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Resisting Carceral Empire: Rethinking American Studies Approaches to the Carceral State

Sat, November 9, 2:00 to 3:45pm, Hawai'i Convention Center, Mtg Rm 304 B

Session Submission Type: Non-Paper Session: Dialogue Format


In recent years, American Studies scholars have produced a range of works that explore the origins of our contemporary era of police terror, criminalization, mass incarceration, and deportation in the United States. Yet, this crucial work has often shied away from thinking about the growth and consolidation of the carceral state in the U.S. as a transnational project that has been and continues to be shaped by colonial and imperial logics and practices. In this roundtable session, the panelists hope to deepen our understanding of the carceral state by centering what have been two important keywords in the field of American Studies: colonialism and empire. The panelists have all authored recent books that attempt to bridge these important conversations in the field: Kelly Lytle Hernández’s City of Inmates (2017), Micol Seigel’s Violence Work (2018), Marisol LeBrón’s Policing Life and Death (2019), and Stuart Schrader’s Badges Without Borders (2019). In different ways, these books all explode divisions between foreign and domestic, colony and metropole, peace and war, and civilian and military, setting a consistent agenda for American Studies today.

This roundtable will reflect on four primary questions, based on these authors’ experience of writing monographs about the intersections between the U.S carceral state and U.S. empire and based on what they’ve learned from reading each other’s work. First, what is the value in theoretical and empirical terms of studying the carceral state and empire together? Second, what are the methodological challenges of analyzing the carceral state and empire together? Third, what are areas for further research on this topic? Finally, the panelists will consider how an analysis of the the struggle against the carceral state as part of a larger anti-colonial struggle can open up new avenues for activism and engaged scholarship.

Ultimately, the panelists in their work and in their engagement with one another will show the urgency of centering colonialism and empire in the study of the carceral state. This task is necessary if the field of American Studies is to understand not only how the United States arrived at this current moment of carceral expansion and consolidation but also how to it can contribute to transformative change and the dismantling of both U.S. empire and the carceral state.

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