Royce Novak

  • Fellowship year:2021-2022
  • University: University of Wisconsin-Madison
  • Dissertation Topic/Category: International and Global
  • Dissertation Title: Archipelago of Extinction: Prison Islands in the Making and Unmaking of Empire
  • Royce Novak’s dissertation closely examines prison islands spanning colonial and Cold War Indonesia and Vietnam in order to understand how this unique carceral form has played a significant role in shaping histories of colonialism, empire, punishment, and resistance. His dissertation is the first to theorize prison islands as a distinct carceral form and investigates their position in larger imperial and global carceral formations. Exploring prison islands through the lenses of legal, environmental, and social history while engaging with theories and methodologies from geography and comparative literature, Royce’s dissertation combines archival materials and the writings of former political prisoners to gain a deeper understanding of how prison islands have been crucial features of modern statecraft and political struggles that tend to outlast the governments and geopolitical epochs that brought them into being. 
    Through focused research on particular prison islands in Indonesia and Vietnam, Royce’s dissertation further sheds light on the role of colonialism in creating the foundations for contemporary penal systems throughout the world, challenging the dominant narrative that associates the rise of modern prison systems in enlightenment thought and reform movements by emphasizing the ways in which prison islands in the colonized world represented the first realization of a prison industrial complex, a term most frequently invoked to describe the current state of prison systems in the US. Royce’s research on prison islands offers further insights into how these unique sites directly connect institutions such as slavery and contract labor to modern forms of mass incarceration while also acting as symbols of injustice and political struggle.