abolishing Carceral Society
ABOlition: a journal of insurgent politics
“What is the most damage we can do—given our biographies, abilities, and commitments—to the racial order and rule of capital?” —Adapted from Joel Olson
Beyond border walls and prison cells—carceral society is everywhere. In a time of mass incarceration, immigrant detention and deportation, rising forms of racialized, gendered, and sexualized violence, and deep ecological and economic crises, abolitionists everywhere seek to understand and radically dismantle the interlocking institutions of oppression and transform the world in which we find ourselves. These oppressions have many different names and histories and so, to make the impossible possible, abolition articulates a range of languages and experiences between (and within) different systems of oppression in society today.
Abolishing Carceral Society presents the bold voices and inspiring visions of today’s revolutionary abolitionist movements struggling against capitalism, patriarchy, colonialism, ecological crisis, prisons, and borders.
In the first of a series of publications, the Abolition Collective renews and boldly extends the tradition of “abolition-democracy” espoused by figures like W.E.B. Du Bois, Angela Davis, and Joel Olson. Through study and publishing, the Abolition Collective supports radical scholarly and activist research, recognizing that the most transformative scholarship is happening both in the movements themselves and in the communities with whom they organize.
Abolishing Carceral Society features a range of creative styles and approaches from activists, artists, and scholars to create spaces for collective experimentation with the urgent questions of our time.
Through essays, interviews, visual art, and poetry, each presented in an accessible manner, the work engages with the meaning, practices, and politics of abolitionism in a range of historical and geographical contexts, including: prison and police abolitionism, border abolition, decolonization, slavery abolitionism, antistatism, antiracism, labor organizing, anticapitalism, radical feminism, queer and trans politics, Indigenous people’s politics, sex worker organizing, migrant activism, social ecology, animal rights and liberation, and radical pedagogy.
“Abolishing Carceral Society is an immense contribution to contemporary struggles for freedom. The pieces in this collection provoke new questions that inform resistance strategies, and deepen our understandings of the systems we are seeking to abolish and the social relations we are working to transform. This collection will be a profoundly useful tool in classrooms and activist groups. The conversation happening in Abolition is essential reading for those participating in the thorny, complex debates about how we dismantle structures of state violence and domination. The writers and artists whose work makes up the inaugural issue of Abolition, rigorously explore the most pressing questions emerging in liberation struggles.”—Dean Spade, author of Normal Life: Administrative Violence, Critical Trans Politics and the Limits of Law.
“Abolishing Carceral Society is a wonderful mix of provocative ideas married with art, to help us consider a world without prisons, policing, and surveillance. Many of the submissions, however, are less concerned with dismantling what exists than they are with taking seriously that abolition is a project interested in building and in practical organizing. This comes through particularly in David Turner's essay, among others. Abolishing Carceral Society asks us some questions that we sometimes prefer to ignore, like ‘What does it mean to transform human relations?’ This inaugural issue from Abolition pushes us to ask a number of questions that are important to moving us toward an abolitionist horizon.”—Mariame Kaba, founder of Project NIA, and cofounder of Chicago Freedom School, Chicago Taskforce on Violence Against Girls & Young Women, and Love & Protect.
“Abolition is a crucial contribution to radical social movements. While fighting against prisons and the death penalty as instruments of class rule, the journal amplifies the voices of the incarcerated, actively engages with organizers on the ground, and builds bridges across multiple movements. The first issue, Abolishing Carceral Society, presents incisive interventions in the current debates about prison abolition and abolitionism as a political principle. It is a bold beginning for what will become an essential forum for all insurgent thinkers.”—Silvia Federici, author of Revolution at Point Zero: Housework, Reproduction, and the Feminist Struggle and Caliban and the Witch: Women, the Body, and Primitive Accumulation.
“From slavery to prisons, abolition has always been a project of courage and breadth. Abolishing Carceral Society brings to bear the reflective, transformative urgency needed to confront today's violent world order. Of the struggle, by the struggle, and for the struggle: this auspicious collection offers not answers but pathways down which contemporary abolitionists travel en route to a future freedom. Check out their words, scope their visions—heed their calls.”—Dan Berger, author of Captive Nation: Black Prison Organizing in the Civil Rights Era.
