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Thursday, August 18, 2011

Dissertation on the rise of the Canadian Penitentiary

Proquest Theses & Dissertations has a new dissertation on "The rise of the modern Canadian penitentiary, 1835--1900" by Ted McCoy of Trent University"s Canadian Studies Program.

Here's the abstract:
The penitentiary is an indelible feature of Canadian modernity. Yet the rise of the modern penitentiary was fraught with struggle, uncertainty, and contradictions that underscored its difficult gestation in Canadian society. This dissertation seeks to address how the penitentiary developed, the influences that drove its evolution, and the effect of the institution on the men and women it touched. It explores three thematic concerns running through this-history, between 1835 and 1900. The dissertation addresses the penitentiary's political economy, cultural history, and discursive contributions to the idea of criminality.
Chapter One introduces and outlines the dissertation's theoretical influences and contributions. It identifies the key secondary literatures on which the research draws and suggests a new revisionist direction that combines the insights of both political economy and social history. The remainder of the dissertation is split into two main parts. The first section provides historical context. Chapter Two establishes the boundaries of the political economy that influenced the early history of Canadian penitentiaries. It addresses both American and British influences and details the economic underpinnings of the first penitentiary at Kingston. Chapter Three explores the cultural history of the prison reform movements that played a major role in how the penitentiary developed. In particular, it details the scandals that beset the early institution to explain how reform gained a foothold in Canadian penitentiary administration. Chapter Four introduces the combined with new understandings of the criminal individual.
The second part of the dissertation combines all three thematic approaches. Chapter Five looks at the penitentiary experience to uncover the workings of power and exploitation in prison life. Chapter Six examines penitentiary medicine through the lens of political economy to underscore the influence of labour and its attendant moral ideology upon the lives of sick and disabled prisoners. Chapter Seven further explores the construction of criminality by investigating methods of punishment and isolation. Finally, the conclusion steps back from the two main sections to ask critical questions about how history can make meaningful contributions to our search for answers about the penitentiary.
The abstract doesn't really provide much support for the claim of a "new revisionist direction" on the subject, but chapters 6 and 7 in particular sound novel and intriguing.

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