CfP for the 2021 MESA Conference: "Prisons, dungeons and arsenals: Confinement in the Middle East"

Karim Malak's picture

We are seeking two co-panelists for this year’s Middle East Studies Association Conference that, with any luck, will be held in Montreal (otherwise, on zoom) October 28-31, 2021. Our panel, tentatively titled “Prisons, dungeons and arsenals: Confinement in the Middle East,” interrogates the development and history of confinement across the Middle East from the early modern period up to the present. Dungeons and other places of confinement and incarceration have long existed, and were deployed by rulers for various purposes during the 16th-18th century. But around the 19th century a new place of confinement was created by the modern state: The prison. Foucault links the rise of this institution, as well as the police, to the biopolitical technologies of government through reform of the individual. However this transition from sovereign power to governmental power has been challenged, with new research challenging the primacy of the prison as a site of reform that was beyond the reaches of the sovereign. Is the picture of sovereign power adequate to the early modern period? What was the logic behind the centralization of apparatuses of punishment in the colonial and national periods? 


This panel also explores more explicitly questions of political economy. Is there an unexplored history of the conjuncture of centralized confinement and new forms of property and personhood? What role do prisons and police forces play besides their strictly legal mandate? Are prisons places of internal exile, or internal political organization? How did prisons enable or hinder criminological discourses? How did nationalists approach questions of prison reform? How did the literati depict the prison in their writings? Did women in the Middle East and Ottoman Empire experience confinement in the same way that men did, or were their spaces of confinement different?



Those interested in presenting a paper on this panel should write a 150 word abstract and a brief bio with name and affiliation to Karim Malak at and Alaa El-Shafei at by the 5th of February 2021