The rise of the prison has been an important historical development of the modern era. Over the past two hundred years, the growth of prisons has ticked upward. Confinement has come to dominate national penal regimes, increasingly replacing bodily harm as a primary form of punishment. Prisons now span the globe. While rates of incarceration have varied widely over the past two centuries across nations and over time, the last third of the twentieth-century witnessed an upward trend from the United States to Brazil and China. In the United States, prisons have become a pressing social problem with the highest number of its citizens behind bars of any country in the world.
On the occasion of the 40th anniversary of Michel Foucault’s Discipline and Punish: The Birth of the Prison (1975), the influential book that first opened a new line of inquiry into the study of the prison, the Weatherhead Initiative on Global History is planning a conference to spark a global conversation among researchers in the social sciences and humanities at work on the history of distinctive penal regimes. We are interested in exploring the diversity of regimes of punishment, and especially the prison as an institution within them, the paths along which they changed, and—most especially—the connections between these changes in different parts of the world. The conference will present papers that address a variety of themes from the philosophical underpinnings of systems of punishment, the character and function of regimes of incarceration and penality in colonial, liberal, neo-liberal and authoritarian state systems, and the distinctive cultures of confinement that have emerged within these varied systems.
Registration is limited, please pre-register at https://www.eventbrite.com/e/global-history-of-penal-regimes-tickets-15358788550.
Conference Convener: Lisa McGirr, Professor of History, Harvard University