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Angelique Bassard Graduate Lecture: “Perilous Passages: Nineteenth Century Respectability Culture and ‘Soft Surveillance’ in Harriet Jacobs’s Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl (1861)”

April 4 @ 3:00 pm

The final Graduate Lecture Series event of the semester!

“From the predatory gaze of her enslaver to the “loophole of retreat,” the themes of surveillance and sousveillance play an important role in Harriet Jacobs’s narrative, Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl (1861), especially pertaining to the “silences” present in the text. Whereas many scholars have localized discussions of surveillance/sousveillance as a deleterious effect of the white gaze, whether it be from the lecherous Dr. Flint or Incidents’s voyeuristic Northern abolitionist audience, this paper suggests a broadening of surveillance from the realm of individual actors to that of a broader sense of societal surveillance brought on by the realm of middle- and upper- class nineteenth-century Culture of Respectability—a common notion of morality and public conduct that bridges both the North-South and black-white axes.

In [Bassard’s] reading of the text, Jacobs utilizes the potentiality of this collective gaze, which [Bassard terms] “soft surveillance,” as both a shield from the unwanted advances of Dr. Flint and a way to project herself as a “proper” woman within the confines of feminine respectability, even if such ideals are nearly impossible to maintain as an enslaved young woman. What is at stake with this reading is twofold: first, a broadening of the framework of surveillance as posited by Foucault’s Panopticon to encompass a larger sense of society that includes blacks (particularly free blacks) as well as Northern and Southern whites, and secondly, a recognition of the way in which public surveillance is as much of a protective covering for Jacobs, allowing her to exercise limited agency to thwart the usual course of antebellum slavery, as it is a weapon of shame.”

Event is certified for CLE credit. Pizza and drinks will be available!


April 4
3:00 pm




Greenlaw 225