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  • No Bond but the Law: Punishment, Race, and Gender in Jamaican State Formation, 1780–1870 by Diana Paton
  • Henrice Altink
No Bond but the Law: Punishment, Race, and Gender in Jamaican State Formation, 1780–1870. By Diana Paton. Durham, N.C.: Duke University Press, 2004

In recent years, several scholars have called for an exploration of the ways in which modernity affected the lives of the colonised. No Bond but the Law, which examines in a chronological order the developments in punishment in the ninety years surrounding the 1838 abolition of slavery in Jamaica, responds to this call. It shows that modern colonial society was the result of a “constant process of interaction and contestation” between the powerful and the less powerful (12) and that is very difficult to define the line between modern and premodern in a colonial context. By demonstrating that after emancipation prisons used punishments that worked on the mind alongside methods that focussed on the body, Paton questions Foucauldian accounts of modernity, which centre on the idea of a radical break between different modes of power.

Paton not only challenges existing histories of punishment but also those on slavery and emancipation. Most scholars have drawn a sharp line between slave and post-slave societies in the British Caribbean, associating the former with unfree labour, private penal power and flogging, and the latter with free labour, state authority to punish and imprisonment. According to Paton, 1838 does not constitute a major dividing line because planters relied on both the whip and imprisonment as a means to punish their slaves and flogging was reintroduced into the penal system in 1850. She also provides a useful and novel approach to the Apprenticeship System, that is the four-year transitional period between slavery and emancipation. Rather than treating it as slavery or as free labour, as previous historians have done, Paton approaches it as a third form of labour relations because the System differed with what went on before and what came after, in terms of the relationship of the state to those who worked on the plantations and those who owned them. The intricate and complicated links between punishment and state formation is one of the main themes running through the book. Paton shows, for instance, that Imperial penal acts reduced the power of the local elite and led to a greater degree of centralisation in colonial state power, such as the 1833 Abolition Act which gave Stipendiary Magistrates the exclusive right to punish apprentices and the 1839 Prisons Act that brought prisons under the control of the governor.

A less prominent theme is that of the relationship between punishment practices and racial formation. Various punishment practices enacted racism, such as the separation of black and white inmates in early prisons, while debates about punishment provided a place to discuss the meaning of blackness and whiteness. In the 1850s, for instance, the white elite began to define Afro-Jamaicans as criminal and irreformable because they lacked the shame to be marked out as criminals. Paton correctly argues that this debate was part of and helped to shape an important shift in racial ideology in the mid-nineteenth century; from seeing the difference of the colonised as something that could be dissolved through changing their environments towards regarding their difference as permanent and threatening.

Paton places considerable emphasis on the gendered nature of punishment practices and discourse and points out the interaction of both with metropolitan gender norms. Particularly strong is her account of abolitionist criticism of female flogging and its impact on penal policy. She also succeeds well in demonstrating the centrality of gender segregation to the programme of prison reform in the 1840s. It is questionable, however, whether Paton is correct in assuming that the efforts of the prisoner reformers to reconstruct the inmates’ gender identities through such practices as allocating work along gender lines, was more coercive than that of the missionaries in the free villages.

Various graphs, tables and plans are included in the text to exemplify the changes in punishment practices and discourse. The explanation of these changes is of a very high quality. By invoking evidence from other parts of the Empire...

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