CFP: Territories of incarceration: The project of modern carceral institutions as an act of rural colonisation – session at the European Architectural History Conference, Edinburgh UK, 10-13 June 2020

European Architectural History Network Edinburgh 2020 Conference logoSabrina Puddu and Francesco Zuddas will be chairing a session at the 2020 EAHN Conference. The conference, organised by the European Architectural History Network, will take place in June 2020 in Edinburgh. The call for contributions is now open and abstracts must be submitted by 20th September 2019.

Their session will seek contributions on the topic ‘Territories of incarceration: The project of modern carceral institutions as an act of rural colonisation’.

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It can be argued that the modern prison is the locus where architecture tested its own entry into modernity. Through two fundamental archetypal diagrams – Carlo Fontana’s House of Correction in Rome (1704) and the Bentham brothers’s Penitentiary Panopticon (circa 1790) – the prison emerged as the paradigm of architecture’s ambition at shaping and directing human behaviour and relationships, which ultimately found synthesis in the modern model prison of Pentonville (London, 1840).

Scholarship on the architecture of incarceration has mostly focused its attention on urban compact prisons, of which Pentonville stands as the prototype. Robin Evans’s seminal study of modern reformism in British prisons (The Fabrication of Virtue, 1982) provided a detailed enquiry into the empowerment that architecture received by addressing the project of detention. Evans’ work sits alongside its contemporary and more celebrated companion, namely Michel Foucault’s Surveiller et punir (1975). Interestingly, the key to understand the argument of the two books seems to lay not as much in the analysis of detention inside urban compact prisons, but in what the two authors took as the ending point of their historical narratives: the opening of the Colonie Agricole at Mettray in France, which happened almost concomitantly to that of Pentonville, showing how the architectural codification of the carceral happened as much in the urban walled-prison as in a less restrictive parallel institution where the rational precision proper of the design of a prison was loosened (hence Foucault’s definition of ‘prisons boiteuse’ – limping prisons). The colony of Mettray served as the archetype for this new para-carceral type (the penal colony) that balanced its apparent uncertainty and benevolence by extending its scope of action towards vast territories and acting as an agent of rural colonisation that participated in the geopolitical project of the modern national states.

This session aims to collect insights into the architectural history of the modern penal colony intended as a specific declination of carceral institution that, besides the immediate role of confining, reforming, and punishing criminals, also took on an objective as an agent of territorial transformation and domestication of vast rural domains. Particular attention will be given to papers addressing the European territory and the role played by penal colonies in the processes of internal colonisation, as opposed to more usual explorations of imperial forms of colonisation. Shifting from the architectural to the territorial scale and covering a time-span from the mid-19th c. up to the WW2, contributions are sought that explore cases in which the project of penal colonies intersected with and facilitated the birth and acceptance of a new modern rural order across the European continent.

This session will be related to a monographic issue on penal colonies and the project of modern rural landscapes that is being discussed with the editors of the Journal of Architecture, for publication in 2020.

Sabrina Puddu, Royal College of Arts
Francesco Zuddas, Anglia Ruskin University

Contact : Sabrina Puddu,
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