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Talk: "From Prisons to Paradises: Rituals of Indebtedness Before and After the Age of Discipline" by Gustav Peebles

Monday, February 13, 2012
12:00 AM
411 West Hall

This presentation seeks to come to terms with the extraordinarily swift demise of the debtors’ prison in multiple countries during the 19th century. While focusing primarily on the reform movement in England, the presentation will show that the debtors’ prison quickly came to be seen as a barbaric aberration within the expanding commercial life of the 19th century.
This presentation seeks to come to terms with the extraordinarily swift demise of the debtors’ prison in multiple countries during the 19th century. While focusing primarily on the reform movement in England, the presentation will show that the debtors’ prison quickly came to be seen as a barbaric aberration within the expanding commercial life of the 19th century. By turning to a copious pamphletic literature from the era of its demise, I hope to show how reformers and reporters described the debtors’ prison in the idiom of ritual; it was seen as a dangerous sanctuary that radically inverted all capitalistic economic practices and moral values of the world outside its walls. Reformers claimed that, inside these shrines of debt, citizens were ritually guided and transformed from active members of society into “knaves” or “idlers,” or both. Throughout, I will probe the counterintuitive possibility that, because it stood as a space “outside of” capitalist life, the debtor’s prison also served as a zone of asset protection. If so, this then allows for a comparison with zones of asset protection and international bankruptcy reforms today. Thus, this historical effort stands as vital and foundational preparation for my next ethnographic project, which investigates international bankruptcy reform efforts in the European Union, in particular, in Gibraltar.