Abolition Ecologies 2

Type: Paper
Sponsor Groups: Black Geographies Specialty Group, Cultural and Political Ecology Specialty Group, Political Geography Specialty Group
Organizers: Megan Ybarra, Nik Heynen
Chairs: Nik Heynen


Recent interventions in radical geography call on scholars to engage with the ways that “painful racial histories hold in them the possibility to organize our collective futures” (McKittrick, 2013, 3). In particular, Heynen (2016) calls for abolition ecologies that bring together antiracist, postcolonial and Indigenous theories with the goal of elucidating the interconnected white supremacist processes that lead to uneven development. Session papers respond to this call in three ways:

1) What are the histories that explain both the “the fear—the terrifying, internal fear—of living with difference” (Hall, 1992, 17), and how this fatal coupling of difference and power is wielded to produce differential life chances (Gilmore, 2002)? It is through rethinking deep histories that we can come to new theories (Pulido, 2015, 307, Robinson, 2000). Geographers must explain spatial logics that connect the ghetto to the suburbs, the plantation to the colonial port, the so-called reservation to the wilderness, to think through the production of unequal environments. In particular, urban political ecology can benefit from thinking through the ways that the plantation spatializes conceptions of urban life within the racial economy (McKittrick, 2013, 8). Future analysis can add to this key insight by thinking through how the logics of settler colonialism and racial slavery – together – formulated a political framework of white supremacy. In distinct ways, each with death-dealing consequences, white supremacy operates through racialized rightlessness that makes peoples ineligible for personhood: “as populations subjected to laws but refused the legal means to contest those laws as well as denied both the political legitimacy and moral credibility necessary to question them” (Cacho, 2012, 6). Papers should employ historical engagements both to make strange and explain the role of the spatial in the production of racialized rightlessness.
2) What can we learn from a renewed engagement with white supremacy and racial capitalism? In 1920, WEB Du Bois (2007, 18) declared, “Whiteness is the ownership of the earth forever and ever, Amen!”. In recent years, American Studies and Geography are enjoying a renewed engagement with the critique Du Bois signals – Amen! – through black geographies (McKittrick, 2006, McKittrick and Woods, 2007, Woods, In press). Our twenty-first century conjuncture calls for close examination of the role of constitutive whiteness in the settler’s claims in nativism, one that must be interrupted with empirical examinations of involuntary settlers, particularly those from Asia and Latin America (Day, 2016, Jackson, 2012). Scholars can think through how white supremacy is produced through black subjection, Indigenous genocide and involuntary settlement / migration. In reading radical and anticolonial struggles beyond liberal and Marxian frameworks, analyses should enrich our understanding of the relationship between white supremacy and racial capitalism (Robinson, 2000).
3) What does abolition look like? Radical scholars often expend so many words and so much time on critiquing liberal capitalism that we leave abolitionist dreams unspoken and ephemeral. In this issue, we call on authors to look beyond liberal rights frameworks and towards justice (Pulido, 2016, Ranganathan, 2016, Spade, 2015). The daily work of abolition can be as small, and as grand, as “supporting people currently endangered by policing and prisons, working to stop police, prison, and border expansion, and building alternative systems for keeping each other safe” (Cházaro et al., 2017). Beyond making our calls understood to a broad audience, we ask radical scholars to exchange ideas and provocations towards abolition. As Cedric Robinson noted in the Preface to Black Marxism (2000), “for a people to survive in struggle it must be on its own terms: the collective wisdom which is a synthesis of culture and the experience of that struggle.” Rather than seek permissions from racial states, anticolonial thinkers have refused the terms of their subjugation and called for a repatriation of land and life (Coulthard, 2014, Fanon, 2004 [1961], Simpson, 2014, Tuck and Yang, 2012). As such, papers will highlight the ways that the daily work of struggle signals abolition dreams.


Type Details Minutes
Presenter David Pellow*, University of California, Santa Barbara, Struggles for Environmental Justice in U.S. Prisons, Jails, and Concentration Camps 20
Presenter Keith Miyake*, UC Davis, Environmental Justice as an Abolitionist Framework within The Racial Environmental State 20
Presenter Laurel Mei-Singh*, Princeton University, Military Wasteland: Organized Abandonment in Hawai'i 20
Presenter Megan Ybarra*, University of Washington, Site Fight! Towards the end of immigrant detention on Tacoma’s Tar Pits Murphy Mitchel Stack, University of Washington, Site Fight! Towards the end of immigrant detention on Tacoma’s Tar Pits 20
Discussant Jenna Loyd University of Wisconsin-Madison 20

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