Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)



Document Type



For the majority of the twenty-first century, Louisiana has been the global leader in rates of incarceration. Despite its prevalence, many people encounter prisons and punishment only through representations in movies, television, and the news, remaining distant from the actual processes of punishment and prisons built in remote areas. The Louisiana State Penitentiary at Angola, however, is unique in the number of opportunities it presents for the public to enter the prison for large-scale events like the famous Angola Prison Rodeo, select drama club performances, or to visit the Angola Prison Museum. These opportunities are often read cynically, as moments for indifferent crowds to gawk at prisoners or for the prison administration to produce spectacles of punishment.

In opposition to these readings and in the tradition of active and resistant theatre spectatorship practices, I theorize the position of the abolitionist spectator. The abolitionist spectator’s gaze is mediated not by film and television representations, but by abolitionist analyses of institutions of punishment. I apply this abolitionist spectatorial lens to performance events held at Angola, examining their orientation toward questions of justice, safety, and community, exploring how the institution performs itself and its history, and how prisoners perform a more liberatory vision of the future.



Committee Chair

Fletcher, John