Robben Island prison in South Africa held thousands of black political prisoners, including Nelson Mandela, who opposed apartheid. This book reconstructs the inmates' resistance strategies to show how these men created a political and social order behind bars. Survival was their first goal; challenging apartheid was their true aim. So although Robben Island was designed to repress, it was continually transformed by its political inmates into a site of resistance. The book theorizes that, where material conditions permit, the most far-reaching and effective forms of resistance involve constructive political action which seeks to remake existing power relationships. This theory is demonstrated in three focuses of the book: the activism of Robben Islanders, the effects of political prisoner resistance on the apartheid state machinery, and in comparative cases which illustrate various international instances of political prisoners shaping both prisons and political orders.

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