The Prison in War and the War in Prison in the Maghreb: From Colonial Conquest to the Present

University of California
Marc André, University of Rouen; Susan Slyomovics, University of California, Los Angeles
Susan Slyomovics

The goal of this special issue on the prison in war is not only to move through historical layers but also to interrelate them by analyzing transition periods and historical trajectories. Essay contributions are 40,000 characters or 7,000 words with the primary focus on case studies based on sources that have received little or no attention. Papers are accepted in French, English and Arabic.

Since Michel Foucault’s works on the birth of modern incarceration (Foucault, 1975), there is renewed interest in prisons. On the one hand, his insights were supported and extended into new investigations on the society of control (Deleuze, 1986), relationships between social inequality and incarceration (Wacquant, 1999), biopower and repressive apparatuses (Agamben, 2007). On the other hand, new fields of investigation opened in a broad range of subjects in various fields such as the sociology of the prison world (Fassin, 2015), radicalization in prison (Khosrokhavar, 2016), punitive geography (Milhaud, 2017), and prison literature (Benalil, 2011). This renewed interest is also evident for the Maghreb (Branche, 2001, Charbi 1961, Henni 2017, Thenault, 2008). In offering thematic issues on topics linked to incarceration « Justice, politique et société » [Justice, politics and society] in 2007, « S’opposer au Maghreb » [Protesting in the Maghreb] in 2009, « Patrimonialiser au Maghreb » [Building heritage in the Maghreb] in 2018), L’Année du Maghreb laid the foundations in various ways for a special issue on prisons and imprisonment relevant to the great political upheavals of the nineteenth and the twentieth century. It is noteworthy that to this day, research is not evenly distributed across all periods and countries in the region. First, it was mainly focused on recent history from the 1970s onward. Second, many studies concentrate on Morocco – notably on Tazmamart (Daure-Serfaty, 1992, Hachad, 2017) and the struggle for human rights (Slyomovics, 2005) – although some recent work has emerged on Tunisia (Ghachem, 2017) and Algeria (Amrane, 1991, Thénault, 2012, Layani, 2017, André, 2018, Boum, 2018, Slyomovics, 2018). Finally, the understudied hypothesis is that the trajectories of these times - and memories - of political conflicts and wars are precise tipping points for the prison systems.

At the intersection of prison issues, politicization, political and religious radicalism, memory and heritage, this issue of L’Année du Maghreb will focus this time on Mauritanians, Algerians, Moroccans, and Tunisians in prison in the Maghreb as well as France through a specific viewpoint that privileges prisons whose history straddles the colonial period and the period of independence. We inquire about the question of the colonial moment in the development of a prison system in the French colonies of the Maghreb but also, and especially, its legacy through the maintenance, destruction, reuse or restructuring of this apparatus by post-colonial states. Therefore, we question the link between the prison as a disciplinary apparatus and colonization during the colonial era, and then the social and memorializing trajectories that demonstrate, even claim a link to the colonial period on behalf of the contemporary prison.

Thus, this issue aims to present case studies which, when integrated into a longer timeline, make possible an understanding of the future of prisons in the Maghreb through their creation, use, abandonment and re-use under different regimes of conquest to post-independence states, through Vichy, the particular context of decolonization wars, and up to post-colonial states. We follow the emergence, evolution and diversity of forms of incarceration as a mode of punishment in the Maghreb.

First topic: Detainees between ordinary (droit commun) and political prisoner status.
Our first goal is to articulate questions pertaining to society and prisons according to distinctions between ordinary detainees (droit commun) and political prisoners. Turning points, such as the creation of the system of the “Native Code” (l’indigénat), two world wars, independence wars, and the birth of sovereign states, are considered crucial to understanding the politicization of incarceration. A broad range of places of confinement will be studied: psychiatric hospitals, penal-farms, penal colonies, camps (Thénault, 2008). The migrations of inmates among prisons within the colonies or between the metropolis and the colonies will also be investigated as such movements are at the very heart of prison sentencing where the law, lack of rights, and the “lesser-duty-rule” (moindre droit) meet.

