized and sacralized, mothers’, girls’ and women’s subjectivities and agencies are made unknowable and even unthinkable while the racialized social boundaries of a white settler society are maintained. This book attempts to intervene in those logics to help make alternative outcomes possible and to take steps towards questioning the raced, classed and heteronormative boundaries of commonly assumed figures of the “noble victim”, “good girl” and “good mother” while supporting the agencies of adolescent girls in actively playing a part in the authoring of their lives.

"Looking for Ashley is a richly textured and theoretically grounded analysis of what the author terms the social, juridical and biological deaths of Ashley Smith while in custody in Canada in 2007. In this compelling and challenging read, Rebecca Jaremko Bromwich conscientiously takes the reader through multiple interpretations of diverse data-including diaries, news reports and official documents-to illustrate the competing social constructions of Ashley that facilitated both her death and the official and public understandings of her death. The result is a book that encourages all of us to reconsider the power and use of such constructions in our efforts to seek or to analyze justice."
-Michelle Hughes Miller, Department of Women's and Gender Studies, University of South Florida

"Looking for Ashley is a brilliant read. It is an engaging, provocative piece built on rigorous research with an incredible depth of both primary and secondary sources. Using the Ashley Smith case as a case study, Bromwich skilfully stitches together a detailed description of the shockingly horrific treatment of Ashley Smith in the justice system with a thoughtful critique on girls, power, agency and the technologies of governance. Using the lens of discourse studies, Bromwich reveals much of what is structurally and ideologically wrong with the contemporary justice system and its treatment of girls. Bromwich's writing style is smart, engaging and brave. I had a hard time putting this book down, despite the difficulty of the topic. This is a book that will be used broadly in legal studies but also in youth cultural studies, women's studies, girls studies, critical disability studies, criminology, and sociology."
-Natalie Coulter, Assistant Professor, Communication Studies, York University

"This book provides a refreshing challenge to some common beliefs about the Ashley Smith case. The author critically analyzes the complex relationship between criminal justice and the discipline of psychiatry, as well as the processes that shaped Smith was perceived both within the prison system and in the public debates that followed her death. Looking for Ashley raises compelling questions concerning not only Smith's tragic story, but also more generally the prison system in Canada."
-Diana Young, Associate Professor, Carleton University Department of Law and Legal Studies

Click here to read a review from Current Issues in Criminal Justice vol 28

Rebecca Jaremko Bromwich has a B.A. (Hon.) in social/ cultural anthropology from the University of Calgary, an LL.B. and an LL.M. from Queen’s and a Graduate Certificate in Women’s, Gender and Sexuality Studies from the University of Cincinnati. This book is adapted from her Ph.D. dissertation, which she completed at Carleton University, in the Department of Legal Studies. In her Ph.D. research, Rebecca is working towards an understanding of what insights from the field of critical studies and cultural theory of girls studies can bring to law and legal studies.

Called to the Bar of Ontario in 2003, Rebecca works as a lawyer, and has previously researched and published in a variety of areas, including youth criminal justice law, law practice management and equality issues relating to women and members of other historically marginalized groups in the legal profession as well as contributing as author and co-editor to several Demeter Press anthologies. She is a Contract Instructor at Carleton’s Department of Law and Legal Studies, a PartTime Professor at the University of Ottawa Faculty of Law, and a staff lawyer, legislation and law reform with the Canadian Bar Association. All views expressed in this book are hers alone and do not reflect the views of any organization with which she is or has ever been affiliated.