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27-31 August 2019
Poznań, Poland
Europe/Warsaw timezone
programme last update: 23 August 2019
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Contribution Paper

Poznań, Poland - Morasko Kampus, room: 3.131

Bagnard Ghosts on the Edge of France



Primary authors


This paper considers the ghosts of the penal colony who haunt the space now inhabited by migrants in a French colony in South America. St.-Laurent-du-Maroni is a town on the western river border of French Guiana, the former headquarters of a penal colony (1850-1950), and the residence of Haitian migrants attempting to enter France. What does protection of this space mean to the French state? For a century, it was meaningful for the exile of prisoners—one of the furthest, most remote edges of France. Unlike other former French colonial edges (e.g., French Indochina or French Algeria), Guyane remains a colony in 2019, a département d'outre-mer (DOM). The bagnards were undead upon transport, their suffering justified by their crimes. Now, as undead undead, it is their turn to haunt the space for new migrants. How do Haitians inherit the category of the undead in Guyane, both their physical space and their liberated labor niches? Using primarily archival work, this paper explores these questions and raises new questions about fractures made available by the state's historical shipments of humans to this space. The shift from state-sponsored transport to purportedly self-sponsored migration marks a transformation in precepts of incarceration. Comparing bagnards to other groups in Guyane, and to those previously incarcerated in French Indochina, the terrain for nationalist precepts is visible: total control of the state's citizens, former citizens, and aliens, and transformation hedging against the risk of nationalist solidarities of other elements within the state's territorial boundaries.