Volume 5, 2007
Democracy, Racism, and Prisons
The Prison Contract and Abolition Democracy
This article discusses the fortuitous genesis of the book of my conversations with Angela Y. Davis, Abolition Democracy (Seven Stories, 2005) and traces some of the intellectual and philosophical sources that informed the specific questions and approaches that inform the dialogue. Davis’ relationships to Georg Rusche and Otto Kirchheimer, as well as to Foucault, are discussed. Similarly, Davis’ place within a critical black American political-philosophical tradition is analyzed. The essay focuses mainly, however, on the way in which Davis’ work on the prison industrial complex profiles an unsuspected contribution to political philosophy that links up the disciplinary origins of American democracy with its racial contract to give rise to the prison contract. In the tradition of Charles Mills, Davis’ radical theory of penality unmasks and denounces the over-determined relationship between surplus punishment and the racial character of the US polity in terms of the
productivity of the prison system.