Roundtable - Executive Session Status Awarded
Sponsored by: AAA Executive Program Committee
Of interest to: Practicing and Applied Anthropologists, Students
Primary Theme: Inequality
Secondary Theme: Resistance
This session will consider a significant and growing form of inequality and violence in the United States and globally: the incarceration, imprisonment, and detention of human beings at record numbers. Roundtable panelists will consider the mechanisms of power through which diverse carceral projects are implemented, as well as the many (often unexpected) forms of individual and collective resistance that question, challenge, undermine, and/or aim to abolish these carceral spaces. Panelists conduct research in multiple carceral settings—from mass incarceration and juvenile detention to immigrant detention facilities that hold adults, families, and children—and will draw on fieldwork in these different locations to explore the continuities and differences of state controlled confinement and, in particular, how it targets people based on race, class position, citizenship, immigration status, age, and gender. Our discussion will be animated by the following questions: what can we learn from attending to affinities and continuities between and across different forms of incarceration, as well as the histories and structural inequalities they represent—of empire, racial capitalism, liberal democracy, humanitarianism, and the rise of the security state? How do those who are incarcerated and their allies respond to, resist, or refuse imprisonment, even as they are subjected to it? How might anthropologists intervene in current conversations—and act in different spheres—to challenge, change, or dismantle carceral regimes?
Carceral spaces are centers of control and violence, but also zones of resistance and resilience. Together, different kinds of incarceration reveal disregard for human life and the ways that human beings are capable of dehumanizing others. However, these are also places where activism and organizing can take surprising or unanticipated forms. As an example, even when incarcerated people are punished through solitary confinement, individuals work with others—people on the inside and on the outside—to transform the immediate and future circumstances of those in confinement. Thus, prisons, detention centers, and other carceral spaces are a testament to human potential for both alienating, and connecting with, others. To think through the possibilities and impossibilities of acts of resistance, we will foreground questions about the im/permeability of carceral spaces and the ways in which non-incarcerated persons, including family and community members, scholars, artists, and advocates engage, enter, and work to transform institutions of incarceration and detention—or find themselves unable to do so. The roundtable explores how anthropologists are uniquely positioned to study the injustices of different kinds of mass incarceration, but also considers alternatives and possible solutions. Collectively, roundtable participants will outline how a comparative approach to carceral regimes might productively shape the search for more just forms of sociality.