[P6028] A Carceral Society: Penal Justice in premodern Islam, c. 661-1500 CE

Created by Mohammed Allehbi
Saturday, 10/17/20 01:30 pm


Michel Foucault's Discipline and Punish illuminated the evolution of the European prison and shaped the study of carceral institutions, state power, and criminal justice in the West. And in recent decades, in the humanities and social sciences, there has been an advancement in the study of the prison as a manifestation of power relations. But carceral studies of the premodern Islamic Near East remain in their infancy. This panel investigates distinctions between Western European and Near Eastern penal developments and interrogates the applicability of the Foucauldian model to our understanding of prisons in the premodern Islamic world. We emphasize the practice (as opposed to theory) of penal justice in the context of state administration of prisons, forms of carceral punishment, the use of various spaces as sites of incarceration, and its wider impact on political and legal discourses.

Prisons varied substantially from Umayyad Syria to Mamluk Cairo, and the role of the prison changed as state authorities in premodern Muslim societies established strategies to better monitor and regulate public affairs. The ever-changing coercive nature of prison mirrored the debates and discussions on the legitimacy of its usage in literary, legal, and administrative genres. Organized chronologically and thematically, this panel will illustrate the evolution of carceral institutions and its accompanying discourses where punishment, torture, and rehabilitation each played a role in the treatment of the offender.

This panel denotes one of the first serious attempts to engage with the practice of imprisonment in the premodern Islamic Near East. By seeking to bring this developing field of Islamic and Middle Eastern Studies into conversation with global research on incarceration, the panel intervenes on broader issues of prisoner rights, urban geographies of coercive spaces, and the politics of penal reform. It looks beyond the theoretical aspect of the penitentiary to the more practical, on-the ground developments, where carceral justice was dynamic, contingent on local circumstances and responsive to demands from below.