Research / Blogs

A Critical Lab and Dossier On Torture and Confession | CFP


In the frame of the seminar on "Tortured Confessions", to be team-taught by Bernard E. Harcourt and Jesús R. Velasco at Columbia Law School during the Spring semester of 2016, we suggest the creation of a Critical Lab and dossier for TLW Journal. For these purposes, we ask our collaborators to think beyond the confines of what has been published about torture.

During the Spring semester of 2016, Bernard E. Harcourt and Jesús R. Velasco are team-teaching a graduate seminar called “Tortured Confessions.” In preparation for this seminar, we intend to create a dossier for the TLW Journal that will constitute a main reference to think critically about the ways in which torture, confession, and the discourses regarding tortured confession operate.

In the context of this seminar, we are organizing a one-day seminar called Critical Lab that will take place on Saturday, April 23, 2016. This is the call for contributions. The following two paragraphs come from the description of our graduate seminar:

The use of torture to extract confessions and obtain information has formed an integral part of legal and political practice throughout history, from the inquiry that Œdipus conducted in Œdipus Rex to the CIA interrogations at Guantánamo Bay and Abu Ghraib. At times, these practices have been strictly regulated according to legal manuals detailing the precise forms of torture that could be applied to a suspect; at others they have been strictly prohibited by human rights conventions and used nonetheless. During several historical periods, these practices comprised a specific juridical form of the “inquest”; at other times, similar kinds of practices (e.g. the threat of death) have been permitted under adversarial legal methods.

This seminar will explore torture and confession from an eminently theoretical perspective. What we are proposing here is not to explain a certain history, and even less to explain torture or confession. We want to think critically on the ever-changing apparatuses, systems, tactics, devices, justifications, and strategies that make possible the presence of torture and the adequacy of confession in the name of certain transcendent goals (i.e. the integrity of the ecclesia christiana, universal western peace, the state, one nation under god, blood, lineage, security, etc.). As we will explore in this seminar, torture and confession—tortured confessions—are in a permanent regime of exhibition that at the same time aestheticizes the ultimate purpose of this kind of violence and anesthetizes the audience—in what has often amounted to, over the ages, a particularly perverse form of catharsis. The seminar will explore how efforts, over the centuries, to tame these perverse practices—through manuals, prohibitions, instructions, directions, exhibitions, legal opinions, justification, and denunciation—have shaped us, as subjects, and society more broadly.

After reading some of the most recent articles and books about torture and confession, we have come to understand the exceedingly difficult task of writing about torture. In a certain way, it is as if torture were such an extreme act that it constitutes the very limits of speech. One often reads the atrocities that torturers do to individuals, as well as eloquent claims to stop torture altogether –often, claims that have been directed to the highest legal and political authorities, to no avail. But we reject the idea that we must stay within those boundaries. We, in fact, suggest that it may be important to challenge them and knock them down.

For this critical lab, we ask our collaborators to think beyond the limits of what has been thought, written, and spoken regarding torture and confession. With the results, we will publish the first issue of TLW Journal, that we will also use as a critical tool for the seminar.

The purpose of this critical lab is not only to question the practices of torture and confession in relation to truth, politics, and law, but also to raise some difficult questions and undertake new research paths regarding torture–with the understanding that no research and no discourse whatsoever has ever had the desired impact of eradicating torture, supplice, and other practices of “enhanced” interrogation and punishment.

Some of the questions (but not the only ones) that might be addressed include the following:

  • To what extent does the intellectual production and research on torture fuel the practices of torture themselves?
  • To what extent do artistic, æsthetic, or creative works against torture feed practices of torture, instead of denouncing them?
  • Do all these intellectual and artistic creations buttress the practices instead of contributing to their banishment?
  • What role for social media in the expository society?
  • Are people in general against torture? Do they understand, or even justify torture? What are the data available? How can we work with the resulting statistics?
  • Is torture a practice for obtaining truth? Intel? What kind of truth is intel?
  • How do the tortured become torturers?
  • What is the relationship between torture and punishment?

In this critical lab we will discuss pre-circulated papers and research projects. There will be no keynote address.

We will  receive abstracts no longer than 300 words until March 15th, 2016. Acceptance letters will be sent right away. We will receive papers by April 15th. The Critical Lab will take place on April 23rd 2016.

Selected papers will be published in the first issue of TLW Journal (TLW = The Legal Workshop)

Send all correspondence to:

The seminar will be held in a “smart room,” where audio, video, and Internet connection will be provided. Every format—digital projects, graphs, trees, maps, and, of course, conventional papers—will be considered. Posters and electronic projects are also welcome.

Last Updated 5 years ago


Jesús R. Velasco and Bernard E. Harcourt, « A Critical Lab and Dossier On Torture and Confession | CFP », Blogs, Columbia University | LAIC, Department of Latin American and Iberian Cultures (online), published on February 16, 2016. Full URL for this article

Join the conversation