Theorising Prisons, Borders and Walls

Key information

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Module code
FHEQ Level
Department of Politics and International Studies

Module overview

Detention spaces like prisons, refugee camps, military detention centres, black sites, migrant detention centers & islands, border checkpoints, and border walls are used in an ever-expanding number of spatial and political contexts. In this seminar, we will explore these spaces and engage in a detailed historical and theoretical investigation of the complex processes they produce. The module takes up radical and critical perspectives on “reform” and “abolition” with special attention to feminist and black political thought and activism. Focusing on key theorists we will analyse the origins of prisons, prison abolition, anticarceral feminism, racialised policing, borders, migrant detention centres and refugee camps, with a focus on a specific case study of solidarity and activism. Though not exclusively, we will draw on regional case studies of policing and prisons in the Middle East context.

Objectives and learning outcomes of the module

On successful completion of this module a student will be able to:

  • Demonstrate knowledge of the broader theoretical approaches to the study of prisons and borders
  • Demonstrate familiarity with specific prison abolition and refugee / migrant rights campaigns
  • Develop critical reading, writing and presentation skills, including reading and analysing theoretical texts


2 hours seminar per week

Scope and syllabus

  1. Introduction: Why Prisons
  2. Origins of Prisons
  3. Anti-carceral Feminism
  4. Racialised Policing
  5. War prisons and military detention
  6. Theorising Borders
  7. Migrant detention
  8. Encampment and refugee camps
  9. Border Walls
  10. Solidarity and activism

Method of assessment

Assessment is 70% coursework (one 2000 word essay and one 3000 word essay) and 30% oral presentation.

Suggested reading

  • Angela Davis, Are Prisons Obsolete? (Seven Stories Press, 2003)
  • Gilmore, Ruth Wilson. Golden gulag: Prisons, surplus, crisis, and opposition in globalizing California. Vol. 21. Univ of California Press, 2007
  • Jacqueline Wang, Carceral Capitalism (MIT Semiotext[e], 2018)
  • Jeremy Bentham, The Panopticon and Other Prison Writings (Verso, 1995)
  • Michel Foucault, Discipline and Punish: The Birth of the Prison (Pantheon, 1977)
  • Emily Thuma, “Lessons in Self-Defense: Gender Violence, Racial Criminalization, and Anticarceral Feminism,” Women’s Studies Quarterly 43, 3-4 (2015): 52–71
  • Micol Seigel, Violence Work: State Power and the Limits of Police (Duke University Press, 2018)
  • Hall, Stuart, Chas Critcher, Tony Jefferson, John Clarke, and Brian Roberts. Policing the crisis: Mugging, the state and law and order. Macmillan International Higher Education, 2013
  • Balibar, E. (2002). Politics and the other scene. London: Verso. Chapter 4. What is a Border?
  • Mezzadra, S. & Nielson (2013). Chapter 1. The proliferation of borders. In Border as Method, or, the Multiplication of Labor
  • Durham, Duke University Press. pp. 1 – 25
  • Anzaldua, G. (1987). Borderlands. La Frontera. The New Mestiza
  • San Francisco: Ant Lute. Chapter 1. The Homeland, Aztlán / El otro México (pp. 1 – 14)


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