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Incarceration

Mass Incarceration

From Mass Incarceration to Mass Coercion

From the mid-1960s to the late 2000s, the number of people locked in U.S. prisons and jails, and forced onto parole or probation, increased from less than eight hundred thousand to more than seven million. From the beginning, this explosive growth, known commonly as mass incarceration, has been about containing, stigmatizing, and exploiting the poorest sectors of the working class. While an important prison reform movement has been underway for many years, private forces have attempted to co-opt this movement and have implemented and profited from alternative forms of mass coercion proliferating throughout society. | more…

The Punishment Monopoly: Tales of My Ancestors, Dispossession, and the Building of the United States

Why, asks Pem Davidson Buck, is punishment so central to the functioning of the United States, a country proclaiming “liberty and justice for all”? The Punishment Monopoly challenges our everyday understanding of American history, focusing on the constructions of race, class, and gender upon which the United States was built, and which still support racial capitalism and the carceral state. After all, Buck writes, “a state, to be a state, has to punish … bottom line, that is what a state and the force it controls is for.” | more…

Free Speech and the Suppression of Dissent During World War I

Free Speech and the Suppression of Dissent During World War I

Forthcoming in August 2020

World War I, given all the rousing “Over-There” songs and in-the-trenches films it inspired, was, at its outset, surprisingly unpopular with the American public. As opposition increased, Woodrow Wilson’s presidential administration became intent on stifling antiwar dissent. Wilson effectively silenced the National Civil Liberties Bureau, forerunner of the American Civil Liberties Union. Presidential candidate Eugene Debs was jailed, and Deb’s Socialist Party became a prime target of surveillance operations, both covert and overt. Drastic as these measures were, more draconian measures were to come. | more…

From Incarceration to Decarceration

The Need to Abolish Prisons

Maya Schenwar, Locked Down, Locked Out (San Francisco: Barrett-Koehler Publishers, 2014), 228 pages, $18.95, softcover.

Prison justice issues are garnering more public exposure today than ever before. In June 2012, the United States Senate held its first hearing on solitary confinement, the second in February 2014. This past fall, the New York Times ran a series of prominent exposés on conditions on Rikers Island that resulted in substantive shifts in staffing and conditions. Even the immense success of the TV show Orange Is the New Black suggests that what happens to people locked up is no longer a fringe issue, but part of our public consciousness.… Yet there are so many contradictions bound up in the way we talk about prisons. Solitary confinement is torture for children, but not for terrorists; the death penalty is unjust, but locking people up for life is not; “inmates” are terrifying beings, except the ones who look or speak like us. Therefore, for many progressives, the question is not whether prisons “work”—but how to make them more humane for those who “deserve” time on the inside. | more…

The Plight of the U.S. Working Class

Modern capitalism, sociologist Max Weber famously observed early in the twentieth century, is based on “the rational capitalistic organization of (formally) free labor.” But the “rationality” of the system in this sphere, as Weber was to acknowledge elsewhere, was so restrictive as to be in reality “irrational.” Despite its formal freedom, labor under capitalism was substantively unfree.… This was in accordance with the argument advanced in Karl Marx’s Capital. Since the vast majority of individuals in the capitalist system are divorced from the means of production they have no other way to survive but to sell their labor power to those who own these means, that is, the capitalist class.… The result is a strong tendency to the polarization of income and wealth in society. The more the social productivity of labor grows the more it serves to promote the wealth and power of private capital, while at the same time increasing the relative poverty and economic dependency of the workers. | more…

Violence, USA

The Warfare State and the Hardening of Everyday Life

Since 9/11, the war on terror and the campaign for homeland security have increasingly mimicked the tactics of the enemies they sought to crush. Violence and punishment as both a media spectacle and a bone-crushing reality have become prominent and influential forces shaping U.S. society. As the boundaries between “the realms of war and civil life have collapsed,” social relations and the public services needed to make them viable have been increasingly privatized and militarized. The logic of profitability works its magic in channeling the public funding of warfare and organized violence into universities, market-based service providers, Hollywood cinema, cable television, and deregulated contractors. The metaphysics of war and associated forms of violence now creep into every aspect of U.S. society. | more…

Neoliberalism, Imperialism, and the Militarization of Urban Spaces

In the epilogue of Planet of Slums, Mike Davis gives us a glimpse into the militarization of urban spaces and what the military elite are doing about the world’s cities. Davis cites an article published in the US Army War College journal: “The future of warfare lies in the streets, sewers, high-rise buildings, industrial parks, and the sprawl of houses, shacks, and shelters that form the broken cities of our world. Our recent military history is punctuated with city names—Tuzla, Mogadishu, Los Angeles, Beirut, Panama City, Hue, Saigon, Santo Domingo—but these encounters have been but a prologue, with the real drama still to come.”… [T]he militarization of cities around the world, in both the core and the periphery, is the main focus of Stephen Graham’s fascinating and accessible book, Cities Under Siege. For Graham…this book represents the culmination and synthesis of much previous research… The end result is a theoretically and empirically rich study of how violence, control, and surveillance have come to “colonize the city landscape and the spaces of everyday life in both the ‘homelands’ and domestic cities of the West as well as the world’s neo-colonial frontiers”. | more…

2. Lessons from the New Corporate Schooling

As the articles in this section indicate, the new corporate schooling in the United States combines many of the worst aspects of capitalist schooling in a period of economic stagnation, financialization, and militarization/securitization together with a strategy of privatization of the schools. Public education is being degraded, regimented, and increasingly racially segregated—while the resulting worsening conditions in the schools are used to justify the restructuring of the entire education system. | more…

Militarism and Education Normal

With the military’s ready and waiting personnel, infrastructure, and resources, no one should be surprised that the JROTC [Junior Reserve Officer Training Corps] is now offered as the alternative to physical education in urban school districts, or that the Department of Defense has responded to the educational crisis by opening and staffing public military schools. Currently, the military is education normal.… [P]ublic schools [have become] recruiting entities, and their targeting is not race, class, or gender neutral. | more…

Reflections on the Racial Web of Discipline

One of the most powerful metaphors in critical education literature is “the school to prison pipeline.” The phrase conjures a vivid, unambiguous image, the meaning of which few would debate: poor and black and brown children being sucked into a vortex from mainstream educational environments and heaved onto a conveyor belt carrying them onto a one-way path toward privatized prisons, where the economic outcome of under-education and discipline is most evident.… Excessive discipline is often a critical first step out of schools for select youth—black boys, in this case—who disproportionately find themselves in prison. Being designated as disabled nudges the other foot out of the schoolhouse door. | more…