The Global and the Local in the History of the Prison

Scheuzger, Stephan (7 September 2016). The Global and the Local in the History of the Prison (Unpublished). In: The World of Prisons. The History of Confinement in Global Perspective, Late Eighteenth to Early Twentieth Century. Universität Bern. 07.-10.09.2016.

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The prison has a global history. The emergence of the modern state and, at least in Europe and the United States, the expansion of political rights involved a transformation of penal systems. At the centre of this development was the prison which evolved from a means of detention into the principal instrument of sanction. Between the early nineteenth and early twentieth century, imprisonment became the dominant form of punishment on a worldwide scale. But what exactly did this mean? And how can we explain this far-reaching transformation of penal systems? Existing research on the modern prison in Europe, the United States, Latin America, Asia and Africa notwithstanding, very basic questions about the prison as a global phenomenon remain unanswered. How and why did the prison succeed as the prevalent form of punishment around the globe? What exactly did “global” mean, considering the often immense diversity of existing penal regimes not only between but also within empires, nation states and colonies? And what do we actually refer to when we are talking about the prison, given the wide variety of institutions of confinement and penal regimes all over the world? How was the development of the prison interwoven with and separated from other forms of punishment? To what extent and in which ways were the transformations of penal regimes throughout the world interconnected with each other? What was the actual significance of cross-border transfers of knowledge about criminality and punishment for these local processes? How multidirectional were the knowledge transfers within and between continents? And, finally, how do we have to think about decentring the history of the prison in a global context? Forty years after the publication of Michel Foucault’s seminal work Discipline and Punish, it can be argued that the integration of the history of the prison into the perspectives of global history remains the last discernible promise for a fundamental innovation in the field.

Item Type:

Conference or Workshop Item (Paper)


06 Faculty of Humanities > Department of History and Archaeology > Institute of History
06 Faculty of Humanities > Other Institutions > Walter Benjamin Kolleg (WBKolleg) > Center for Global Studies (CGS)

UniBE Contributor:

Scheuzger, Stephan


900 History




Stephan Scheuzger

Date Deposited:

13 Dec 2016 08:11

Last Modified:

12 Apr 2018 21:54


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