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Beyond the Convict System: the Aged Poor and Institutionalisation in Colonial Tasmania

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Piper, AKS 2003 , 'Beyond the Convict System: the Aged Poor and Institutionalisation in Colonial Tasmania', PhD thesis, University of Tasmania,.

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Abstract

Colonial Tasmania's aged poor were initially managed through incarcerationin government institutions under strict discipline and supervision. Essentiallyregimented penal environments, they were founded as a means to isolate,seclude and control pauper emancipists who were perceived as a socialcontagion. The incipient charitable institution housed an undifferentiatedpauper population in which all inmates were seen as undeserving. This thesisinvestigates the mechanisms by which one constituent, the aged poor,transcended its mid-century categorisation to join the, ranks of the deserving.At first the agencies which dealt with invalids were ad hoc and marked byincompetence. As administrators learnt from their mistakes and came to-better understand the scale of the problem confronting them, new approacheswere implemented. These may be characterised as refined inmateclassification, institutional specialisation, centralisation of administrativepower, bureaucratic professionalism and medicalisation of institutions. Thesetools, along with other measures, particularly coerced labour, strict discipline,confinement, surveillance, regimentation and punishment were usedincreasingly to control the lives of pauper invalids. They were also the meanswhich led to reformers fighting for progressive invalid management regimes.Invalids were not passive participants in these events. They resisted thecontrol measures imposed upon them and they proved to be proficientadversaries in manipulating the charitable system to their advantage. Classification, specialisation and surveillance resulted in a greaterunderstanding of the issues confronting invalids. As the middle classinvolved themselves directly with invalids, the significance of the issueswhich had alienated them waned. Increasingly they were perceived as amedical rather than a moral problem. Coupled with this there were manychanges in the conditions of institutional life which by our modern standardswe would judge as progress. While there continued, and continues, to be unsavoury aspects to the management of the aged poor, what differed in 1901when compared to earlier periods was that a greater number of people wereprepared to involve themselves in changing the system for the better. Part ofthis was the result of increased knowledge. Foucault has drawn our attentionto the link between knowledge and power. While he has focused attentionupon the use of this power to discipline and punish this thesis demonstratesthat knowledge can also be used as a vehicle for progressive reform.

Item Type: Thesis - PhD
Authors/Creators:Piper, AKS
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