America’s Carceral Empire: Confinement, Punishment, and Work at Home and Abroad, 1865-1946
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Weber, Benjamin David
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CitationWeber, Benjamin David. 2017. America’s Carceral Empire: Confinement, Punishment, and Work at Home and Abroad, 1865-1946. Doctoral dissertation, Harvard University, Graduate School of Arts & Sciences.
AbstractThis dissertation traces the imperial history of the carceral state from the formal abolition of slavery in the United States (1865) to the declaration of Philippine independence (1946). Through comparative case studies of federal prisons in the Northwest Territories, Philippine Islands, Panama Canal Zone, and plans for a national penal colony, it shows how federal penal policy facilitated the growth of U.S. empire. Foregrounding the social history of people on the ground in each of these sites, it reveals how wardens, guards, and colonial officials developed racialized and gendered practices of mastery; and, how those they imprisoned struggled against brutal regimes of forced labor. In this way, I illustrate how the techniques of hierarchical classification and selective marginalization created in microcosm contribute to the understanding of broader issues of sovereignty and racial capitalism during this period.
America’s Carceral Empire argues that carceral forms developed in ways that were shaped by the legacy of racial slavery, settler-colonialism, overseas war-making, and the international exchange of penological ideas and practices in a world of empires. After the Civil War, former slaveholders and liberal-minded reformers came to agree on the morally redemptive value of hard physical toil and penal colonies were imagined as an apprenticeship after slavery. In the Pacific Northwest, U.S. marshals policed the boundaries of racial belonging and implemented novel systems of racial management at the federal penitentiary on McNeil Island. Here, in what came to be known as the most heterogeneous prison in America, the regulation of time was central to schemes for producing different classes of imperial subjects. The ways that discourses of fitness for prisoner promotion tracked fitness for freedom more generally were particularly pronounced in the U.S. colonial prison system in the Philippines. Prison revolt catalyzed broader anti-colonial movements against U.S. occupation. Finally, prison administrators in the Panama Canal Zone experimented with forced labor regime that sought to turn a majority West Indian prison population into racialized day-laboring subjects that could be strategically deployed and ultimately disappeared. Across each site, imprisoned intellectuals and activists identified connections between imperialism and incarceration, providing the intellectual foundations for lasting critiques of carceral colonialism.
Citable link to this pagehttp://nrs.harvard.edu/urn-3:HUL.InstRepos:41140251
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