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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 incarceration
in government institutions under strict discipline and supervision. Essentially
regimented penal environments, they were founded as a means to isolate,
seclude and control pauper emancipists who were perceived as a social
contagion. The incipient charitable institution housed an undifferentiated
pauper population in which all inmates were seen as undeserving. This thesis
investigates 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 by
incompetence. As administrators learnt from their mistakes and came to
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better understand the scale of the problem confronting them, new approaches
were implemented. These may be characterised as refined inmate
classification, institutional specialisation, centralisation of administrative
power, bureaucratic professionalism and medicalisation of institutions. These
tools, along with other measures, particularly coerced labour, strict discipline,
confinement, surveillance, regimentation and punishment were used
increasingly to control the lives of pauper invalids. They were also the means
which led to reformers fighting for progressive invalid management regimes.
Invalids were not passive participants in these events. They resisted the
control measures imposed upon them and they proved to be proficient
adversaries in manipulating the charitable system to their advantage. Classification, specialisation and surveillance resulted in a greater
understanding of the issues confronting invalids. As the middle class
involved themselves directly with invalids, the significance of the issues
which had alienated them waned. Increasingly they were perceived as a
medical rather than a moral problem. Coupled with this there were many
changes in the conditions of institutional life which by our modern standards
we would judge as progress. While there continued, and continues, to be unsavoury aspects to the management of the aged poor, what differed in 1901
when compared to earlier periods was that a greater number of people were
prepared to involve themselves in changing the system for the better. Part of
this was the result of increased knowledge. Foucault has drawn our attention
to the link between knowledge and power. While he has focused attention
upon the use of this power to discipline and punish this thesis demonstrates
that knowledge can also be used as a vehicle for progressive reform.

Item Type: Thesis (PhD)
Date Deposited: 15 Feb 2009 21:21
Last Modified: 11 Mar 2016 05:54
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