Herding and its spatial agency in the Sardinian penal colonies.


  • Sabrina Puddu KU Leuven


Herding, penal colonies, rural Sardinia, pastoral carceral trap


This essay attempts a reflection on rurality and herding by looking at a particular carceral setting: the Sardinian penal colony as established in the 19th c. and still surviving as a marginal institution within the national penal system. Despite the long-lasting effort to modernise and stabilise animal-farming and to eradicate herding as an allegedly criminogenic practice – effort to which penal colonies actively contributed both by dispossessing land used by the herders and by means of exemplarity as a model sedentary farm - errant herding has lingered in free society and also, in an apparent paradox, within the very carceral estates of the penal colony. I will discuss
how, within the territorial project of the Sardinian penal colonies and its uncertain, yet extensive, structures of control and production, herding and the wondering of the herder after goats, sheep, and cattle in search for pastures and waters, is to a certain extent a creative practice whose spatial agency simultaneously challenges and is challenged by the spatial and institutional principles of
the prison estate. This essay is grounded on archival and field research in the penal colonies of Mamone, Isili, and Is Arenas and makes use of drawings and photographs as key research tools.

Author Biography

Sabrina Puddu, KU Leuven

Sabrina Puddu, is an architect and Marie Skłodowska Curie Postdoctoral Researcher at KU Leuven, Faculty of Architecture. Her studies focus on the role of major public institutions across the divide of the urban and rural conditions, with her more recent research project Territories of Incarceration being on the architecture of prisons and agrarian penal colonies. Sabrina’s interest in architecture and carcerality extends to studies on the spatial materialisation of projects for small-scale detention houses in Europe and to the incorporation of restorative justice in architecture. At KU Leuven she co-teaches the design studio ‘This is not a prison farm. Vacant farmland for the settlement of an imperfect community’ where, together with the students of the Master’s in Architecture, she is working on a proposal for residential farms whose cohabitation is based on principles of restorative and environmental justice. She is also programme head of the visiting school Casting Castaways for the Architectural Association School of Architecture, a pedagogic attempt to discuss the controversial legacy of disused prison islands in the Mediterranean.