Date of Award

Spring 2022

Degree Type

Open Access Dissertation

Degree Name

Cultural Studies, PhD

Program

School of Arts and Humanities

Advisor/Supervisor/Committee Chair

David Luis-Brown

Dissertation or Thesis Committee Member

Eve Oishi

Dissertation or Thesis Committee Member

Susan Phillips

Dissertation or Thesis Committee Member

Dylan Rodriguez

Terms of Use & License Information

Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 License.

Rights Information

© 2022 Timothy Malone

Abstract

In this dissertation, I develop a convict epistemology that interweaves two elements: 1) a deep engagement with the works of particular philosophers and scholars investigating questions of punishment, violence, biopolitics and political philosophy 2) with some specific, publicly-reported incidents within California prisons in the late 20th and 21st centuries and my own detailed narration of events and the structural and quotidian dynamics of the prison yard as I experienced them as inmate #K73299 from 1997 to 2005. Diverging from Foucauldian theories of disciplinarity, I argue that under neoliberalism, the primary punishments that any inmate is subjected to within the carceral thresher are in excess of what they were sentenced to endure by the court. Taken together, these extrajuridical punishments constitute a thanatopolitical machinery of forms of state-organized violence that are delegated to inmates and are therefore disavowed and have utterly subsumed the carceral interior. Because this violence is directed at particular, largely racialized populations – the majority of the prison population being Black and Brown - abandonment to the contemporary prison and its thanatopolitical machinery is proto-genocidal. The primary function of the contemporary prison, then, is to actively abandon a largely racialized, rendered superfluous population within a forcefully bounded and statetotalized space to a steered machinery of delegated, proto-genocidal death production. As this thanatopolitical machinery of inmate-on-inmate violence has subsumed the prison yard, I argue that the contemporary prison is the carceral state’s manufacture of an artificial Hobbesian-style state of nature, an always potential war of all-against-all or prison race riot, through the interaction of the four following carceral logics: 1) The imposition of scarcity, 2) atop a forcefully undifferentiated population, 3) that is barred the capacity to flee, or, the state enjoying a monopoly over inmate movement, and 4) within conditions of functional lawlessness. Resultantly, through carceral inscription, each and every inmate is rendered as a “savage,” a less-than-fully-human ontological type, and it is this concept that does sufficient ideological work to anchor normative subjectivity within neoliberalized social space through negation. It is also the prison as artificial state of nature and constitutive boundary that civil society comes to define itself against, both materially and ideologically. Further, as a result of these four foundational carceral logics, inmates are forced to enact or endure daily forms of lesser violence, often as conscious means of forestalling more lethal and larger-scale entropic violence. As disease infects the individual body and undermines it, this violent “savagery” at the gates (prison race riot and lesser forms of violence meant to prevent it) is perceived within the whitesupremacist Hobbesian fantasy anchoring normative subjectivity as threatening the “body politic” with annihilation. Through Roberto Esposito’s immunitarian paradigm, the contemporary prison should be read as a series of recursive quarantines called forth to inoculate civil society from the perceived contagious threat of “violence disease” materialized as largely racialized, inmate bodies. The concept of the less-than-fully-human inmate is thus semantically overloaded with notions of both savagery and contamination then, and daily life within prison for inmates is largely organized by “prison-politics” as prophylactic, epidemiological strategy that guarantees social distance between racialized groupings that stalls out a race riot’s transmissibility as the prison’s very condition of being, And as inmates are articulated as a less-than-fully-human savage/contaminant threats, they are through René Girard’s framework of sacrificial violence to be read as being marginalized from civil society; a sacrificial category of less-than-full-humanness functioning as lightning rod or attractor for all the varied hostilities and insecurities roiling a violently restructured, neoliberalized social space. It is the contemporary prison that allows white supremacist community to cohere through time through the regular displacement of internal antagonisms generated under neoliberalism towards the inmate as sacrificial subject. The prison is a sacrificial stone.

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