Human Rights Violations in a Lawless Space: Incarceration in 21st-century Literatures

deadline for submissions: 
September 30, 2020
full name / name of organization: 
Ann Reading/ Indiana University of Pennsylvania and Thaddeus Stevens College

NeMLA in Philadelphia: March 11-14, 2021 

Panel ID: 18542

While much of the reflections on human rights comes when there are human rights violations from the state, human rights documents, at least in legal dialogue, place the state to be responsible to uphold the law: distributing justice also means deciding punishments. However, juxtaposing human dignity with human imprisonment puts into question what is at stake when the state is responsible for both. This aligns with Agamben’s work on the notion of “exception” in rights-oriented legal systems. Agamben notes that there is always an exception to those covered by the law, which does not keep them “outside the law and made indifferent to it but rather abandoned by it, exposed and threatened on the threshold in which life and law, outside and inside, become indistinguishable,” leading to the creation of the camp—a place where the law as the nation-state system does not exist (28). Many writers then create narratives about incarceration and challenge the binary of victim/victimizer, which opens the mind to imagine precisely what happens in this exceptional state. In this abstraction, critical moral dilemmas raise difficult questions, yet for certain the political is unavoidable; thus, for the writer, fictionalizing incarceration is tasked to show the political, moral, and personal. 

This panel seeks papers that problematize incarceration and discusses works by 21st-century author/activists that tackle issues of human indignities brought by imprisonment. I hope to attract a wide range of global texts and multiple genres.

Work Cited

Agamben, Giorgio. Homo Sacer: Sovereign Power and Bare Life. Stanford University Press, 1995.

Please submit abstract here: