Date of Award

Fall 10-1-2021

Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)



First Advisor

Harms, Robert


This dissertation explores how technologies and infrastructures for promoting control and cohesion have interfaced with the social and political history of Lesotho over the longue durée. This approach allows for tracing lines of historical continuity and change during a period spanning the coalescing of the nation from communities on the Southern African Highveld in the early-19th century, the onset and grinding realities of British colonial rule and the rise of a local economy dependent on labor migration to South Africa, and the unravelling of empire and the challenges of governance in the years following official national liberation in 1966. I detail how social control strategies over the 19th and 20th centuries interfaced with local and imperial political exigencies, shifts in international penological, biomedical, and scientific racist discourse, and, above all, the responses and forms of knowledge produced by Basotho confronted with coercive technologies and infrastructures. I argue that whereas Highveld technologies disciplined conformity inside of societies, the colonial state introduced prisons and other new punitive technologies as engines for producing social and moral alterity within the politically bounded community. The colonial administration sought to use carceral detention to subjectify and problematize groups of people as embodied threats, on account of their supposedly essential criminality, lunacy, and, for a time, leprosy infectiousness. The motivations for these moves were both ideological and instrumental: in addition to officers wanting to confront conduct which they viewed as problematic in its own right, the creation of the need to control internal problem people(s) served as a basis for shared work with local partners. While shifting punitive regimes did indeed coercively impose a measure of control and open new social fissures, this process never played out precisely as envisioned. In the late colonial era, mounting local and metropolitan pressure led the administration to reverse course: rather than using judicial punishments to simply try to deter crime and stigmatize particular social groups, prison administrators and staff were charged with rehabilitating supposedly maladjusted people for reintegration back into the national community. The Prison Service stuck to this official mission, moreover, even as social tensions and political conflict escalated in the years following independence.