Second topic: The experience of incarceration
An approach based on case studies allows for an intimate understanding of inmates’ daily lives at various times, the multiple barriers among detainees, their communities, and between male and female prisoners. With this in mind, carceral space and the architecture of prisons deserve to be studied as topics in and of themselves. Relying on individual cases helps unpack many aspects of prisons as places of torture and executions (Branche, 2001), as well as places of activism, political education and acts of micro-resistance in which radicalization, de-politicization, and political conversion behind bars may be studied. In this respect, long timelines enable perspectives on the question of radicalization, which although topical is not new. The many forms of resistance -- graffiti, letters, books, escapes, and clandestine photographs -- born or deployed in prison will receive special attention.
Third topic: Building narratives, building museums

Finally, the multiplicity of prison writings raises questions about sources, testimonies and oral histories, archives and heritage-making (patrimonialisation). Have prisons been re-purposed by different regimes? Are they abandoned or made into museums? (Alcaraz, 2017) More generally, how were narratives about prison constructed? Is there an art of the prison? The preservation of memory in all its forms (texts, videos, photographs) will be considered concerning the transmission of such tragic episodes in individual biographies.

February 15, 2017: call for proposals through the submission of abstracts (approximately 350 words) to coordinators. Please, use this link.
Before February 28, 2018: selection of proposed essays
September 1, 2018: deadline for article submission
January 15: deadline for article revision
June 2019: publication date

Selected bibliography
Agamben Giorgio, Qu’est-ce qu’un dispositif ?, Paris, Payot et Rivages, 2007.
Alcaraz Emmanuel, Les Lieux de mémoire de la guerre d’indépendance algérienne, Paris, Karthala, 2017.
Amrane Djamila, Les Femmes algériennes dans la guerre, Paris, Plon, 1991.
André Marc, « Les Algériens à Montluc. Militariser la répression en France durant la guerre d’indépendance algérienne (1954-1962) », Revue d’histoire moderne et contemporaine, 2018.
Benalil Mounia, « Écritures carcérales dans les littératures maghrébines », Expressions maghrébines. Revue de la Coordination internationale des chercheurs sur les littératures du Maghreb, vol. 10, nº 2, 2011.
Boum Aomar, “Eyewitness Djelfa: Daily Life in a Saharan Vichy Labor Camp,” in The Holocaust and North Africa, Edited by Aomar Boum and Sarah Abrevaya Stein. Palo Alto, Stanford University Press, 2018.
Branche Raphaëlle, La Torture et l’armée pendant la guerre d’Algérie (1954-1962), Paris, Éditions Gallimard, 2001.
Charby Jacques, L’Algérie en prison, Paris, Éditions de minuit, 1961.
Daure-Serfaty Christine, Tazmamart. Une prison de la mort au Maroc, Paris, Stock, 1992.
Deleuze Gilles, Foucault, Paris, Les Éditions de minuit, 1986.
Fassin Didier, L’Ombre du monde. Une anthropologie de la condition carcérale, Paris, Le Seuil, 2015.
Foucault Michel, Surveiller et punir, Paris, Gallimard, 1975.
Ghachem Bechir, « The resurgence of prison memory in post-revolutionary Tunisia testimonies between truth and memory », Journal of North-African Studies, 2017, pp. 1-13.
Hachad Naïma, « Narrating Tazmamart: visceral contestations of Morocco’s transitional justice and democracy », Journal of North African Studies, 2017, pp. 1-17.
Henni Samia, Architecture of counterrevolution: The French Army in Northern Algeria, Zurich: gta Verlag, 2017.
Khosrokhavar Farhad, Prisons de France. Violence, radicalisation, déshumanisation. Quand surveillants et détenus parlent, Paris, Robert Laffont, 2016.
Layani Fanny, « Ce que la guerre fait aux prisons. L’impact de la guerre d’indépendance algérienne sur les prisons de métropole », in Tourault, C. (coord.), L’administration pénitentiaire : 1945, 1975, 2015. Naissance des réformes, problématiques, actualité, Paris, Ministère de la Justice, coll. Travaux & Documents, 2017.
Slyomovics Susan, « “Other Places of Confinement”: Bedeau Internment Camp for Algerian Jewish Soldiers », in The Holocaust and North Africa, Edited by Aomar Boum and Sarah Abrevaya Stein. Palo Alto: Stanford University Press, 2018.
Slyomovics Susan, The Performance of Human Rights in Morocco. Phila: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2005.
Thénault Sylvie (dir.), L’internement en France pendant la guerre d'indépendance algérienne, Matériaux pour l'histoire de notre temps, n°92, octobre-décembre 2008.
Thénault Sylvie, Violence ordinaire dans l’Algérie coloniale. Camps, internements, assignations à résidence, Paris, Odile Jacob, 2012.
Wacquant Loïc, Les prisons de la misère, Paris, Raison d’agir, 1999.


Marc André
University of Rouen

Susan Slyomovics
University of California, Los Angeles

The Prison in War and the War in Prison in the Maghreb: From Colonial Conquest to the Present, 01.06.2018 University of California, in: Connections. A Journal for Historians and Area Specialists, 19.01.2018, <>.