By Peter Redfield
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Additional info for Space in the Tropics: From Convicts to Rockets in French Guiana
How, I wondered, could a long colonial history, including periods of plantation slavery and penal colonization, lead to a demand of “the right to work for all”? As time passed and my research continued, I began to realize that an obsession with “development”—or rather its persistent absence—ran deeply through the soil of French Guiana, inseparable from the history of the colony beneath the department. Here I will sketch the background of that history, to better position the two projects that most concern us.
Established in 1852, the penal colony failed to live up to its initial billing as a substitute source of agricultural labor; however, in ﬁts and starts, its lingering presence deeply inﬂuenced the ﬂow of goods and services as well as the reputation of the colony. 17 It also became the focus of much of the export activity on the part of the civil population, who were lured by the promise of quick wealth, and it remains a signiﬁcant part of the cultural mythology of Guyanais society. 18 Although arbitration severed the French territory from grandiose claims south and east to the Amazon (Switzerland awarding the area to Brazil), as the twentieth century dawned this particular colony remained on its erratic course.
Chapter 3 returns to the early nineteenth century to examine the background to the founding of the penal colony in 1852, surveying prison debates, the model of Australia, the shifting background of emancipation and labor questions in French Guiana’s plantation system against dilemmas of criminality in urbanizing France, and the reintroduction of deportation following the 1848 revolution. The latter part of the chapter covers the establishment of the penal colony and the techniques of its early administration, including the search for a successful site within French Guiana and the establishment of a rival institution in New Caledonia.