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tgiFHI: Sarah Balakrishnan, "Prison of the Womb: Gender, Incarceration & Capitalism in Colonial West Africa"

poster image of black text against off-white background. Includes black and white photo of Sarah Balakrishnan smiling, and standing with arms crossed against brick wall.
Friday, October 14, 2022
9:30 am - 11:00 am
Sarah Balakrishnan

Please join the Franklin Humanities Institute for its Friday morning series, tgiFHI! tgiFHI gives Duke faculty in the humanities, interpretative social sciences and arts the opportunity to present their current research to their departmental (and interdepartmental) colleagues, students, and other interlocutors in their fields.

Sarah Balakrishnan is an Assistant Professor of History at Duke University. She received a PhD in African History from Harvard University in 2020, and has held postdoctoral fellowships at the Carter G. Woodson Institute at the University of Virginia and the Presidential Postdoctoral Program at the University of Minnesota, Twin Cities. Her research has been published in many prestigious venues, including The Journal of African History, The Journal of Social History, and Transition (with Achille Mbembe). In addition to her scholarly work, Sarah is a prolific fiction writer. She has recently been awarded the 2022 Narrative Prize for Fiction, which is among the most prestigious for emerging writers.

"Prison of the Womb: Gender, Incarceration & Capitalism in Colonial West Africa"

To date, global studies of imprisonment and incarceration have primarily focused on the growth of male-gendered penal institutions and disciplinary practices. This talk traces the emergence of a carceral system in West Africa in the 19th century that was organized around the female body. By examining archival testimonies and evidence from female prisoners held in what were called "native prisons" in colonial Gold Coast (southern Ghana), this talk shows how birthing, impregnation, and menstruation shaped indigenous West African penal practices, including the selection of the captive, the duration they spent in prison, and how the prison factored into the legal infrastructure around tort settlement for debts and crimes. The term "prison of the womb" will be used to describe how the West African prison held bloodlines captive, threatening the womb of a female kin member as a ticking time clock for tort settlement. Furthermore, it will be shown that this institution was imperative to the spread of mercantile capitalism in 19th century Gold Coast.

Please register for the event here: