Beyond the Prison, Beside Ourselves: Affective Abolition and the Challenges of Transformative Justice
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The United States represents less than 5 percent of the world’s population yet houses 25 percent of the world’s prisoners. Over 2.3 million people are currently behind bars in the US, making our political era one of mass incarceration. How can we imagine and implement alternatives to the carceral state? I will attempt to answer this questions by turning to woman of color feminist and queer of color critiques of the prison. These abolitionists imagine an end to state violence as well as interpersonal violence. Centering the abolitionist principle that no one is disposable, I will explore transformative justice initiatives that suggest we hold each other accountable within our communities rather than through the state. Neoliberal responses to interpersonal violence – carceral feminism, homonormativity, and Black respectability politics – merely proliferate structural harm. In order to avoid the seduction of carceral capitalism, we need to base our relationships with each other on different logics than exile and punishment. I argue that interdependence can be felt in moment of ecstasy, in its literal sense. Going “beside ourselves” with grief, rage, or love, helps everyone realize their investment in ending power structures. Prison abolition, and the affective shifts it requires, offers a powerful vision challenging violence beyond the state.