Theater of Cruelty

From mourning to sharp power analysis

Carceral Capitalism
Forfatter: Jackie Wang
Forlag: Semiotext(e) (USA)
In reflections, prose poems and conversations with dead and living revolutionaries, Jackie Wang dissects the American prison system.


Jackie Wang's book Carceral Capitalism is one of the most original and worthwhile recent contributions to the criticism of the American prison complex, with 2,3 million people being held in involuntary detention and 4,7 million being sentenced to probation, is under probation or similar. The starting point for Wang's analysis of the world's largest carceral system is that its rapid growth over the past four decades has been almost inversely proportional to the downscaling of the workforce in the US industry, as a result of, among other things, automation and outsourcing. «With US deindustrialization and the welfare state erosion (a process that began in the 1970s), the question of what to do with all the unemployed who had migrated to the cities to become industrial workers – as well as all the mentally ill in hospital wards closed down en masse – answered with a race-based mass incarceration process, ”she writes

The superfluous bodies of society

The particular American "solution" to the elongated crisis of capitalism, with declining rates of profit over the past five decades, thus became the mass deposit of the so-called surplus population, of which a disproportionate share belongs to the black population or other non-white groups. Thus, the 1980s also became the period when prison expansion began, not least in the cooling water of the Reagan administration's was on drugs. The prison statistics speak their clear language about how this period of Reaganomics –Wang's term for the neoliberal offensive in the United States – helped fill the many newly built prison cells with redundant (often stubborn and unruly) bodies.

One of the new power techniques was the forms of credit and debt, developed and tested in Detroit.

Wang clearly uses the city of Detroit – a long-term center of the auto industry – as an example of how the decline in production led to a "dramatic depiction and thus a collapse of the city's tax revenue base (partly caused by racist housing policies and white flight). " No coincidence, precisely in 1967, Detroit was the scene of some of the most violent so-called race riots in American history - Long, hot summer of 1967 Where the state, due to the inadequacies of the police, for the first time set the military against its own civilian population. The episode led to a militarization of the police who are tracing themselves to this day.

Criminal before the crime

But while the brutal police brutality that the Black Lives Matter movement has refocused on is still commonplace in the United States, Wang's point is that something is changing in the way populations are controlled. The hard power is complemented by a "softer" version, where Detroit was historically a kind testing ground for an extended repertoire of carceral capitalism 's power techniques. One of these was the new forms of credit and debt that were developed and tested in the crisis-stricken housing market in Detroit, and which became prototypes of the speculation in high-risk assets that emerged towards 2008 and is considered a significant factor in the collapse of the US housing market and the subsequent economic crisis. Another «technique» that illustrates the development from the Old Detroit of RoboCop to the new data-borne law enforcement, is the foot shackle: If the prison wall is a simple confinement technique, the foot shackle, with Wang's apt wording, is a «prison without walls».

Jackie Wang

In the same way, the author writes, the new algorithmically driven and "preventive" police methods such as the use of PredPol – a software to guide the police to places where the incidence of crime is statistically presumed to be particularly high – are a technique that frames bodies in a particular " criminal optics »even before any crime has taken place. Being in a crime-ridden area alone becomes a marker of crime, and your neighborhood in a supposedly "color-blind" algorithm becomes a clear proxy for race. The approach is anything but neutral, but instead permeated by structural prejudices which, so to speak, are built into the systems. The banks' assessment of creditworthiness and the police patrolling patterns thus have in common that they both operate with a degree of systematic race-based and gendered bias.

Personal starting point

Carceral Capitalism delivers solid and original analyzes of how economics, policing and power engineering are spun together in late capitalism. But even better is the book because it not is some academic monologue that seeks to provide a new exhaustive and overarching critique of capitalism, high above the writing subject and the intrusive nature of everyday life: "There is a tightly connected political hub in my life," writes Wang – who describes himself as a queer woman of color – «which is a focal point for my questions about the world and how it is structured. Addressing these issues without talking about the event that gave rise to them would be to assume the expected role of the intellectual. " The big brother's life imprisonment from an early age is the event the author is aiming for, and it is this that her personal reflections, prose poems and "conversations with revolutionaries, dead and alive" revolve around. In the postscript «Carceral ripples», perhaps the book's strongest chapter, Wang writes soberly: «We were teenagers when he was caged inside / and now he is being bald» .. The two lines are an example of how one sister's perspective can work more mobilizing than a thousand political manifestos.

Dominique Routhier
Dominique Routhier
Routhier is a regular critic of Ny Tid.

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