Workshop: Connecting networks in crime history – Surveillance, repression and punishment in Africa and Latin America in late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries


  • Start: Dec 12, 2019
  • End: Dec 13, 2019
  • Organisation: Raquel R. Sirotti, Karl Härter
  • Location: MPIeR
  • Room: Lecture hall of the MPI
Workshop: Connecting networks in crime history – Surveillance, repression and punishment in Africa and Latin America in late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries

The late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries are generally regarded as the period in which systems of surveillance, repression and punishment were (re)created on a global scale. The enactment of new penal codes, the creation of criminal legal journals, the large-scale construction of prisons and other institutions of incarceration, and the implementation of criminal identification systems are but a few of the phenomena that characterised the process of modernisation of punitive practices in several parts of the world. These changes, however, were neither autonomous nor isolated. Several historical inquiries have already shown that issues related to crime and punishment were to provoke a multitude of international exchanges moving in different directions. One of them led to the circulation of legislative and institutional models. Another possibility follows the movements of so-called 'high' legal knowledge – what lawyers usually referred to as 'penal doctrine'. Still, a less conventional perspective can be thought of when one traces the paths of 'traveling criminals'; people who crossed borders to escape legal persecutions, headed up international criminal networks, or committed transnational crimes.

In terms of geography, scholarship tends to highlight the exchanges between European and American territories, where European nations occupy a privileged position – or, more accurately, a superior one – within this comparative context. Research guided by notions such as 'reception' or 'influence' are excellent examples of how the centre-periphery relationship is often taken for granted. The 'influence' of the French Penal Code, or the 'reception' of Italian criminological positivism, for instance, were questions extensively thematised by researchers who sought to write the history of criminal law in countries such as Brazil and Argentina. Moreover, there is a general and pronounced tendency to disregard the relations between peripheral regions. Dialogues between Latin American countries, or between different regions of the Atlantic, such as Africa and Latin America, are often either little researched or outright neglected.

Against this background, the main purpose of the workshop is to initiate a dialogue on the formation of regimes of surveillance, repression and punishment between the nineteenth and twentieth centuries that: i) questions Europe as the centre of the networks that characterised the processes of modernisation of punitive practices; (ii) investigates the intensity and nature of the exchanges between non-European countries, especially among African and Latin American nations; and (iii) prioritizes local uses and practices. The workshop brings five guest speakers together with in-house researchers, who will participate in a two-day meeting at the Max-Planck Institute for European Legal History. The focus of the presentations will be on Africa and Latin American and will seek out connections within transatlantic spaces of exchange. Following the methodological approach outlined above, works on the history of criminal legal thought, police, punishment, prisons and the criminal justice system all fall within the scope of the meeting.

Image: The Berlin Conference on partition of Africa, 1884

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