The Fragility of Governmentality and Domination: The State, Carceral Labour and ‘(In)docile Resistance’ in the Late Ottoman Empire

Yıldırım K., Akkuş Y.

LABOUR HISTORY, no.125, pp.161-185, 2023 (SSCI)

  • Publication Type: Article / Article
  • Publication Date: 2023
  • Journal Name: LABOUR HISTORY
  • Journal Indexes: Social Sciences Citation Index (SSCI), Scopus, International Bibliography of Social Sciences, Periodicals Index Online, American History and Life, Historical Abstracts, MLA - Modern Language Association Database
  • Page Numbers: pp.161-185
  • Istanbul University Affiliated: Yes


The ‘power relations’ in the Ottoman Empire were gradually governmentalised and centralised through modernist reforms in the long nineteenth century. As part of this process, the practice of intramural and extramural carceral labour became an important part of the Ottoman penal system in the late empire. Although the state emphasised the rehabilitative effect of prison labour in legal regulations, many specific cases and the extramural expansion of the practice reveal that providing cheap labour was the main driving force in the Ottoman case. However, the adverse reaction of prisoners to carceral labour was just as important as the regulations, disciplinary practices, and the administrative and financial limits of the state in determining the success of the practice. By focusing on the resistance strategies of the prisoners, including desertion, writing petitions, collective walkouts, slowdowns, strikes, and pilferage, this paper aims to amplify their voices. This prisoner-centred view enables us to take a Foucauldian perspective in the context of power relations and resistance to such practices and to illustrate how prisoners, as ‘indocile bodies’, weakened the governmentality and domination of the state through many forms of ‘indocile resistance’.