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Model Colonies: A Transnational Study of Penitentiary Agricultural Colonies for Young Detainees in France, Russia, and the Soviet Union, 1839-1937

posted on 18.12.2019, 19:25 authored by Anna-christine GrantAnna-christine Grant
In the first half of the nineteenth century, influenced by Enlightenment ideas of childhood as a time of essential innocence, reformers began to develop specialised institutions for juvenile detainees. Founded in France’s Loire Valley near Tours in 1839, the colony of Mettray became the best-known example of an enduring model for such institutions: the penitentiary agricultural colony. Inspired by the conviction that criminal children and youth could be rehabilitated into honest society, Mettray’s leaders created a system that relied not only on vigilant discipline, but on snatching children from unhealthy slums and dens of
urban vice to settle them in a rural environment, dividing them into fictive families headed by caring and cultured supervisory staff. The model was widely imitated in France and beyond. In 1871, reformers in St Petersburg, inspired by the Mettray model, created the first Russian penitentiary agricultural colony for juvenile detainees. Examining Mettray and the St Petersburg colony together, and explaining their similarities and differences, illuminates the kinds of
transnational flows and exchanges of expertise, information, and institutional models in which nineteenth-century reformers participated, and their impact on incarcerated boys. After the Russian Revolution of 1917, Soviet educators rejected bourgeois institutional models, but found themselves faced with a massive wave of orphaned and displaced children. Ukrainian educator Anton Makarenko
created penitentiary agricultural colonies imbued with Bolshevik ideology and founded on the primacy of the collective. My dissertation examines these three case studies, identifying internal and external factors that caused an initially ambitious rehabilitative model to give way to a more repressive one. Internal factors included the departure of charismatic leaders and the lack of adequate funding. A shift towards conservative and authoritarian political culture in Russia in the 1880s and the USSR in the 1930s also influenced the colonies’ move towards more repressive regimes. The dissertation pays particular attention to the
colonies’ supervisory staff, arguing that at Mettray and St Petersburg, replacing specially trained young men with retired military men or police doomed the rehabilitative model, and that this was the result of leaders’ reluctance to
recognise employees’ affective labour as compatible with financial reward.




Degree Type




Degree Name

  • Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


Katherine Lynch

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