Reflections on the TerrFerme Colloque: Prisons, Paradoxes and Interpretation

The recent colloquium (16-19 October 2013) organised by the TerrFerme research group in Pessac, Bordeaux, was both a hugely enjoyable and convivial event, and a real eye-opener to the fascinating and important work going on outside of the English language.

As the responses to my and Karen Morin’s recent Call for Papers for the AAG conference in 2014 are showing, carceral geography is expanding its scope and articulating itself towards a variety of aspects of contemporary critical human geography; however, the monolingualism of many authors writing in English (and I include myself in this) means that we are probably insufficiently aware of the work going on in other languages – perhaps most notably in French.

Thanks to the consideration of Benedicte Michalon and her colleagues at TerrFerme, who designed a conference with simultaneous interpretation between French and English, and to the patience of the French speakers presenting their work at a pace that allowed the interpreters to work, the conference allowed a glimpse of the wealth of fascinating work being undertaken in the French language. I’m providing just a taste of some of that here, and hope that readers of this blog will follow up with the authors to find out more.

For me, one of the key words of the colloque, and one that thankfully needs no translation, was ‘paradox’. Time after time, presenters came back to this term to understand the often conflictual coexistence of different interpretations, practices, notions, in and around the space of the prison (broadly defined).

Sarah Curtis (Durham University) opened the conference by showing that not all English speakers are monolingual – by giving a lecture in French on her work on therapeutic landscape, risk and technical safety in secure hospitals in the UK. For her, the paradox was in the balancing of wellbeing and technical safety, when risk is controlled through designing-out danger in the physical environment (for example, by removing ligature points and attempting to create environments in which no physical harm can be done to onesself or to others). She reported health workers observing that identifying a patient’s progress was challenging when there was no opportunity for them to demonstrate that they could exist safely in a context of risk, and that controlled environments encouraged playful destruction when patients became bored.

Marie Morelle and Emmanuel Chauvin (University of Paris 1) spoke about the spatial distribution of persons in prisons and refugee camps in Chad and Cameroon, offering a rare comparison of these types of confinement, in a non-first world context. They drew attention to the informal arrangements which serve to keep order in both contexts, andthe interactions and ‘power games’ which shaped these spaces, in relation to local, national, international, state and non-state actors inside and outside the facilities.

Nathalie Bernardie-Tahir (University of Limoges) spoke about the confinement of migrants on the island of Malta, and focussed on the personalisation of space, and the importance of the historical legacy of migration to Malta for contemporary understandings of this geopolitical setting in restricting migrant mobility.

Lucie Bony (University of Paris 10) spoke from her PhD research into previous residential arrangements and the experience of carceral space on the part of prison inmates. She had some fascinating insights into the ways in which age and previous living arrangements intersected with life experience and particularly travel experience, to shape the interpretation and experience of incarceration in terms of the living environment of the prison. For some, the prison mimics the neighbourhood from which they come, and they feel ‘at home’ in this setting. For others, prison recalls experiences of travel – seeing new people and new places, and prisoners experience it almost as a piece of anthropological research. These and other perspectives lead prisoners to engage differently with their prison environment, personalising the space and feeling at home within it, or distinguishing strictly between inside and outside as a form of resistance or expression of autonomy.

Barbara Baudin (University of Grenoble, Marc Bloch Centre, Berlin) and Nicolas Fischer’s (University Versailles-St Quentin en Yvelines) work discussed the vagueness of the legal situation regarding immigrant detention in France, and specifically the fact that spaces of detention and of administrative confinement (of prisoners who had reached the end of their sentences, but who were deemed too dangerous to be released) existed in space before they existed in law. Drawing on the example of the scandal of d’Arenc, they talked through the codification of this space, and the paradox of the existence of the carceral architecture in space pre-dating the codification of these spaces in law.

Marine Bobin (University Toulouse Le Mirail) gave a fascinating presentation from her PhD work on jails in Navajo territory in the USA, and the idea of the “indigenous” prison. She traced the paradoxes of the co-location of a traditional Navajo ‘peacemaking’ centre in front of a new Navajo jail, detailed the individualisation of the Navajo jail (such as a sweat lodge, and coloured floor tiles which recall Native American patterns), and linked these issues to the fractures within the Navajo community between those who believe that the prison is antithetical to traditional Navajo justice, and those who see the jail as bringing some form of welcome ‘modernisation’ to the Navajo community.

Camille Boutron (IFEA Lima) presented on the political role of incarceration for female combatants in Peru (1980-2010), and spoke passionately about the paradoxes of imprisonment for women for whom both the domestic sphere, and participation in guerrilla forces, can be seen as forms of confinement. She described the prison as a bridge between these two confinement spaces, and as a space which has performed a strategic role in Peru’s armed conflict through the politicisation of female political prisoners.

