Category Archives: American Studies

University Press Week | #NextUP: Q&A with Editors of the Abolition: Emancipation from the Carceral Series

Continuing our celebration of University Press Week, today we’re highlighting our new series, Abolition: Emancipation from the Carceral. We are thrilled to be publishing this timely series that reflects the activist orientation of abolition and highlights abolitionist creative practices that explore radical worlds beyond policing and prisons. Read our Q&A with the series editors, Michael Roy Hames García and Micol Seigel, to learn more.

What is your vision for the series?

In the wake of the movement for Black lives, and especially since 2020, academic and popular interest in abolition has flourished. As the first university press series on the subject, Abolition: Emancipation from the Carceral will respond to and, we hope, shape that interest. This series will highlight academic texts across the humanities and social sciences, bringing them together so as to make more visible the larger conversation of which they are a part. Rather than understanding abolitionism as a recipe to be followed dogmatically, we see abolition as a set of open-ended questions to be asked generously in response to the conditions of a radically unjust and unfree world.

Abolitionist visions advocate for decarceration, defunding of police and prisons, and removal of the criminal legal system from people’s lives. Abolitionism is also a creative practice that entails discovering, developing, and promoting alternatives to policing and prisons such as mutual aid associations, restorative justice processes, and nonviolent approaches to personal and community safety. What might a more free and more just world look like? How might it develop? What stands in the way of its emergence? What possible relationships might this future have to present-day criminal justice reform? Abolition: Emancipation from the Carceral will offer a forum to scholars and activists continuing to pose these generative questions and more.

Who is the series for?

This series will offer a platform for the groundswell of recent work that has explored abolition in its myriad implications, centered in interdisciplinary fields such as American studies, geography, and critical ethnic studies. Perhaps books under its auspices might take up some of the keywords in this emerging field: abolition, abolition democracy, carcerality, care, collateral consequences, communal luxury, emancipation, freedom, justice, racial capitalism, social harm, and the human.

Books will speak to audiences of scholars, students, general readers, and activists with accessible prose and urgent topics, including but not limited to local policing, campus policing, family policing (child welfare systems), e-carceration and electronic monitoring, sur- and sousveillance, crimmigration and border enforcement, race and racialization, antiblackness, settler colonialism, anticarceral feminisms, involuntary medical confinement, and organizing for abolitionist reforms.

In what ways does the series engage with past and present traditions of abolitionism?

The words abolition, abolitionism, and abolitionist are most widely associated with eighteenth- and nineteenth-century movements in Europe and the Americas to end the systems of racialized enslavement—specifically, although not exclusively, of people of African descent—that evolved in tandem with the European conquest and colonization of Africa and the Americas. Contemporary uses of abolition either translate the term from slavery to a superficially unrelated context (as in the abolition of nuclear weapons) or argue that a context is structurally related to, or even an extension of, slavery (as in prison abolition). This series emerges from the latter tradition, extending the intellectual and political vision of abolitionism in order to continue the unfinished work of emancipation in the twenty-first century.

Abolition: Emancipation from the Carceral thus understands this strain of contemporary abolitionism to be constitutively both antiracist and antiprison. Its intellectual genealogy includes the groundbreaking 1971 anthology If They Come in the Morning, edited by Angela Y. Davis with the collaboration of Bettina Aptheker (reissued by Verso Books in 2016) as well as more recent volumes on prisons by Ruth Wilson Gilmore, Joy James, Dylan Rodriguez, and the Critical Resistance Publications Collective. Such authors follow skeins of antiblackness through sequential, overlapping systems of racialized labor from African chattel slavery to black codes, convict leasing, chain gangs, Jim Crow and mass incarceration, now acquiring digital forms.

The centrality of antiracism to this tradition distinguishes it from other critiques of the prison such as Michel Foucault’s 1975 book Discipline and Punish, although such critiques have been profoundly important for many abolitionists. Observing the failures of postwar civil rights movements to advance anti-racism through state policy, abolitionist thought is skeptical of the state, even in its welfare mode, understanding the ways belonging and citizenship are made available to some at the expense of others. It therefore embraces a relational analysis, an understanding of how vectors of disadvantage intersect, and the confidence that global currents and transnational networks shape all local phenomena. Abolitionist scholarship is necessarily interdisciplinary because its object of study literally refuses to remain disciplined. It is thus among the swiftest-moving, most daring and sophisticated fields of study in the academy today.

Carceral studies stretch the abolitionist project beyond the prison to consider all forms of carceral space. How might future books in the series approach carcerality in this context?

Carcerality helps point to confinement and surveillance as mechanisms for the production and maintenance of racialized inequality in U.S. society. The United States maintains the largest prison population in the world, both as a percentage of its population and in terms of absolute numbers. The social impact of prisons, however, is augmented by law enforcement, courts, and reentry policies; supplemented by video surveillance and other forms of electronic monitoring; and supported overall by ideological investments, systems of knowledge, and institutions far outside of prison walls.

As of 2019, 6.3 million adults in the United States were on probation, on parole, in state or federal prison, or in a local jail—approximately the population of Los Angeles and Chicago, combined. This number does not include children, people in federal immigration detention centers, those confined by electronic monitors to the prisons of their homes, or those in any number of other conditions that remove personal liberty at the direction of the state.

Well beyond the prison itself, recent scholarship in critical prison studies has identified roots and branches of the carceral in a range of repressive state apparatuses. Courts, hospitals, immigration systems, the military, police agencies, private police, schools and universities, and social welfare agencies devoted to matters such as child protection, public health, housing, and unemployment are all mutually reinforcing with—if not mutually constitutive of—prisons and jails. From an abolitionist perspective, the future of such systems and structures must be put into question to the extent that they support a profoundly unequal society by depriving oppressed and exploited people of their freedom.

What should authors do if they are interested in submitting to the series?

We welcome proposals for books across disciplines, from scholarly monographs, edited collections, and compelling nonfiction works written for a more general readership. Authors may be grounded in fields such as American studies, geography, history, and critical ethnic studies. Interested authors can contact either one of us or send questions/queries to UW Press acquisitions editor, Mike Baccam, at mbaccam@uw.edu.


About the Series Editors

Michael Roy Hames-García is a professor of Mexican American and Latina/o studies at the University of Texas at Austin and author of Fugitive Thought: Prison Movements, Race, and the Meaning of Justice. He previously taught at the University of Oregon and served on the City of Eugene’s Civilian Review Board, overseeing investigations into allegations of misconduct and uses of force by the Eugene Police Department.

Micol Seigel is a professor of American studies and history at Indiana University and author of Violence Work: State Power and the Limits of Police. In addition to research and teaching, Micol is involved in the Critical Prison Studies caucus of the American Studies Association and the Tepoztlán Institute for the Transnational History of the Americas.


This post is part of the 2022 University Press Week blog tour hosted by the Association of University Presses. This year’s theme is #NextUP, reflecting the spirit of constant learning, adaptation, and evolution within scholarly publishing. Read more about UP Week and all of the featured books and blog posts here.