Through reflections, prose-poems, and conversations with living and dead revolutionaries, Jackie Wang dissects the American prison system.
Dominique Routhier
Published date: September 12, 2018

Carceral Capitalism
Author: Jackie Wang
Semiotext(e), USA,

Jackie Wang’s original book Carceral Capitalism is one of the most readable among recent criticisms of the American prison complex, where 2.3 million people are kept in involuntary containment and 4.7 million people are under deferred sentences, on parole or in other confined conditions. Wang’s analysis of the world’s biggest carceral system begins from the observation that the enormous growth of the prison sector in the last four decades has been almost inversely proportional to the downscaling of the workforce in American industry as a consequence of automation and outsourcing. «As the US de-industrialized and the welfare state was gutted (a process that started in the 1970s), the solution to the problem of what to do with the unemployed people who had migrated to cities to become industrial workers — as well as the mentally ill people housed in hospitals that were shutting down en masse – was racialized mass incarceration.», she writes.

The superfluous bodies of society

The distinctively American «solution» to the long-lasting crisis of capitalism with falling profit-rates and «secular stagnation» since the early seventies, ended up being a mass-disposal of the so-called «surplus population» of which a disproportionate part belongs to the black segment of the population or other non-white groups. The 1980s became the period where the expansion of prisons really set in, not least in the wake of the Reagan administration’s «War on Drugs». The prison statistics clearly bear witness to how this period of Reaganomics contributed to filling up many of the recently constructed prison cells with superfluous – and often fractious – bodies.

Wang zooms in on Detroit – formerly the heart of the automotive industry – as a striking example of how the decline in production led to a dramatic depopulation and with it a collapse in the city’s tax revenue (partly caused by racist real estate policies and «white flight»). It’s no coincidence that Detroit in 1967 saw some of the most violent of the so-called race riots – the «long, hot summer» of 1967 – where the government for the first time deployed its armed forces against its own civilians …


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