Mass Incarceration and the Carceral State

Mass Incarceration and the Carceral State
2015 to 2016
Emerging Networks

The United States has by far the highest incarceration rates in the world, with approximately 1 in every 108 American adults (2.3 million) currently in jail or prison. It is deeply divided by race: 1 in 15 African American men are currently incarcerated, and 1 in 36 Hispanic men, compared to 1 in 106 white men. In 1972, there were only 300,000 people behind bars in the U.S.

The effects of this transformation are felt across the country and the world—not only in prisons, but also in schools, workplaces, courtrooms, boardrooms, and families. Scholars are just now beginning to ask how mass incarceration has reshaped society on a wider scale. Incarcerated populations frequently fall outside our efforts to understand history and society, and to direct public policy, because scholars and policy-makers too often treat incarcerated individuals as if they have been removed from society.

Although individual scholars at Duke have begun to take up the impact of mass incarceration, there is no dedicated forum in which we can collaborate across disciplines, share knowledge and pedagogical resources, and keep each other abreast of our projects. Students, too, have shown great interest in courses and campus events related to imprisonment, policing, and human rights abuse, but they lack the means to transfer their learning from individual courses to a wider, ongoing dialogue.

Undergraduate education is the core of the project. It will offer a full year of programming to open important conversations on mass incarceration, imprisonment, policing, and capital punishment to the community-at-large, bringing together scholars, practitioners, activists, and community members, including those most directly affected by the carceral state. The conveners will work together on:

1) Designing and teaching a new undergraduate course, Global Dialogues: Incarceration, in which students contribute to the Humanities Action Lab (HAL), a national network of scholars devoted to research on mass incarceration. This work will culminate in a travelling exhibit designed by undergraduates from all participating institutions.

2) Enhancing three existing courses with visits from community-based speakers and visiting scholars, as well as opportunities for vertically integrated collaboration beyond the classroom.

3) Establishing a public lecture series featuring recognized experts on mass incarceration, many of whom will also meet directly with students enrolled in the three core courses.

4) Establishing a yearlong faculty and graduate student working group to act as a focal point for Duke research and teaching about mass incarceration.

5) Developing an online pedagogical hub that will store, coordinate, and curate resources for teaching and learning about mass incarceration.


Douglas Campbell
Professor of New Testament
Robin Kirk
Faculty Co-Chair of the Executive Committee of the DHRC@FHI
Wahneema Lubiano
Associate Professor of African and African American Studies and Literature
Jessica Namakkal
Assistant Professor of the Practice in the International Comparative Studies Program
Matt Whitt
Postdoctoral Fellow, Thompson Writing Program


The Cultural Life of Capital Punishment

-- Oct 8 2015 - 6:00pm
In this talk, Daniel LaChance, a professor of history at Emory University, will consider the place of capital punishment in the American cultural imagination. The talk will be followed by a... Read More

Sex Panic and the Expansion of the Carceral State

-- Feb 25 2016 - 5:30pm
A talk by Regina Kunzel, the Doris Stevens Professor in Women's Studies and Professor of History at Princeton University. The event is part of a series organized by the Humanities Writ Large Emerging... Read More

The Illiteracy of "Mass Incarceration": Racial Terror and the Insurgent Poetics of Evisceration

-- Sep 16 2015 - 6:00pm
A talk by Dylan Rodríguez, a professor of Ethnic Studies at University of California. He will address the conditions of racial domestic policing and criminalization. His critique of the concept and... Read More

A Critical Phenomenology of Solidarity and Resistance in the 2013 California Prison Hunger Strikes

-- Nov 11 2015 - 6:30pm
A public lecture by philosopher, prison educator, and activist Lisa Guenther. Guenther is Associate Professor of Philosophy at Vanderbilt University and the author of The Gift of the Other: Levinas... Read More

No Name in the Polity: The Carceral State and Black Citizenship

-- Apr 14 2016 - 6:00pm
A talk by Vesla Weaver, Assistant Professor of Political Science and African American Studies at Yale University. Weaver is broadly interested in understanding racial inequality in the United States... Read More