In The Enigma of Capital: And the Crises of Capitalism by David Harvey on page 240 the author alludes to an "... anti-democratic, money-saturated and carcareal drift of capitalist state policies..." which, as far as I can see, is the only time the word 'carcareal' occurs in the book.

I've searched Google and some on-line dictionaries but so far haven't found any definition or use of the word in a similar context that would give me a clue what it means. To me the context makes me think of the word 'carcass' and connotes morbidity and death but that's a wild guess.

  • Carcareal is not found by Corpus of Contemporary American, British National Corpus, and Time Magazine Corpus.
    – avpaderno
    Commented Mar 14, 2011 at 17:23
  • I am looking at the book right now ( chapter 8, page 240, line 26). It say "carcareal", so if it is a misspelling it's still as published.
    – user75352
    Commented May 16, 2014 at 5:43
  • It might be an attempt by the author to turn "cartel" into an adjective. Commented Aug 15, 2020 at 23:43

5 Answers 5


Carcareal is almost certainly a variant of carceral meaning "like a prison".

Both seem fairly rare, and restricted to post-modernist writers such as Michel Foucault. You will find phrases such as "carcareal archipelago" or "carceral archipelago", which seem to mean the division of society into prisons, mental institutions and gated communities, with surveillance everywhere.

  • Here's a reference to Foucault.
    – HaL
    Commented Mar 14, 2011 at 15:44

It's an obscure formation from the same root as incarcerate, and means prison- or imprisonment-related (or, I suspect in this case, imprisonment-oriented).

  • Yes, that fits. From what I've read so far (not just the passage I quoted from) I think he's trying to say that although the current system gives an abundance of choices, the option of making a living without earning money has mostly disappeared. Hence, less freedom in that sense. His use of the word 'carcareal' to say that seems to me a bit of a stretch, but now I believe that's what he was getting at.
    – d5e5
    Commented Mar 14, 2011 at 19:54

Not sure if the word is misspelled in the book or you mistyped, but I believe you are looking for "carceral," which is defined as "pertaining to prisons or a prison." In the limited scope of context provided, I imagine it is a semi-derogatory reference to the characteristic of 'capitalistic state policies' to simply incarcerate criminals rather than reform them.

  • I believe it's a legit spelling, not a typo in either instance.
    – chaos
    Commented Mar 14, 2011 at 15:34
  • I made sure I spelled the word as spelled in the book. The full passage from which I quoted doesn't focus on prisons or criminology but now I agree he must be using a variation of 'carceral' to make a point about some deficiency he sees in the current political-economic paradigm.
    – d5e5
    Commented Mar 14, 2011 at 19:45

First I think the spelling is incorrect and the word you are looking for is carceral. From Wiki: A carceral state is a state modelled on the idea of a prison. It employs physical boundaries in order to gain control of urban space. In the carceral state, public space is transformed into defendable space, with the installation of walls, gates, fences, surveillance cameras and security checkpoints. Such installations are meant to provide control over urban space. In these spaces, gatherings of strangers to the area are discouraged, and barricades of various forms can prevent people from entering or passing through.


It’s in Nabokov’s “Invitation to a Beheading” as well — a book about the imprisonment of one Cincinnatus.

Page 206 - 207:

...he was about to sit down again when suddenly the key scraped in the lock and the door opened whining, rattling and groaning in keeping with all the rules of carceral counterpoint.

  • 2
    Either you've misspelled it or it's a different word. Commented Aug 15, 2020 at 19:46

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