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Technologies of Biopower and Discipline in Nineteenth Century Ceylon Prisons

Technologies of Biopower and Discipline in Nineteenth Century Ceylon Prisons

This project builds upon Dr Jim Duncan's recently completed monograph on climate, race and biopower in nineteenth century Ceylon (See the project entitled: Colonialism and Cultural Change in Mid-Nineteenth Century Highland Ceylon). Of central concern to that monograph was the management of the bodies of "free" labour by the colonial government and plantation owners in the interests of capital and the colonial state.

The present project, which is undertaken in collaboration with Dr. Nancy Duncan, narrows the focus of enquiry to the colonial management of bodies in the Ceylon prison system in the years 1860-1914. The prisons are of particular interest because there, experiments on the capacities and needs of human bodies could be most thoroughly explored under what were initially considered to be near laboratory conditions. The Ceylon prisons were explicitly modeled upon the Reformed British prison system after the mid 1860s. The reforms incorporated recent developments in British bio-political and disciplinary techniques.


The project seeks to explore the manner in which these reforms, which were based upon models of embodiment thought to be universal, were adapted by local officials in the tropical colony of Ceylon. Paramount there, was the manner in which late nineteenth century notions of race and tropical climate undermined the "universal" model of prison management.

The project focuses attention upon a number of interrelated issues: mid-to-late nineteenth century theories of psychology, medicine, bodily capacities, technologies of discipline, race and climate.

The project is divided into six principal sections:

  1. The Reformed Prison System in Britain.
  2. The Translation of the model to the Colonies
  3. The Carceral Geography of Ceylon
  4. The Experimental Spaces of Bio-power
  5. Punishment and the Measurement of Bodily Capacities
  6. Making Survive: Nutrition and the Measured Care of Bodies