Carceral Frontiers: Prison Labour and the Making of New Zealand’s Pacific

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Framed by an understanding that prisons and their work regimes mobilise as much as they confine, this paper highlights the importance of prison labour in the making of commodity and carceral frontiers in New Zealand’s Pacific empire between the 1890s and 1920s. Prison labour in the Cook Islands, Niue and Sāmoa not only appropriated “cheap nature” for the colonising work of “improvement” – roads, public works, plantation development, guano extraction and commodity production – but helped reproduce the logic of capitalist accumulation, gendered divisions of labour and the authority of the colonial nation-state. Rather than a peripheral phenomenon, prison labour operated alongside free and indentured labour and was a crucial element in shaping imperial authority and work regimes in New Zealand’s Pacific empire.




Davidson, J. (2023). Carceral Frontiers: Prison Labour and the Making of New Zealand’s Pacific. Labour History, 125(1), 11–29.

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