The colonialities of incarceration in the Global South

Key information

1:00 PM to 3:00 PM
Virtual Event

About this event

Almost 980,000 people are currently incarcerated across the continent of Africa. Home to 53 countries of profound diversity, Africa is nevertheless a site of several cross-continental characteristics, namely the unsafe and overcrowded conditions inside their prisons. Similarly, in South America, 950,000 people are currently imprisoned, alongside 350,000 prisoners in Central America and 120,000 in the Caribbean. These carceral experiences are widely ignored by US-centric analyses, and when they are acknowledged, they are widely invoked to exceptionalise human rights abuses in order to draw heavily racialised distinctions between “savagery” and “civilisation”. This workshop spawns a different focus: how problems of prison overcrowding - and carcerality more broadly - across Africa, Asia, Latin America and the Caribbean have been shaped by colonialism and slavery.

The workshop will be loosely structured by, but not limited to, the following questions:

1. What is the experience of prisoners across the Global South? Who are they? What inequalities and structural injustices does their incarceration reflect and reproduce?

2. How should we understand the term “mass incarceration” across the Global South?To what extent do Western framings (e.g. “disproportionality”) hinder our analysis?

3. To what extent can we trace continued prison expansion in the Global South to key historical events and processes (the arrival of the first slave ship, the abolition of slavery, indentureship, “emancipation”)?

4. How does mass incarceration in the Global South reflect intersecting colonial hierarchies of race, class and gender?

5. How should we understand the role of modern elites in upholding (or upending) colonial legislation, institutions and practices? How should we understand the relationship between structure and agency?

We will attempt to answer these questions with an acknowledgment that many of the terms on which these questions rest (e.g. “incarceration”, “race” and “The Global South”) require further scrutiny themselves. The primary aim of this workshop is to introduce a workshop series that seeks to recalibrate a US-centric discussion of the relationship between race and carcerality. In order to introduce this aim, we will draw on several ideas, concepts and arguments that will themselves be the subject of further examination in the forthcoming weeks and months.


Dr Stella Nyanzi is a Ugandan human rights activist, medical anthropologist and poet. She is also a political activist who campaigns for women and girls’ rights, as well as the rights of LGBTQIA+ (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, intersex, asexual and queer) people. She is most known for her outspoken criticism of Ugandan President Yoweri Kaguta Museveni, which led to her imprisonment at the maximum-security facility, Luzira Women’s Prison in Kampala. While still in prison, Dr Nyanzi received the Oxfam Novib/PEN Prize for Freedom of Expression in January 2020. She wrote an acceptance speech, which was smuggled out of the prison. Since her release, Dr Nyazni has continued to speak out against the Ugandan government, writing on a range of issues including her own experience of imprisonment.

Dr Dylan Kerrigan is a Caribbeanist whose interdisciplinary research explores coloniality and punishment in the Caribbean across various (in)justice systems under capitalism including prisons, court systems, transnational organized crime, and securitization. He is currently a Lecturer in Criminology at the University of Leicester, UK. From 2008 to 2019, he was a Lecturer in Sociology and Political Anthropology at the University of the West Indies, Trinidad. He currently works with a multi-disciplinary research team researching the definition, extent, experience and treatment of Mental, Neurological, and Substance Abuse (MNS) Disorders in Guyana’s jails: both among inmates and the people who work with them. From a Caribbean, global South perspective, Dr. Kerrigan is most interested in how cultural and economic processes extend over long periods of time in the service of various systems of power.

Dr Wangui Kimari is an anthropologist at the Institute for Humanities in Africa at the University of Cape Town. Her work draws on many local histories and theoretical approaches – including oral narratives, assemblage theory, urban political ecology, the black radical tradition, the anthropology of empire, the anthropology of violence and the anthropology of subjectivity – in order to think through urban spatial management in Nairobi from the vantage point of its most marginalized residents. Wangui is also the participatory action research coordinator for the Mathare Social Justice Centre (MSJC), a community-based organization in Mathare, a poor urban settlement in Nairobi, Kenya and an editorial board member of the online publication Africa Is a Country (AIAC).

Dr Annie Pfingst brings an interdisciplinary visual, archival, and discursive practice to apprehension of the materiality and spatiality of settler colonial violence and the carceral and colonising geographies of Kenya and historic Palestine. She is an independent scholar and artist and is Visiting Research Fellow in Sociology, Goldsmiths, University of London.

Rt Hon David Lammy MP (Chair) graduated from the SOAS School of Law in 1993 with an LLB (Hons) degree, and went on to be the first black Briton to attend Harvard Law School. He was first elected to Parliament in 2000, as the MP for Tottenham, the most ethnically diverse constituency in Europe. He is now the Shadow Foreign Secretary. David was appointed as a Visiting Lecturer at SOAS in 2021.

Each speaker will present for around 15-20 minutes before opening up to questions from the audience. If you have any questions about the event, please email Oly Durose at . For more information about the Project, please visit:

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