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An Abolitionism Worthy of the Name: From Death Penalty Reform to Prison Abo...

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Foster Auditorium

102 Paterno Library

University Park, PA 16802

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In Derrida’s lectures on the death penalty, the United States figures as “both exemplary and exceptional.” Derrida acknowledges the racist structure of state violence in the United States, and he cites data and specific cases to support this point, but he does not develop a critical analysis of race or racism in the lecture series. Drawing on the work of incarcerated intellectual Mumia Abu-Jamal, critical race theorists Cheryl Harris and Angela Davis, and contemporary prison abolitionists, I argue that racism is an issue, not only in the particular context of the United States, but also for the logic of the death penalty that Derrida proposes to deconstruct. Derrida’s own account of indemnity, interest, and condemnation in the Tenth Session is incomplete without a supplementary analysis of black civil death and the construction of whiteness as property. In conclusion, I argue that an abolitionism worthy of the name would have to move beyond the death penalty, towards the (im)possible project of prison abolition and the abolition of white supremacy.

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Lisa Guenther is Associate Professor of Philosophy at Vanderbilt University. She is the author of Solitary Confinement: Social Death and its Afterlives (2013) and co-editor of Death and Other Penalties: Philosophy in a Time of Mass Incarceration (2015). She facilitates a weekly discussion group with men on Tennessee’s death row, called REACH Coalition. Lisa’s current book project, Life Against Social Death: From Reproductive Injustice to Natal Resistance, explores the structural and historical connections between reproductive politics and the politics of mass incarceration and capital punishment in the United States.
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Foster Auditorium

102 Paterno Library

University Park, PA 16802

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