“Abolition: A Journal of Insurgent Politics continues the radical, democratic tradition started by abolitionists to speak truth to power. In these dismal political times, it is a matter of the greatest urgency to create and sustain a counter-public sphere and an alternative print culture to sustain and expand American democracy. This remarkable and inspiring advocacy journal is poised to do precisely that for democratic activists as well as the broader lay public.”—Manisha Sinha, author of The Slave's Cause: A History of Abolition.
“The Abolition Collective embodies the kind of work anybody interested in justice should aspire to reproduce. Astute, rigorous, and uncompromising, the collective seeks to bring radical perspectives to a wide readership within and beyond academe. With the publication of its inaugural issue we are treated to the very best of revolutionary analysis. Anybody interested in upending a carceral and colonial order will find plenty of inspiration here. Something we all need and do well to pass along.”—Steven Salaita, author of Inter/Nationalism: Decolonizing Native America and Palestine.
“The Abolition Journal project offers a unique, revolutionary lens through which to view, analyze and fight against capitalism and patriarchy on the terrain of the prison-industrial complex. It aims to combine an abolitionist message with a democratic production process that prioritizes participation of those directly affected by incarceration. What a welcome and needed approach! I am confident the project will help intellectuals build ties of solidarity across race, class, gender, nationality, and other borders that block liberation and in its finest moments will help teach us, as Mumia says, to ‘fight with light in our eyes.’”—James Kilgore, author of Understanding Mass Incarceration: A People's Guide to the Key Civil Rights Struggle of Our Time.
“Abolition: Journal of Insurgent Politics is a bold journal mapping new roads out of the inferno in which we live. As the editors’ Manifesto tells us, ‘abolition’ is a key strategy out of our carceral, slave-like society—the prison being the pivotal place for the perpetuation of an unjust political system. But the journal also sheds light on the many ways in which we’re imprisoned beyond the prison’s walls. With scholarly articles, poems and artwork, in a beautifully designed text, it asks us to open our eyes and support a liberation struggle against jails and jailers.”—George Caffentzis, author of In Letters of Blood and Fire: Work, Machines, and the Crisis of Capitalism and No Blood For Oil: Essays on Energy, Class Struggle and War, 1998–2017.
From The Book: Manifesto for Abolition
Abolitionist politics is not about what is possible, but about making the impossible a reality. Ending slavery appeared to be an impossible challenge for Sojourner Truth, Denmark Vesey, Nat Turner, John Brown, Harriet Tubman, and others, and yet they struggled for it anyway. Today we seek to abolish a number of seemingly immortal institutions, drawing inspiration from those who have sought the abolition of all systems of domination, exploitation, and oppression—from Jim Crow laws and prisons to patriarchy and capitalism. The shockingly unfinished character of these struggles can be seen from some basic facts about our present. The 85 richest people in the world have as much wealth as the poorest half; more African American men are in prison, jail, or parole, than were enslaved in 1850; we have altered the chemical composition of our atmosphere threatening all life on this planet; female and trans* people are significantly more likely than cisgender men to be victims of sexual and domestic violence; rich nations support military interventions into ‘developing’ countries as cover for neo-colonial resource exploitation. Recognizing that the institutions we fight against are both interconnected and unique, we refuse to take an easy path of reveling in abstract ideals while accepting mere reforms in practice. Instead, we seek to understand the specific power dynamics within and between these systems so we can make the impossible possible; so we can bring the entire monstrosity down.
