Discipline and the Other Body: Correction, Corporality, Colonialism

By Newell, Sasha | The International Journal of African Historical Studies, January 1, 2007 | Go to article overview
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Discipline and the Other Body: Correction, Corporality, Colonialism


Newell, Sasha, The International Journal of African Historical Studies


Discipline and the Other Body: Correction, Corporality, Colonialism. Edited by Steven Pierce and Anupama Rao. Durham, N.C. and London: Duke University Press, 2006. Pp. 354. $84.95 cloth, $23.95 paper.

The complex and polyvalent relationship between colonial states, corporal punishment, and the categorization of the body is explored here in wonderful ethnographic and historical depth. The consistent quality of the essays in this volume is unusually good, as is the continuity of the themes the authors investigate through a rich diversity of topics that include state execution in Louisiana in the 1700s, piracy and Naval reform, marriage and the British army in India, foot-binding in China, and new forms of spirit possession in contemporary Nigeria. The central paradox underlying much of this book is the classic colonial problem: the effort to "civilize" the "other" seems all too often to require the use of "savage" force and barbarous acts of humiliation and torture. More interesting however, is the book's parallel assertion that humanitarian efforts to bring an end to the "savagery" of colonial discipline ended up producing stricter, more tightly defined racial and gender categories, such that efforts to protect human rights typically caused the narrowing of the definition of human, leaving whole sections of the population vulnerable to even worse abuses. At the same time, violence is itself a demarcation of those boundaries, reifying the marks of difference upon the flesh of the "other." As the editors (all too briefly) bring to our attention, these themes resonate powerfully with contemporary world politics in which freedom is being forced at gunpoint upon the citizens of Iraq, even as the United States flouts international laws regulating torture and the treatment of prisoners of war. It is more than eerie in this context to read Rao's piece about the British colonial government castigating their native police force in India for excessive brutality, torture, and abuse whenever such practices were brought to public attention, displacing blame for such violence on a racial other that was predefined as uncontrolled and savage.

Isaac Land's essay on the Navy and piracy is particularly striking for its careful treatment of the intersections of race, sexuality, and class in historical transformations of the public cultural understanding of sailors.

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