Date of Degree

9-2022

Document Type

Dissertation

Degree Name

Ph.D.

Program

Earth & Environmental Sciences

Advisor

Setha Low

Committee Members

Michelle Fine

Ruth Wilson Gilmore

Subject Categories

Human Geography | Women's Studies

Keywords

carcerality, black women, imprisonment, carceral geographies, b

Abstract

Anchored in the political subjectivity of formerly incarcerated Black women, “A Labor of Livingness: Oral Histories of Formerly Incarcerated Black Women” is a project situated at the intersections of Black geographies and Black Feminist thought that considers a re/imagination of the ‘living prison’ experiences of formerly incarcerated Black women. I offer the term “a labor of livingness” as the liberatory articulation and everyday practices of resistance to the prison as a site of ‘living death’ that is reflective of the carceral experiences of currently and formerly incarcerated Black women. Attentive to the prison as a repository of epistemological knowledge production, “A Labor of Livingness: Oral Histories of Formerly Incarcerated Black Women” is a multivocal project informed by eighteen months of ethnographic research and my own experience of imprisonment.

Working through the architectures of race, class and gender underpinning Black women’s dehumanization and dispossession, this project employs a multidisciplinary approach which intentionally foregrounds the oral histories of formerly incarcerated Black women as a liberatory imaginative that provokes an interrogation of the racialized and gendered spatial formations of the carceral state. In situating the ‘penal’ as a Black geography that is intimately bound up in the constellations of the Black freedom struggle, “A Labor of Livingness: Oral Histories of Formerly Incarcerated Black Women” offers a critical counter-narrative to the de-validation of currently and formerly incarcerated Black women’s lived carceral experiences and understandings. As such, I argue that currently and formerly incarcerated Black women are not ancillary to discussions regarding the policies and practices of ‘mass incarceration’ but are inextricably connected to the nation’s political economy of carceral confinement and custodial control as a continuity sustained by the ecology of historical anti-Black racism, and its corresponding state-sanctioned violences.

Given the dearth of scholarship examining the political subjectivity of formerly incarcerated Black women and our epistemological production of carceral wisdoms essential to Black our ongoing resistance to the imposition of imposed and gendered identities, “A Labor of Livingness: Oral Histories of Formerly Incarcerated Black Women” provides an intervention to the invisibility and erasure of presently and formerly incarcerated Black women’s encounters with multiple legal and juridical systems, along with the supporting infrastructures of dehumanization, dispossession and displacement. This work unsettles the traditional racialized tropes couched in the language of disparity, inequality and deficiencies---which is often centered and enmeshed in the all-too-familiar representations of Black women’s criminality---which in turn, has historically been used to justify and uphold the structures and systems of racialized punishment meted out by the nation’s criminal and juridical legal systems. Residing in the circuitous intersections of race, class and gender which shape and give form to a Black geography, “A Labor of Livingness: Oral Histories of Formerly Incarcerated Black Women” engages and builds out McKittrick’s (2011) theoretical framing of a post-slave Black geography. In negation of the penal as a topography of re/living Black death, “A Labor of Livingness: Oral Histories of Formerly Incarcerated Black Women” purposely evokes the cultural vernacular of ‘living the penal’ as a continuity of Black place-making, which in turn, engenders a ‘labor of livingness’ as an unrelenting struggle in affirmation of Black humanness.

As a public-facing project, this dissertation posits the concept of a ‘labor of livingness’ as the archives of historical memory embodied in a storytelling praxis which maps the interlocking contours and intimacies of the carceral sphere as a gendered and racialized regime of governance that holds the contradictions and compelling possibilities of a radical ethos intrinsic to the notion of Black self-determination and place-making.

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