First Advisor

Adam Culver

Date of Award

Spring 6-2022

Document Type


Degree Name

Bachelor of Arts (B.A.) in Political Science and University Honors


Political Science




Prison Abolition, Racial Capitalism, Abolition Democracy, Policing, Fugitivity, Prison Labor




Prison abolition has entered mainstream conversation in recent years as the uniquely American carceral system comes increasingly under fire for its racial disparities, police brutality and prison labor. While these issues are sometimes framed as newly emerging, this paper utilizes a Foucauldian genealogical approach in conversation with works by W. E. B. Du Bois, Angela Davis, and other thinkers from the black radical tradition to interrogate the evolving tendencies and underlying historical forces of racial capitalism and white supremacy that shape the contemporary American prison industrial complex. Emerging out of the experience of racial slavery, these forces constitute what Hortense Spillers calls an American Grammar that shapes dominant understandings of race, gender, and class as they relate to policing and prisons. To argue in favor of an abolitionist approach that considers the necessity of positive institution-building responses in addition to the negative approaches such as defunding policing and dismantling the carceral complex, this paper looks to Du Bois’ conception of an Abolition Democracy and connects these ideas to the figure of the fugitive slave to offer suggestions for politically radical action moving forward. Calling attention to the many iterations of forced labor grafted onto the American prison system and their lasting political, social, and economic effects, this paper contends that mere reform is insufficient to effect lasting systemic change, arguing instead for radical grassroots approaches with the potential to fundamentally reshape our institutions and practices.


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