Home Law Prisons and Punishment in Texas: Culture, History and Museological Representation
Depicting Modern Punishment as Civilised Punishment
After touring the punishment museums of the Lone Star State, it became clear that Texan punishment stories were often narratives of modernisation, progress and improvement. The stories rarely adhered to an event- driven plot trajectory, but many of them could nevertheless be identified as having a ‘temporally organised’ internal structure. In other words, the past was juxtaposed with the present in order to show Texan penal reform. This story of reform sought to construct punishment in the present as civilised in comparison to what came before. This chapter is designed to examine what I have termed the ‘modernisation motif’ in more detail. We will consider how and where it manifests within both the Texas Prison Museum and the jail cell tours, but more importantly we will consider what this motif tells us about Texas and its relationship with punishment.
This chapter is organised into two parts. The first will examine how the modernisation motif manifests within the Texas Prison Museum (the largest site visited) and the second will be dedicated to the museum and tours in Eastland and Beaumont (which were much smaller). This separation is due to the nature of the stories told in each of the sites.
© The Editor(s) (if applicable) and The Author(s) 2016 H. Thurston, Prisons and Punishment in Texas,
The previous chapter proposed that Texas uses a narrative of toughness to speak about its own punishment practices, and this narrative can be identified in multiple stories within multiple sites. The modernisation motif is similar, in that it is found to manifest in a number of spaces and places, but the narrative content is slightly different between the smaller and larger sites.
In the Texas Prison Museum the modernisation motif tends to manifest in stories about execution (past and present), whereas in other sites the stories are more focused on the changing nature of conditions of confinement (past and present). All of these stories are temporally organised (from past to present), and each is a story of progress and improvement, but the object under reform is different. As such, we will begin by considering the modernisation of execution as narrated by the Texas Prison Museum, and then move on to the modernisation of confinement as presented in the smaller tourist sites.
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