‘Bare Life’ and the ‘Camp’: the Carceral Archipelago in postcolonial Australia

Prof. Harry Blagg1, Dr Thalia Anthony2
1University Of Western Australia, Crawley, Australia, 2University of Technology Sydney, Sydney, Australia

Popular imaginaries of punishment in the Global North remain in thrall to nineteenth century and early twentieth century Anglo-American places of confinement, where the prison attained master status as the signifier of punishment and the designated site for managing the criminal.. This paper offers an alternative reading of Australian prisons as sites of settler colonial repression rather than discipline and control.  For Indigenous peoples the settler state has always been, in a literal sense, a carceral state.  We assert that correctional and penological theories of the Global North have little to offer an understanding of Indigenous imprisonment. We suggest that Giorgio Agamben’s notions of the camp and bare life provide a more promising framework.  The brutal treatment of Indigenous men, women and children in prisons is part of the same continuum of racism that reduces Indigenous lives to ‘bare life’ across a diversity of situations. Imprisonment is not an exceptional state of un-being for Indigenous people. Rather, in the postcolony, the exception is the norm.  An individual human rights framework is of limited value: instead we need to recognize and account for Indigenous dispossession, state domination and Indigenous sovereign claims. Penal abolitionism can only be meaningful within a process that decolonizes multiple sites of exception for Indigenous people.


Biography:

Harry Blagg specializes in Indigenous people and criminal justice, young people and crime, family and domestic violence, crime prevention, diversionary strategies, policing and restorative justice.  He has over 20 years experience in conducting high level research with Aboriginal people across Australia (including urban, rural and remote locations) on justice related issues. He has developed a specific focus on remote communities – particularly in the Kimberly Region of WA and the Northern Territory – and has been involved in research, consultancy and policy development around community justice, FASD, night patrols, men and women’s safe places, youth justice and family violence.

Thalia Anthony’s expertise is in the areas of criminal law and procedure and Indigenous people and the law, with a particular specialisation in Indigenous criminalisation and Indigenous community justice mechanisms. Her research is grounded in legal history and understandings of the colonial legacy in legal institutions. She has developed new approaches to researching and understanding the role of the criminal law in governing Indigenous communities and how the state regulates Indigenous-based justice strategies. Her research is informed by fieldwork in Indigenous communities and partnerships with Indigenous legal organisations in Australia and overseas. Dr Anthony’s research informs her teaching in terms of advancing strategies for Indigenous cultural competencies in Law curricular, which had its genesis in 2008 when she organised an Australian and New Zealand conference on this theme

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