The United States locks up more people in prisons than any other country in the world. Since the 1960s, the rapid expansion of mass incarceration has become central to the American social and political order, to the governance of racial hierarchies, to the control of migrant populations, and to the exercise of power abroad in the “war on terror.” While the emergence of the US as the global leader in incarceration is a relatively recent phenomenon, the prison has loomed large in American culture for over two centuries. This course asks what we can learn about the contemporary carceral system and its historical genealogy through the study of literary works by incarcerated and formerly incarcerated writers. We will read this writing in relation to the interdisciplinary field of critical prison studies. Topics include the representation of antecedents to mass incarceration in the plantation, the penitentiary, the internment camp of WWII; processes of dehumanization, criminalization and racialization; resistance and abolition; unfree labor and the meaning of freedom; neoliberalism and biopolitics; the politics and poetics of literary testimony.
Authors may include Austin Reed, Henry David Thoreau, Chester Himes, Alexander Berkman, Miné Okubo, George Jackson, Leonard Peltier, Assata Shakur, Jimmy Baca, Ethridge Knight, Carolyn Baxter, and Mohamedou Ould Slahi (Guantánamo Diaries). From the field of critical prison studies, Michelle Alexander, Angela Davis, Colin Dayan, Michel Foucault, Ruth Gilmore, Khalil Gibran Muhammad, Dylan Rodriguez, Loïc Wacquant.
Requirements include one oral presentation, submitted as a 5-6 page paper, and a final research paper.