In a final session on confinement and mobility, David Scheer (University Libre de Bruxelles) spoke about internal spatial flows in three prisons in Belgium – one old decrepit prison, a newer one built to the same design, and a planned prison in which prisoners will move around carrying electronic tags which monitor geolocation and enable particular doors to be opened depending on the level of autonomy and access afforded to each individual prisoner. Reading these spaces as disciplinary, David thought through the ways in which the three spaces enabled or restricted autonomy and created or contested the notion of the docile prisoner. Read David’s blog Entre Quatre Murs /Between Four Walls here.

Caroline Touraut (Centre Max Weber, Lyon) gave a compelling example of the proximity of mobility and liberty through her study of the experience of carceral space on the part of older prisoners, who as they age and become less physically mobile, not only encounter limited mobility within prison spaces ill-designed for their needs, but also face prejudice based on assumptions (rightly or wrongly) that they are sex offenders. She presented moving testimony from interviewees which brought vividly to life the marginalisation suffered by these inmates.

Fleur Guy (University of Lyon 2) presented from her PhD research into care homes for troubled young people in France, describing the paradox of distance from the temptation of the city, with the need to keep young people close to their communities, to aid their future integration. She drew on fieldwork which showed considerable empathy with young people as they devised spatial strategies to enter and leave the semi-closed spaces of the care homes, the dislocation they felt from their previous lives, and the disturbance which resulted from repetitive moves between facilities.

Although these thumbnail sketches represent less than half of the work presented in French in Pessac, they represent a flavour of the work which appears to be most relevant for carceral geographers at this moment. Over lunch with colleagues from TerrFerme, there were discussions about the possibilities of publishing in English in ways which would point up the findings of French language research – which would be very welcome indeed.

Terrferme Conference “Confinement viewed through the prism of the social sciences: Contrasting facilities, confronting approaches”

The programme for the Terrferme 2013 conference “Confinement viewed through the prism of the social sciences: Contrasting facilities, confronting approaches.” has been released (conference details here) and the line-up suggests that this will be a fascinating event opening a space for diverse, international discussion of confinement.

I was honoured to be invited to join the scientific committee of the conference, and to provide some comment on one of the sessions, and I look forward to seeing everyone in Pessac in October!

Registration online before 16 October 2013 at

Wednesday 16 October 2013

Opening speech: Denis Retaillé (Director of the Adess Research Centre); Michel Pernod (Vice Director of the Bordeaux 3 University Scientific Council)

Screening of the film A l’ombre de la République (In the shadow of the Republique, french version with English subtitle) and debate with the film-maker Stephane Mercurio

Thursday 17 October 2013

Introduction to the Conference: Bénédicte Michalon, Djemila Zeneidi (Adess, Cnrs/Univ. Bordeaux)

Sarah Curtis (Durham University) ‘Compassionate containment’? Balancing technical safety and therapy in the design of psychiatric wards 

Le continuum carceral / The Carceral Continuum

Chair :      Olivier Milhaud (ENeC, Cnrs/Univ. Paris IV)

  • Ruth Wilson Gilmore (City University of New York) Partition: Devolution, Realignment, and Challenge
  • Emmanuel Chauvin, Marie Morelle (Prodig, Cnrs/Univ. Paris 1) Des prisons et des camps de réfugiés : des modèles d’enfermement au service de la gestion des territoires ? / Managing territories through confinement? Prisons and refugee camps in Chad and Cameroon
  • Nathalie Bernardie-Tahir (Geolab, Cnrs/Univ. de Limoges,), Camille Schmoll (GeographieCités, Cnrs/Univ. Paris 7,) Enfermer les migrants indésirables : les échelles de l’enfermement en contexte insulaire (Malte) / Enclose unwanted migrants: scales of confinement in an island context (Malta)
  • Mahuya Bandyopadhyay (Univ. of Delhi) Confinement, Control and Resistance beyond the Carceral: Exploring Prison Para Connections
  • Lucie Bony (Lavue, Cnrs/Univ. Paris 10) L’incarcération dans les trajectoires individuelles : comment le passé résidentiel agit-il sur les manières d’habiter et de cohabiter en prison? / Incarceration and biographical trajectories: how does the residential past influence the way to live and coexist in prison?

