Award Information

International Dissertation Research Fellowship 2020
Institutional Affiliation (at time of award):
The Politics of Imprisonment: Prisons, Decolonization, and Human Rights in France, 1945-1970s

My dissertation is a history of political imprisonment in France from 1945 to the 1970s. I examine state penal reform and popular prisoner rights activism across three significant historical moments: democratic state reconstruction after the end of World War II (1945), anticolonial activism during the Algerian War of Independence (1954-1962), and the emergence of global human rights politics in the late 1960s and 1970s. I analyze the French state actors who effected penal reforms in 1945, the Algerian War years, and in 1975 alongside political activist groups who protested the prison. These groups included: French and Algerian anticolonial activists (1954-1962); revolutionary Maoist leftists (1968); the Groupe d'information sur les prisons, a prisoner rights activist group organized by French intellectuals including Michel Foucault (1970-1972); and the French section of Amnesty International (f. 1971), an international human rights network that advocated for political prisoner rights on a global scale. I consider these historical actors' mobilizations of the category of the political prisoner as it embodied different prototypical forms across these decades: the German collaborator and the French resistant in the 1940s, the Algerian national and the French conscientious objector in the 1950s and early 1960s, and the global revolutionary leftist in the late 1960s and 1970s. In contrast to current scholarship, which presumes that state carceral practices and political rights movements were always in tension, I show this opposition as historically constructed alongside the emergence of decolonization and global human rights politics. Based on archival sources in Paris, Aix-en-Provence, Amsterdam, and Algiers, my project follows these different episodes of state penal reform and non-state prisoner activism in order to offer a new history of the relationship between reform and repression at the heart of postwar democracy, decolonization, and global human rights.