Loic Wacquant’s article ‘From Slavery to Mass Incarceration’

For a seminar this morning, I have been reading a number of articles and chapters on the topic of mass incarceration in the United States. One in piqued my interest, however. Loic Wacquant’s article, published in the New Left Review in early 2002, offers a fascinating theorem on the continuing confinement of African Americans.

Entitled ‘From Slavery to Mass Incarceration: Rethinking the ‘Race Question’ in the US’, the piece explains Wacquant’s belief that there exist four distinct, yet entwined, periods of confinement beginning with the slavery of the plantation economy up until the Civil War. Each successive period (including the Jim Crow period and the formation of the Ghetto with the Great Migration) has been used as a means of social ostracization and labour extraction.

Wacquant theorises that we are currently in the fourth stage of this developing historical trajectory, mass incarceration. In order to understand this current period, you must look at all four of the stages of US racial discrimination.

A fascinating article, I highly recommend this – especially if you are interested in race studies. It is very accessible as well, so do not be afraid to read something from an academic journal because you have no background in the topic.

Loic Wacquant, ‘From Slavery to Mass Incarceration: Rethinking the ‘Race Question’ in the US’, New Left Review, 13 (Jan-Feb 2002), pp.41-60.

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