CFP: Irish Prisons

International Conference 26th-27th October 2017

Crumlin Road Gaol, Belfast

Call for papers

Irish Prisons: Perspectives on the History and Representation of Irish Forms of Containment

The carceral network, in its compact or disseminated forms, with its systems of insertion, distribution, surveillance, observation, has been the greatest support in modern society of the normalizing power.’ (M Foucault, Discipline and Punish: The Birth of the Prison, p. 304)

Today it is not the city but rather the camp that is the fundamental biopolitical paradigm of the West.’ (G Agamben, Homo Sacer: Sovereign Power and Bare Life, p. 181)

[F]or the prisoners of Northern Ireland, the extreme experience of interrogation and torture, and their corollary, the abusive deprivation of the prison block, could be converted through their deliberate assumption of ‘the body in pain’ into a means, temporary and resistant, of life in common, a way of living that even from the most extreme conditions could shape an alternative collective ethic.” (David Lloyd, Irish Culture and Colonial Modernity 1800-2000: The Transformation of the Oral Space, p. 196)

Confirmed keynote speakers:

  • Ronit Lentin, Associate Professor of Sociology, Trinity College Dublin

  • Lucky Khambule, South African citizen living in Direct Provision (MASI)

  • Cathal McLaughlin, Professor at the School of Arts, English and Languages, Queen’s University Belfast

This multidisciplinary conference, to be held in the Crumlin Road Gaol in Belfast, aims to bring together, in a building with a loaded history, researchers working on the history and representation of Irish prisons and practitioners working on the ground. The conference will take place outside of the academy, in the hope that it will attract both researchers and people involved in various associations, and foster discussion on the specificities of, as James M Smith puts it, Ireland’s ‘Architecture of Containment’.

In light of the history of the gaol, it seems obvious that a reflection on the place of prisons in the North of Ireland during the Troubles should be included, in particular the prison protests of the mid to late 1970s and early 1980s, including the hunger strikes, but also perhaps on the experiences/representations of prisoners during the 1980s and 1990s up to and after the Good Friday Agreement. Papers are therefore invited on the history and the representation of the prisons, and what happens after prison, by prisoners themselves and by others (artists, writers, documentary-makers etc).

Beyond the Troubles, the conference organizers are eager to encourage reflection on prisons in other parts of Ireland in any historical period. As James M Smith points out, ‘In its concrete form, Ireland’s architecture of containment encompassed an array of interdependent institutions […]. In its more abstract form this architecture comprised both the legislation that inscribed these issues and the numerous official and public discourses that resisted admitting to the existence and function of their affiliated institutions’ (2). Smith is specifically referring to Ireland’s Magdalen laundries, but his remarks here are also valid for the multifarious forms of containment which Ireland has developed, notably from the 19th century onwards. Papers are therefore invited on the politics, architecture, history and sociology of Industrial schools, Mother and Baby homes, Magdalen Laundries, and, more recently, Direct Provision. The prisms through which these issues might be broached could include legal, sociological, archeological, architectural, literary, artistic, historical, philosophical, and political approaches, but the organizers are also eager to invite papers on gender/queer perspectives and from representatives of associations working on the ground with those who are currently, or those who have been, inmates or victims of any of these institutions.

Abstracts of approximately 250 words, accompanied by a short bio-biblio, should be sent to Fiona McCann (mccannfiona@gmail.com) and Nathalie Sebbane (nathalie.sebbane@gmail.com) before April 20th. Responses will be given by the end of April, and a selection of papers will subsequently be published in a collective volume.

This conference will be funded by the Institut Universitaire de France and the research laboratory CECILLE at the Université de Lille SHS.

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