Graffiti La Liberté on the wall of a prison near Montpellier, France, photo by Xavier Malafosse

Discipline, Punish, Revolt: Foucault and Prison Abolitionism

Instructor: Anthony Alessandrini
Dizzy’s Diner
230 5th Avenue
(corner of 5th & President)
Brooklyn, NY 11215

What would it mean to abolish the penal system as we have come to know it? To address this question, this class will focus on Michel Foucault’s groundbreaking theoretical and activist work on discipline, punishment, and prisons, and how this work might speak to contemporary struggles against mass incarceration and the rise of what has come to be called the prison abolition movement. We will begin with selections from Foucault’s classic book Discipline and Punish: The Birth of the Prison, along with other essays and lectures by Foucault on penal institutions, disciplinary practices, and revolts against these practices. We will also study his work with the Groupe d’Information sur les Prisons (Prison Information Group, or GIP), a project in which intellectuals worked collaboratively with prisoners to document and publicize conditions in French prisons. The issues addressed by the GIP are strikingly similar to those of today, as the questions raised in their 1971 manifesto suggest: “They tell us that the system of justice is overwhelmed. We can see that. But what if it is the police that have overwhelmed it? They tell us that prisons are over-populated. But what if it was the population that was being over-imprisoned?”

In the second half of the class, we will bring Foucault’s writings into conversation with work by writers and activists related to anti-racist struggles against mass incarceration and what has been called “the prison-industrial complex” in the U.S., including Angela Davis, Joy James, Ruth Wilson Gilmore, Ta-Nehisi Coates, and Michelle Alexander, alongside questions of incarceration and imprisonment in a few international contexts, including Banu Bargu’s work on political prisoners in Turkey and Kelly Gillespie on apartheid and post-apartheid prisons in South Africa. Our discussions will also include the films Un Prophète (A Prophet), a film about gangsters operating in a French prison, and Sur les toits (From the Rooftops), a documentary about prison revolt in France in the early seventies.

Course Schedule

Sunday, 6-9pm
May 08 — May 29, 2016
4 weeks


Registration Closed

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