3A Movement as Punishment: Carceral Geographies in Russia, 1900-2017

Parallel Session 3A (Day 1 15.40-16.40)

Movement as Punishment: Carceral Geographies in Russia, 1900-2017

Organised by Sarah Badcock (University of Nottingham), Judith Pallot (University of Oxford) and Mikhail Nakonechnyi (University of Oxford)

Session abstract

This session seeks to explore the experience of movement as an integral part of punishment in Russian carceral systems. The three papers each interrogate distinct temporal moments- Badcock focuses on the late Imperial period, c 1900-1917; Nakonechnyi explores the high Stalinist period, 1930-1955, and Pallot looks at the experience of movement for ‘prisoners in law’ in contemporary Russia. This broad temporal sweep enables the papers together to draw out some of the universal questions that emerge for Russian penal experience in the twentieth and twenty-first centuries, whilst simultaneously drawing attention to the particular context of the periods we present. Our chronology introduces a fresh methodological comparative paradigm, which is rarely used in the scholarship of Russian prisons and allows us to draw some innovative generalizations on a macro-level.

  • The themes introduced by these papers include
  • the extent to which punishment is ‘intended’ or ‘incidental’.
  • the extent to which movement is integral to the punishment itself
  • The impact of distance on the experience of prisoners’ relatives
  • Gendered differentiation of experience, for both prisoners and relatives.


Sarah Badcock (University of Nottingham) : Experiencing penal journeys in late Imperial Russia

The lived experience of penal journeys to exile in late Imperial Russia is the focus of this paper, which draws on archival research undertaken in the National Archive of the Republic of Sakha, and the State Archive of Irkutsk region, alongside published memoir materials. It argues that movement was an integral part of the exile experience, and is considered here as part of a penal arc from imprisonment, through travel, to exile. The paper explores three facets of this narrative. First, the place of stasis and incarceration in the process of movement is considered. Second, the relationships and networks that developed among prisoners are explored, as these relationships provided a complex and formative social space for many exiles. Finally, the relationship between state agents and prisoner experience is evaluated, to draw out the ways in which individual state employees defined prisoner experience, and the extent to which prisoner suffering was an incidental or an intended outcome of State policies. The representations and experiences of women prisoners and voluntary followers are interrogated within this discussion.

Mikhail Nakonechnyi (University of Oxford) : Death on the way home: the experiences of GULAG invalids after early release, 1930-1955.

This paper focuses on the previously unexplored phenomenon of GULAG invalids’ deadly journeys after their early release on medical grounds from the Soviet penitentiary system in 1930-1955. This approach helps to re-evaluate and enhance the whole semantic meaning of the “victim of GULAG” concept, which usually considers only prisoners who died in the camp premises as a victim of the system. My preliminary research intends to clarify and revise this widespread historiographical notion. My conclusions indicate that those who died shortly after their release on the way home due to the illnesses that they contracted while they were incarcerated should also be considered as previously uncounted victims of GULAG concentration camps.

Judith Pallot (University of Oxford) : ‘Camp followers’ in contemporary Russia.

Slides (pdf)

In this paper, I will discuss a very specific type of journey made by thousands of, mainly women, in Russia at the present time. This is the journey to correctional colonies where their family members are incarcerated and, in making it, women today are following in the footsteps of generations of ‘camp followers’ who were forced to make similar journeys in Imperial Russia and the USSR. Using a variety of sources including interviews with  the wives and partners, mothers and siblings of prisoners currently serving sentences in Russian penal colonies in remote parts of the Russian Federation, postings on the numerous support websites, published unpublished testimonies of camp followers, I will uncover the meanings vested in the journey-to-the-colony narrative of women drawn into the penal nexus and what they tell us about the women’s self-identification.