From Slavery to Mass Incarceration, the Role of Prisons in American Society | Black Agenda Report

by Loïc Wacquant


Originally published, with extensive footnotes and additional material in New Left Review, January-February 2002.
Not one but several ‘peculiar institutions’ have successively operated to define, confine, and control African-Americans in the history of the United States. The first is chattel slavery,  the pivot of the plantation economy.
The second is the Jim Crow system of legally enforced discrimination and segregation from cradle to grave that anchored the predominantly agrarian society of the South from the close of Reconstruction to the Civil Rights revolution which toppled it a full century after abolition.
America’s third special device for containing the descendants of slaves in the Northern industrial metropolis is the ghetto, corresponding to the conjoint urbanization and proletarianization of African-Americans from the Great Migration of1914–30 to the 1960s, when it was rendered partially obsolete by the concurrent transformation of economy and state and by the mounting protest of blacks against continued caste exclusion, climaxing with the explosive urban riots chronicled in the Kerner Commission Report.
The fourth, I contend here, is the novel institutional complex formed by the remnants of the dark ghetto and the carceral apparatus with which it has become joined by a linked relationship of structural symbiosis and functional surrogacy.  The glaring and growing ‘disproportionality’ in incarceration that has afflicted African-Americans over the past three decades can be understood as the result of the ‘extra-penological’ functions that the prison system has come to shoulder in the wake of the crisis of the ghetto and of the continuing stigma that afflicts the descendants of slaves by virtue of their membership in a group constitutively deprived of ethnic honor (Max Weber’s Massehre).


via From Slavery to Mass Incarceration, the Role of Prisons in American Society | Black Agenda Report.

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