The Big Ideas Course on "Prison" has just opened for enrollment. Professors from Ethnic Studies, Legal Studies and Social Welfare will co-teach this interdisciplinary class, which is guaranteed to enlighten and engage you. The course counts for Historical Studies or Social and Behavioral Studies breadth. Details are below and here.
Taking a broad interdisciplinary approach, this course introduces students to the long history of the prison in the American experience, questioning the shadows of inevitability and normality that cloak mass incarceration both across the globe and, more particularly, in the contemporary United States. While directly addressing the prison system, this course intends to engage with the full range of carceral geographies in which social life is penetrated with the state’s power to surveill, arrest, judge, and punish its citizens and the organizations and capacities through which that power is carried out. The course aims to introduce students to a range of literatures through which they can reorganize the logics of an institution we commonly accept as the reasonable destination for those identified as “criminal.” As an interdisciplinary team, we recognize that we cannot teach about the presence and persistence of punishment and prisons in contemporary American life without inviting conversation across time periods, genres, and geographies. Thus we will explore a series of visceral, unsettling juxtapositions: ‘freedom’ and ‘slavery’; ‘citizenship’ and ‘subjugation’; ‘crime’ and ‘punishment’, ‘marginalization’ and ‘inclusion’-- in each case explicating the ways that story making, political demagoguery, and racial, class, and sexual inequalities have shaped the carceral state. These juxtapositions also show just how deeply incarceration practices are anchored in American history and identities. Throughout the semester, we will explore a series of tough questions about the difficulty of escaping that past and the potential futures of the American carceral state.
The trajectory of the class will trace the idea of prison through its complex historical development, engaging the social, legal, and narrative parameters of incarceration, and leading to a real-time engagement with the current politics of mass incarceration in California and nationally (with some comparison to global alternatives). The course will also present people’s lived experience with the carceral system and its intersections with other systems of state control including criminal supervision, child welfare, and the welfare state. The semester will be marked by periodic presentations from invited activists, formerly incarcerated citizens, authors and artists. These sessions will extend our conversation and debate beyond the walls of academia. Guests, instructors and students will participate together in these discussions of some of the most exciting and contentious questions that arise from our contemporary cultural landscape.