Aspiring to the Commons: Enclosure, Space, Schools, and Prisons in Central Virginia



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The rate by which students are referred to law enforcement in the Commonwealth of Virginia suggests, according to state policy advocates and makers, that Virginia has one of the largest school-to-prison pipelines in the country. Yet, the school-to-prison pipeline, while useful as a visual metaphor, is a limited model from which to base solutions to educational injustice and inequity, particularly with regard to how Black students and students of color are enfolded into carceral logics while at school. In this project, I instead consider the educational enclosure model proposed by Damien Sojoyner in First Strike: Educational Enclosure in Black Los Angeles. The enclosure model resituates public education systems in a more complex landscape of social mechanisms that racialize, ethnicize, gender, and class both individuals and communities in order to extract and contain the values of human capital. In this context, it is possible to trace how schools operate in conjunction with prisons in order to extract and contain the value of student populations of color. I particularly emphasize the spatial nature of enclosure throughout this project, informed by Alvaro Sevilla-Buitrago’s essay Capitalist Formations of Enclosure: Space and the Extinction of the Commons: Capitalist Formations of Enclosure. In so doing, I not only recognize the origins of the term “enclosure” as a series of legal movements to dispossess communal land in 15-19th century Western Europe, but also to maintain the specificity of the enclosure model. Thus, each chapter investigates an essential element of the “spatial rationality of enclosure” as outlined by Sevilla-Buitrago: the subsumption, orchestration, and domination of educational space. I ground this work in three corresponding case studies, each located in a Central Virginian county and the public school system that accompanies it. Informed by each case study, I argue that the enclosure model provides a more complex frame through which to understand the relationship between schools and prisons, which in turn offers more opportunities to seek liberatory solutions. I conclude by turning my attention to the students who inhabit educational enclosures, whose efforts to communicate, organize, and build solidarity in unconventional and imperfect spaces should inform how stakeholders pursue those solutions and envision the future of public education.



Critical education studies, Critical prison studies, Public education, Virginia, School-to-prison pipeline, Enclosure