Afterlives of colonial incarceration

African prisons, architecture and politics

As recent protests in the UK, South Africa and elsewhere have demonstrated, the memory politics of material remnants of colonialism and slavery is highly contested.

This project examines how the contemporary memory politics of colonial carceral practices are negotiated in former British colonies in Africa. It examines carceral imperial debris (see Stoler 2008) by focusing on the entanglement of colonial memory politics with the architectural remains of colonialism, and the co-dependent nature of carceral and colonial logics.

The project is the first multi-sited cross-country project undertaken on former sites of imprisonment in Africa. It makes a significant contribution to current debates across a number of disciplines and cross-disciplinary fields of study, including International Politics, Memory and Heritage Studies, Architectural History and Carceral Geography. It highlights the significance of memory practices for the study of prisons in Africa and explores what the repurposing of former sites of imprisonment tells us about the relationship between memory, architecture and state power.

How the history of former incarceration sites is remembered / retold is part of contemporary political struggles. Through this project we are learning more about the production of authorised state narratives about colonial sites of imprisonment, how these are disputed by others and what political debates are at stake in this struggle.

Moreover, what is seen to matter in the disputes and disagreements over the management of these sites is part of a political contestation over, not only how this past is remembered, but what its salience is for the future.

This investigation of sites of colonial incarceration therefore sheds light on what meaning is given to colonial histories today.