Comments and Discussion: Georg Glasze (Univ. Erlangen-Nürnberg), Olivier Milhaud (ENeC, Cnrs/Univ. Paris IV)

Espace et pouvoir / Space and Power

Chair :      Marie Morelle (Prodig, Cnrs/Univ. Paris 1)

  • Kelly Gillepsie (Univ. Witwatersrand, Johannesburg) A post-apartheid prison? / Une prison post-apartheid?
  • Barbara Bauduin (Univ. Grenoble, Centre Marc Bloch Berlin), Nicolas Fischer (Cesdip, Cnrs/Univ. Versailles – Saint Quentin en Yvelines) Retenir sans détenir : jeux et enjeux d’architecture / Detention without Punishment: Issues and debates on administrative confinement architectures
  • Marine Bobin (Lisst, Cnrs/Univ. Toulouse Le Mirail,) Construire des prisons chez les Navajos : vers une « indigénisation » de la prison / Building jails in Navajo territory: toward an “indigenous” prison?
  • Alain Morice (Urmis, Cnrs/Univ. Paris 7) Le confinement des travailleurs saisonniers étrangers en Europe: propositions pour un modèle comparative / Confining seasonal workers through accommodation: some proposals to a comparative model in the European countries

Comments and Discussion : Olivier Razac (Ecole Nationale de l’Administration Pénitentiaire, Agen)

Chair :      Camille Lancelevée (Iris, EHESS, Centre Marc Bloch Berlin)

  • Fleur Guy (Evs, Cnrs/Univ. Lyon 2,) De la porte ouverte aux barbelés, usages de la contrainte spatiale dans les foyers de placement pour adolescents / From open doors to barbed wire: the use of spatial constraints in teenage foster institutions
  • Lilian Ayete-Nyampong (Wageningen Univ.) Underlife of a total institution: Ethnography of confinement sites in Ghana for juvenile and young offenders / La vie clandestine d’une institution totale : ethnographie de lieux d’enfermement pour adolescents et jeunes délinquants au Ghana
  • Anna Schliehe (Univ. of Glasgow) Re-discovering Goffman : Contemporary carceral geography and the ‘total’ institution / Re-découvrir Goffman : la géographie carcérale contemporaine et l’institution « totale »

Comments and Discussion : André-Frédéric Hoyaux (Adess, Cnrs/Univ. Bordeaux)

Friday 18 October 2013

Pluralité des acteurs de l’enfermement et mise en tension des institutions / Institutions facing the diversity of the actors of confinement

Professionals in confinement settings

Chair :      Mathilde Darley (Centre Marc Bloch Berlin)

  • Nicolas Sallée (Univ. Paris Ouest) Au bord de l’incarcération. Les éducateurs de la Protection Judiciaire de la Jeunesse à l’épreuve de leur intervention en centres éducatifs fermés / At the Edge of the Prison. A Study of Educational Practices in French Juvenile Closed Centres
  • Arnaud Frauenfelder (Univ. of Applied Sciences Western Switzerland, Genève), Eva Nada (Univ. Neuchatel), Géraldine Bugnon (Univ. Genève) « Pluridisciplinarité et ouverture sur l’extérieur » : des agents d’encadrement à l’épreuve d’une réforme d’une prison pour mineurs / “Multidisciplinarity and outward orientation”: managerial staff challenged by juvenile prison reform
  • Camille Lancelevée (Iris, EHESS Paris, Centre Marc Bloch Berlin) Quand la prison annexe l’hôpital ? La place des soins psychiatriques en milieu pénitentiaire en France / When prison encroaches upon hospital? Psychiatric care in the French prison system
  • Adelaïde Bargeau (Sage, Cnrs/Univ. de Strasbourg,) La réforme de la garde à vue : la fin du « huis clos policier » ? / The Effects of the French Police Custody Reform on Interrogation Conditions

Comments and Discussion : Gilles Chantraine (Clersé, Cnrs/Univ. Lille 1), Mathilde Darley (Centre Marc Bloch Berlin)

(Dé)construire l’ordre / (De)constructing Order

Chair :      Gilles Chantraine (Clersé, Cnrs/Univ. Lille 1)

  • Yasmine Bouagga (IRIS, EHESS Paris) Le droit à la conquête des territoires d’enfermement ? Questions sur de paradoxales circulations et usages du droit dans les lieux de privation de liberté, à partir du cas de la prison / Can legal rights conquer places of confinement? Questions on paradoxal circulations and uses of law in prison
  • Benoît Eyraud (Centre Max Weber, Cnrs/Univ. Lyon2,), Livia Velpry (Univ. Paris 8) Malades difficiles et détenus souffrants : différences et similarités du rôle de l’enfermement dans le soin psychiatrique specialise / Difficult patients and suffering prisoners. The role of confinement in specialized psychiatric care
  • Fabrice Fernandez (IRIS, EHESS Paris) Humaniser la sanction ? Le traitement carcéral de l’indiscipline / Humanizing punishment? The carceral treatment of indiscipline
  • Grégory Salle (Clersé, Cnrs/Univ. Lille 1) La marchandisation de la gestion carcérale en France et en Allemagne : esquisse de généalogie compare / Can we speak of a commodification of European prison systems? France and Germany compared

