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EN376 - Cultures of Abolition: Slavery, Prison, Debt, and Data

This module will form one of the pathway approved options for the American Pathway, and will be a pre-1900 distributional for the other three pathways.

Stephen Shapiro (s.shapiro@warwick.ac.uk)

2016/17 - seminars : Thursday 10:00 - 12:00 and 16:00 - 18:00 - Room H542

In the United States, abolition of slavery stands as the most important cultural position after the Declaration of Independence. Given that moral codes regarding the treatment of slaves had existed for millennia and were not questioned by any of the Abrahamic religions (Judaism, Christianity, and Islam), there had never been any precedent for the claim that slavery was a vicious and morally degenerate practice, requiring immediate abolition. Furthermore, the abolitionist movement presented itself as the first non-colonial resistance to the modern State. Given that abolition faced powerful economic and political interests, its proponents focused on the cultural sphere as their immediate target.

This module will examine the cultures of historical abolition, with regards to American slavery, and the ways in which this late eighteenth/mid-nineteenth-century movement creates a usable past and legacy for contemporary abolitionist claims regarding incarceration, debt, and “big data” algorithms. We will focus on the rhetorical and discursive techniques implemented for persuading mass audiences and enabling direct action protest.

This analysis will then be put to consider more contemporary critiques that modern forms of resistance to imprisonment, credit, and data profiling have established with reference to nineteenth-century abolitionism. Can we abolish whiteness, capitalism, and information to establish a more perfect union, in the words of the American Constitution?

The module is 100% assessed, with two essays (roughly 4,000 words, accounting for 80%) and a group video project (20%). No prior video experience is required!

Below is the indicative syllabus. Since this is the first running of the module, it is crunchy. There are set texts we will read and you should acquire (listed below). Others (listed as selections) will be given as handouts, and these may shift a bit as we experience the module’s discussions and reading.

This is the list of required texts to purchase:
Frederick Douglass, The Life and Times of Fredrick Douglass (1881/1892)
W.E.B. Du Bois, John Brown 
Michel Foucault, Discipline and Punish
Anne Schwan and Stephen Shapiro, How to Read Foucault's Discipline and Punish
Angela Davis, Are Prisons Obsolete?
Robert Linebaugh and Marcus Rediker, The Many-Headed Hydra: The Hidden History of the Revolutionary Atlantic
Paul Mason, Postcapitalism
Nick Smicek and Alex Williams, Inventing the Future: Postcapitalism and a World Without Work
Nicolas Carr, The Glass Cage: Who Needs Humans Anyway?


Term 1

Historic Abolition: Race and Slavery

week 1: Introduction

week 2. William Lloyd Garrison, “Commencement of the LIBERATOR”; “Declaration of Sentiments of the American Anti-Abolition Society”; Angelina Grimke, “Fundamental Principles of Abolitionists”; WIlliam Lloyd Garrison's Farewell to the Readers of the Liberator-Valedictory" (all handouts)

first half of Frederick Douglass, The Life and Times of Fredrick Douglass (1881/1892) NOTE: Douglass wrote 3 biographies. We will be reading his last and longest one, please pay special attention to get this text, not his earlier and more frequently read shorter one.

3. Frederick Douglass, The Life & Times Life and Times of Fredrick Douglass

4. W. E. Du Bois, John Brown;
Henry David Thoreau, “Slavery in Massachusetts” (1854); “A Plea for Captain John Brown” (1859/60) (all handouts on forum)

5. Abolish Whiteness, essays from Race Traitor, Noel Ignatiev and John Garvey, eds. (handouts); Henry David Thoreau, “Resistance to Civil Government (aka Civil Disobedience)” (1849)
Nahum Chandler, "The Souls of an Ex-White Man: W.E.B. Du Bois and the Biography of John Brown"

Abolish Prison: Critical Prison Studies

7. Michel Foucault, Discipline and Punish: The Birth of the Prison (pages 1-31; 73-169)
MIchel Foucault, "Method" from History of Sexuality, V I (handout on forum)
Anne Schwan & Stephen Shapiro, How to Read Foucault's Discipline and Punish (pertinent sections)

8. Foucault, Discipline and Punish 170-to end);
Schwan and Shapiro, HoTR Foucault’s Discipline and Punish (pertinent sections)

9. Angela Davis, Are Prisons Obsolete?;
Angela Davis, "Politics and Prisons"; Mike Davis, “A Prison-Industrial Complex: Hell-Factories in the Fields” (handouts on forum)

10. Michelle Alexander, The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness (selections); Ruth Wilson Gilmore, Golden Gulag: Prisons, Surplus, Crisis, and Opposition in Globalizing California (selections): handouts on forum.

Term 2

Week 1: Instead of Prisons: Nine Perspectives for Prison Abolitionists (handout)

Abolish Private Property & Debt

2. Stephen Shapiro, sections on commodities and value, How to Read Marx's Capital; Frederick Engels, “The Principles of Communism” (handouts)

3. Robert Linebaugh and Marcus Rediker, The Many-Headed Hydra: The Hidden History of the Revolutionary Atlantic

4. Lisa Marie Cacho, Social Death: Racialized Rightlessness and the Criminalization of the Unprotected (selections);
Fred Moten & Stefano Harney, "The University and the Undercommons: Seven These" - all on forum.

5. Paul Mason, Postcapitalism

7. Nick Smicek and Alex Williams, Inventing the Future: Postcapitalism and a World Without Work

Abolish Big Data

8. Frank Pasquale, Black Box Society: The Secret Algorithms that Control Society & Money (selections)
Nicolas Carr, The Glass Cage: Who Needs Humans Anyway? (selections);
Charles Duhigg, “How Companies Learn Your Secrets" (selections)

9. Gilles Deleuze “Postscript on Societies of Control”; Antoinette Rouvroy essays: Algorithmic Governmentality: Profiling without Subjectivity

10. Group transmedia discussion