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Taking Care: Carceral Capitalism, Racialized and Gendered Expropriation, and the Prison Commons

Authors: William McKeithen*, University of Washington
Topics: Social Theory
Keywords: care, racial capitalism, mass incarceration, commons
Session Type: Paper
Presentation File: No File Uploaded

Racial capitalism requires care labor that is cheap and/or free. As a result, racial capitalist societies exist in a perpetual care crisis, in which feminized and racialized subjects are continually coerced into providing reproductive labor at the expense of their own and their communities' social reproduction. In this paper, I investigate these systemic crises as they unfold in relation to ongoing carceral state violence through mass incarceration. Drawing on interviews with and memoirs written by formerly and currently incarcerated women and trans folks, I argue that prison serves as a central institution in the perpetuation of racial capitalism and its dependence on the racialized and gendered expropriation of reproductive labor. Prisons themselves exist in a constant crisis of care. Criminalization and incarceration dispossess incarcerated people of their care and support networks. Prisons disallow any efforts by incarcerated people to care for themselves outside the prison's carceral logics. At the same time, prisons coerce predominantly poor, Black, and Brown women and trans people to provide reproductive labor for free. While scholars have noted that prisons could not run without prisoner labor, this argument has reproduced masculinist logics about what counts as 'labor.' I argue that prisons also could not run without prisoners' care labor. Finally, I illustrate the ways incarcerated women and trans folks resist this carceral expropriation through everyday acts of getting on together. This prison care commons responds to, resists, and escapes, albeit partially, the uncaring prison system.

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