Comments and Discussion : Carolina Kobelinsky (St Antony’s College, Univ. of Oxford)

Des institutions face aux transferts de normes  / Institutions and the circulation of standards

Chair :      Carolina Kobelinsky (St Antony’s College, Univ. of Oxford)

  • Helga Zichner (Leibniz Institute for Regional Geography Leipzig), Bettina Bruns (Leibniz Institute for Regional Geography Leipzig) The standards of confinement in the Western Newly Independent States (WNIS) – an aspect of the EU immigration policy in Belarus, Ukraine and Moldova / Les normes de l’enfermement dans les Nouveaux Etats Indépendants Occidentaux – Un aspect de la politique migratoire de l’UE en Biélorussie, Ukraine et Moldavie
  • Andrew M. Jefferson (Dignity – Danish Institute Against Torture, Copenhagen) Surviving Philippine Prisons – an account of entangled encounters / Survivre dans les prisons philippines : des relations entrecroisées

Comments and Discussion :  Djemila Zeneidi (Adess, Cnrs/Univ. Bordeaux)

L’enfermement à l’épreuve des inégalités. Production de l’altérité et assignations identitaires / Confinement and Inequality. Production of Otherness and Identity assignements

Chair : Tristan Bruslé (Centre d’Etudes Himalayennes, Cnrs)

  • Jérémie Gauthier (Centre Marc Bloch, Berlin) Contrôler, vérifier et garder à vue. Effets sociaux des pratiques policières d’immobilisation et d’enfermement / Check, search and custody measures. Social effects of law enforcement practices
  • Elise Roche (Evs, Cnrs/Insa de Lyon,) Construire contre l’enfermement. Le village d’insertion Rom : l’hébergement au risque des logiques carcérales / Building against confinement: the case of Roma people’s shelters
  • Camille Boutron (Ifea Lima, Ird) Incarcération politique et trajectoires militantes féminines. L’espace carcéral comme enjeu de contrôle social et de mobilisation politique des femmes au Pérou (1980 – 2010) / Political incarceration and female combatant careers. Prison space as a challenge for the social control and the political mobilization of Peruvian women (1980- 2010)
  • Louise Tassin (Urmis, Cnrs/Univ. Nice) Le clandestin tunisien et le réfugié africain. Catégories et discriminations dans le centre fermé de Lampedusa (Italie) / The undocumented Tunisian and the African refugee. Categories and discriminations in the detention center of Lampedusa(Italy)
  • Aurore Mottet (Urmis, Cnrs/Univ. Nice) Rapports interethniques en situation d’enfermement : le « penser ethnique » des organisations humanitaires. / Ethnic relations in confinement: the “ethnic-thinking” of humanitarian associations
  • Guillaume Le Blanc (Univ. Bordeaux 3) Migrants indésirables / Unwanted migrants

Comments and Discussion : Andrew M. Jefferson (Dignity – Danish Institute Against Torture, Copenhagen), Tristan Bruslé (Centre d’Etudes Himalayennes, Cnrs)

Saturday 17 October 2013

Mobilités et enfermement / Mobilities and confinement

Chair : Olivier Clochard (Migrinter, Cnrs/Univ. Poitiers)

  • Lauren Martin (Univ. of Oulu, Finland) Detention and the Production of Migrant Precarity / Rétention et précarisation du migrant
  • Stéphanie Latte-Abdallah (Iremam, Cnrs/Univ. Aix-Marseille) Entre la prison. Incarcération politique, porosités et mobilités en Palestine après 2000 / Prison: in and out. Political Incarceration, porosity and mobility in Palestine after 2000
  • David Scheer (Université Libre de Bruxelles) Circulations internes en établissement pénitentiaire : à la recherche du disciplinaire manqué ? / Internal flows in prison: the quest to the missed discipline?
  • Caroline Touraut (Centre Max Weber Lyon, Ined) Trajectoires et mobilités des détenus âgés en France / Old prisoners’ constrained mobility. The case of French prisons

Comments and Discussion : Dominique Moran (Univ. of Birmingham), Olivier Clochard (Migrinter, Cnrs/Univ. Poitiers)

Lorna Rhodes (Univ. of Washington, Seattle) Thinking through the institutional interior / Penser l’intérieur de l’institution

Concluding discussion