Critical Punishment Memorialization in Canada
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Recent criminological scholarship on penal history museums has shown how sites of popular culture tend to silence the voices of prisoners and present them in ways that legitimate the deprivation of their liberty. While representations that reinforce the penal status quo are observable at most Canadian penal history sites, there are outliers that situate imprisonment as a form of oppression, and account for prisoners’ struggles and resistance. Drawing on three case studies from a 5-year qualitative research project on Canadian lock-up, jail, prison and penitentiary museums, we discuss what critical punishment memorialization looks like in a context of penal intensification in Canada. We show how such critical representations depend on the historical contextualization of penality as a manifestation of colonialism and/or the incorporation of prisoners’ voices and standpoint. We argue that the critical representations and narratives at these museum sites open up possibilities for the social distance between penal spectators and the incarcerated to be diminished by bringing humanizing prisoner narratives into focus in an otherwise dark tourist space.
KeywordsSocial Distance Corporal Punishment Solitary Confinement Information Panel Museum Staff
This study was produced as part of the Carceral Cultures (CC) research initiative (www.carceralcultures.ca) led by Justin Piché and Kevin Walby, which aims to generate knowledge about Canada’s culture of punishment that informs and gives meaning to penal policies and practices. The project is funded by the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada (Grant No. 430-2012-0447). The authors would like to thank CC research team members Catherine Giguère, Adina Ilea and Alex Luscombes for their respective involvement during the data collection phase of this study and photography at La Prison-des-Patriotes, the Peel Art Gallery Museum and Archives, and the Duck Lake Regional Interpretive Centre. We also thank the Editor in Chief and anonymous reviewers of this journal for their constructive feedback on earlier versions of this paper.
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