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Abolition Democracies Seminar

The term “abolition democracy” was introduced by sociologist and civil rights activist W.E.B. Du Bois in 1935 in his major work Black Reconstruction. One of his basic ideas was that mere formal emancipation from slavery is not enough, but must be accompanied by a fundamental political and economic reconfiguration of the entire society that made slavery possible. Similar perspectives were already developed in many anti-colonial liberation struggles, for example in the Caribbean: Mere release from colonial rule is not enough if it does not also imply a more fundamental economic and political justice. 
Various theorists and political initiatives have subsequently taken up the notion of abolition democracy to recall the unfulfilled aspirations and demands associated with these movements. Fueled by the international Black Lives Matter protests, over the past decade abolitionism has established itself as a comprehensive approach to critical theory and as a current of radical political practice, particularly in North America but also internationally. This movement is underpinned by a similar double perspective that Du Bois already formulated: on the one hand, abolitionist theories scandalize the racist background of mass incarceration and police violence; on the other hand, these institutions should not simply be eliminated while leaving social background conditions intact, but replaced by other institutions of social, political, and cultural participation, such as infrastructures of care and venues for political self-government. The seemingly utopian goal remains the gradual abolition of carceral institutions altogether.

In this research colloquium, we will a.) read together and discuss contemporary literature in abolitionism, b.) present our own current research on abolitionist topics, c.) invite international guests to present their research, especially to facilitate an interdisciplinary and international dialogue. The reading list and schedule will be decided together by the members of the seminar. If you want to participate, please send an email to Daniel Loick: d.loick@uva.nl. It is strongly encouraged that you participate for the entire semester rather than individual sessions. The seminar will take place every two weeks Tuesdays, 6-8 pm.

Program 2023-2024

5th October - Policing

  • Brogden - Emergence of the Police - The Colonial Dimension
  • Downes and Van Swaaningen - The Road to Dystopia? Changes in the Penal Climate of the Netherlands
  • Neocleous - Policing the System of Needs: Hegel, Political Economy and the Police of the Market
  • Mariame Kaba - Yes, We Mean Literally Abolish the Police (or can also be found in We Do This 'Til We Free Us)

8th November - Surplus Populations

  • Karl Marx, "The progressive production of a relative surplus population or industrial reserve army", in Capital vol 1, pp. 781-794
  • Ruth Wilson Gilmore, "Crisis and Surplus", "The Four Surpluses", in Golden Gulag, pp. 54-86
  • Joshua Clover, "Surplus Rebellions", in Riot. Strike. Riot, pp. 153-174
  • Ian Shaw, Marv Waterstone, „A Planet of Surplus Life: Building Worlds Beyond Capitalism“, in: Antipode Vol. 53, No. 6 (2021), S. 1787-1806
  • Neferti X M. Tediar, "A Global Enterprise: Waste", in Remaindered Life, pp. 23-48

6th December - Decolonial Perspectives on Abolition

  • Aimé Césaire, "Discourse on Colonialism," in Discourse on Colonialism ; A Poetics of Anticolonialism. New York: Monthly Review Press, 2000.
  • Achille Mbembe, "Disenclosure" in Out of the Dark Night: Essays on Decolonization (New York: Colombia University Press, 2021): 42-89.
  • Samer Abdelnour, “What Decolonizing Is Not,” Management 4 (2022): 81–82.
  • Amade M'charek, "Harraga: Burning Borders, Navigating Colonialism," The Social Review 68 (2020): 418-434.
  • Vanessa Thompson, "From the Black Mediterranean to Liberation," Geographica Helvetica 78 (2023): 99-104.

January (TBC)  - Event with Special Guest

All sessions will be hybrid. A meeting will take place in the PC Hoofthuis 2.14, 1700-2000. A zoom link will also be provided. If you are interested in receiving the texts and the zoom link, send an email do d.loick@uva.nl.