Desktop version

Home arrow Law arrow Prisons and Punishment in Texas: Culture, History and Museological Representation


This chapter has sought to place the Texan punishment museums within their broader—yet specifically Texan—cultural context. We began by considering the ways in which the punishment tourist sites employed state-associated symbols and the impact this might have on the tourist experience. It was argued that the audience (Texan or otherwise) is encouraged to interpret the tough Texas approach to incarceration and execution as place-positioned; the stories told within punishment museums are as much stories about Texas as they are stories about the Department of Corrections. However, it was suggested that Texas is more than just a place; it is a self-identity, something we termed ‘Texanicity’. As such, by incorporating state symbols within punishment museums the visitors’ perceptions of Texanicity will likely change during the act of spectatorship; Texanicity will acquire punishment dimensions.

However, this discovery of state symbols in punishment-related tourist spaces was not a one way process; we also found the symbolic signifiers of a tough Texas in places and spaces which had no connection to punishment. Whether it be the postcards depicting execution methods, the pervasive use of the slogan ‘Don’t Mess With Texas’ or the sale of ‘Lone Star Lawman’ badges, the image of (and narrative about) a tough Texas was not limited to the museums dedicated to punishment or law enforcement. Again, we find Texanicity acquiring punishment dimensions. The stories Texas tells about punishment and the products Texas sells all over the state construct an image of Texan toughness in the face of threat. In short, the image of Texanicity offered to both Texans and tourists is one in which Texas, and by extension Texans, take a uniquely tough approach to wrongdoing. Wherever one looks, toughness is integral to the cultural construction of the Texan self-identity.

The final part of this chapter also introduced us to arguably the most enduring feature of the Texan self-identity; the propensity for Texans to see themselves as somehow separate from both the South and the US. Symbolised by the Lone Star State flag, Texas continues to tell stories about its time as a Republic, and thus many Texan state-associated symbols have come to represent that uniqueness. Indeed, the history of Texas continues to play a significant role within the construction of Texanicity and it would be difficult to overstate the power of the Texan Revolution as a narrative of the Texan collective. Yet it is worth reminding ourselves that history is, more often than not, presented to us in the form of memory; a story of the past which has gone through a process of negotiation. Certain people and places are awarded status within these memories while others are marginalised or forgotten entirely.

Moreover, not unlike the narratives offered in punishment museums, the stories Texas tells (or doesn’t tell) about its own history are those which have a pedagogical function; they teach people about what it means to be Texan. Commanding rhetorical power by way of continued rehearsal, documentaries, films, museums, battle re-enactments and historical pageants about the Texan Revolution continue to be incredibly popular in Texas (see Clemons 2008). As the next chapter will demonstrate, scholars from other traditions have long argued that Texan memory is of paramount importance to the Texan self-identity. However, while the importance of Texan memory has traction in other disciplines, the same cannot be said for criminology. Broadly speaking, punishment scholars have ignored cultural representations of both the Southern and Texan past. Preferring instead to focus on historical realities—specifically the history of the Southern States—myth and memory go entirely unnoticed; the people, places and events awarded such massive significance within the cultural construction of the Texan self-identity remain unexamined.

The chapter that follows is thus an attempt to begin such an interdisciplinary endeavour. It aims to examine the cultural stories that Texas tells about its own history in order to explore the extent to which these stories can be understood as relevant to punishment. To be clear, the chapter will not recount the historical reality of the Texan past; it will instead focus on the narratives of the Texan collective—that is the stories used to remember the Texan past. As such we will once again be returning to the Lone Star museums, although this time we will tour the top visited historical sites and discuss the narratives offered within them. More specifically, we will be considering how the image of a tough Texas manifests within these sites because—as the chapter will demonstrate—Texan toughness is not only an established part of the punishment museum narratives, it also finds expression in the Lone Star memories which underpin Texanicity.

< Prev   CONTENTS   Source   Next >