We must ask questions that are intimately connected with abolitionist movements if we are to understand these dynamics in ways that are strategically useful. How do those in power use differences of race, gender, sexuality, nationality, and class to divide and exploit us? How do we build bridges across these divides through our organizing? Activists on the ground ask such questions often, but rarely do those within universities become involved. Instead, academia has more often been an opponent to abolitionist movements, going back to the co-constitution of early universities with colonialism and slavery, and the development of racial science and capitalist ideologies. Academic journals have functioned to maintain a culture of conformity, legitimated with myths of ‘political neutrality’ and ‘meritocracy.’ At the same time, colleges and universities have always been terrains of struggle, as radical organizers have found ways to expropriate their resources: from W.E.B. DuBois’s abolitionist science at Fisk University to the Black Campus Movement of the 1960s. Inspired by them, we refuse to abandon the resources of academia to those who perpetuate the status quo.
Instead, we are creating a new project, centered around Abolition: A Journal of Insurgent Politics—for research, publishing, and study that encourage us to make the impossible possible, to seek transformation well beyond policy changes and toward revolutionary abolitionism.
Our journal’s title has multiple reference points in a tense relation with one another. ‘Abolition’ refers partly to the historical and contemporary movements that have identified themselves as ‘abolitionist’: those against slavery, prisons, the wage system, animal and earth exploitation, racialized, gendered, and sexualized violence, and the death penalty, among others. But we also refer to all revolutionary movements, insofar as they have abolitionist elements – whether the abolition of patriarchy, capitalism, heteronormativity, ableism, colonialism, the state, or white supremacy. Rather than just seeking to abolish a list of oppressive institutions, we aim to support studies of the entanglement of different systems of oppression, not to erase the tensions between different movements, but to create spaces for collective experimentation with those tensions. Instead of assuming one homogenous subject as our audience (e.g., “abolitionists of the world unite!”), we write for multiple, contingent, ambivalent subjectivities—for people coming from different places, living and struggling in different circumstances, and in the process of figuring out who we are and untangling these knots to fight for a more just and liberated world. With Fanon, we are “endlessly creating” ourselves.
Abolition takes cues from the abolition-democracy espoused by figures like W.E.B Du Bois, Angela Davis, and Joel Olson. Our orientation toward academic insurgency builds upon the struggles of the Black campus movement against the White University, the American Indian movement against the Colonial University, feminist and queer movements against the Hetero-Patriarchal University, and anarchist and communist movements against the Capitalist University. As efforts to revolutionize academia originated and drew their lifeblood from movements outside and across the boundaries of academic institutions, today we recognize that our journal’s radical aspirations must be similarly grounded. We must therefore facilitate collaborations of radical academics with and in support of movements that are struggling against oppressive regimes and for the creation of alternative futures. Recognizing that the best movement-relevant intellectual work is happening both in the movements themselves and in the communities with whom they organize (e.g., in dispossessed neighborhoods and prisons), the journal aims to support scholars whose research amplifies such grassroots intellectual activity.
In tension with struggles against and beyond academia, we recognize the desires of academics to survive within it, for the access to resources that inclusion can offer. Rather than accepting such desires as eternal necessities, we foresee that the success of abolitionist projects will change the availability of resources for intellectual activity as well as what we understand as a ‘resource.’ To help academics grapple with transgressing academia’s boundaries, our journal aims to provide some legitimacy within the dominant value practices of academia (e.g., publication requirements for hiring, tenure, and promotion), while simultaneously pushing the limits of those practices. All of our publications will be accessible, free, and open access, refusing the paywalls of the publishing industry. We will also produce hard-copy versions for circulation to communities lacking internet access. Yet, we are not abandoning peer review—sharing writing with respected comrades and giving each other feedback before wider circulation—which can be useful for movements to strengthen and amplify their intellectual activities. As peer review is ultimately based on relationships of trust, we ask why academics on the opposite side of our struggles are our ‘peers.’ Instead, we commit to building relationships with activist-intellectuals for whom a new kind of peer review can serve as an insurgent tool to expropriate academia’s resources for knowledge production.
‘Abolition’ as a concept, process, and reality becomes the common ground upon which we meet, struggle, and join together in solidarity.
—The Abolition Collective
Editors: Abolition Collective
Publisher: Common Notions
Published: December 2018
Size: 6 X 9
Page count: 256 Pages
Subjects: Abolition / Prisons / Social Movements