I give this detail at the outset because it points to the problems that the editors, Jason Haslam and Julia M. Wright, have set themselves. They are interested in the “ideological formations that inform and are in turn complicated by the figure of the captive in Western discourse,” rather than “material practices and print culture” which textualize that figure, and “in the ways in which captivity has aided the formation of both the modern nation state and its concomitant subjectivities” (4). Haslam and Wright argue that the Western nation emerges from this volume: This is fascinating stuff. It takes us firmly into what Haslam and Wright call the “post-Foucauldian” era of carceral studies by theorizing beyond the limits that Foucault imposed in his groundbreaking work of the 1970s and 1980s. My reservations are about the breadth and scope of Haslam and Wright’s project. They open up a large field for investigation and ask some big questions, suggesting (quite rightly, in my mind) that this work might be part of “new genealogies of subjectivity, within the history not only of captivity but also of the modern nation state that is reliant upon it” (7). What they do not do, however, is offer enough geographical scope to convince me that they are investigating a “fairly coherent set of Western ideologies” (9). I was anticipating more continental European material, for instance, hoping to be educated on texts and events about which I have little knowledge, but which I imagine make suggestive connections with British and American material. I am guessing that the 1848 Revolutions and the Second and Third French Empires, for instance, offer a wealth of material, and these are merely two obvious examples. Haslam and Wright also fail to fully incorporate two of the major incarcerated groups from the British and United States contexts: Australian convicts and African-American slaves. Australian convicts are briefly dealt with in the introduction in a way that does little justice to the complexity and breadth of the available material. The Atlantic slave trade is represented in Tess Chakkalakal’s essay about Olaudah Equiano’s Interesting Narrative which addresses the issue of Equiano’s ambiguous citizenship and “Englishness,” rather than reading him as an African-American prototype (87), and, briefly as a point of comparison, by John MacKay in his essay on Russian serf narratives. It almost goes without saying that work on American slave narratives is of such importance that contemporary carceral studies would not exist without it. Haslam and Wright acknowledge this point in their introduction and mention recent work that reads beyond the narratives themselves. They discuss Angela Y. Davis and Joy James, for example, who “have fleshed out the historical connection and similarities of praxis between the two ‘peculiar institutions’ of slavery and the modern prison” thus radically revising “the purpose of captivity” (5-6). Nonetheless, the absence in this collection of an essay that exemplifies this new direction is notable. Work on the Australian material, by comparison, is much newer but is nevertheless of great significance. The antipodean penal colonies served a variety of key imperial roles (holding off French advancement in the South Pacific, for instance) quite aside from their obvious national, carceral role. Both the convicts and the Australian colonies were a tremendous presence in the British imagination, which is unsurprising considering that 163,000 convicts were transported between 1787 and 1868. And a large number of convicts found the wherewithall to write autobiographies, some of them addressing the very issues raised by Haslam and Wright. John Grant, for instance, transported in 1803, railed against his imprisonment whenever he had the opportunity, and in a “Birthday …
- [Grant, John.] This Beauteous, Wicked Place: Letters and Journals of John Grant, Gentleman Convict. Ed. Yvonne Cramer. Canberra: National Library of Australia, 2000.
- Knatchbull, John. Life of John Knatchbull. Written by Himself. 23rd January-13th February, 1844, in Darlinghurst Gaol. First pub. 1963, ed. Colin Roderick as John Knatchbull from Quarterdeck to Gallows. Sydney: Angus and Robertson, 1963.
- Radzinowicz, Leon. A History of English Criminal Law and its Adminstration from 1750. 5 vols. With a forword by Lord MacMillan. London: Stevens, New York: MacMillan, 1948-1986.