Harvard scholar Jackie Wang to speak in Great Barrington about incarceration, capitalism

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GREAT BARRINGTON — The title of Jackie Wang's book says a lot about the modern version of enslavement, in or out of prison.

In "Carceral Capitalism," Wang explores the way new incarceration techniques and economic weapons lead vulnerable citizens, particularly African-Americans, into an unfree life.

Wang, who will give a talk Tuesday evening at Bard College at Simon's Rock, is a black studies scholar who is writing poetry that "seeks to shatter the racial capitalist order and the captivity of bodies and minds."

The 7 p.m. event is free and open to the public.

Currently a Ph.D. candidate at Harvard University in African and African-American studies, Wang has recently studied the bail bonds industry, for example. She will give her keynote address at college as part of this year's Symposium on Social Justice and Inclusion.

In "Carceral Capitalism," Wang examines modern incarceration techniques and systems of "predatory policing, the political economy of fees and fines, and cybernetic governance."

The book of essays "shows that the new racial capitalism begins with parasitic governance and predatory lending that extends credit only to dispossess later," according to a synopsis by The MIT Press.

In her talk Tuesday titled "Carceral Capitalism and Abolitionist Poetry," Wang will "examine the relationship between prison abolition and social imagination," using poetry and dreams as a way to explore this.

Wang said that because her book is a "dense theoretical and sometimes technical" collection of essays, she wanted to add poetry as an inspiring note, to also help register "what it means to cage people, and other possibilities for understanding how to address social harm outside of caging people."

In her book, Wang describes how these cages work.

"What we see happening in Ferguson and other cities around the country is not the creation of livable spaces, but the creation of living hells," Wang writes, referring to the riots in Ferguson, Mo., after a young black man was killed by a police officer. "When people are trapped in a cycle of debt it also can affect their subjectivity and how they temporally inhabit the world by making it difficult for them to imagine and plan for the future."

The MIT Press says Wang's writing explains that while incarceration traditionally indicates physical custody, the modern version can also be a state of indebtedness and monitoring that reaches beyond prisons: "New carceral modes have blurred the distinction between the inside and outside of prison. As technologies of control are perfected, carcerality tends to bleed into society."

Wang said she is thrilled to come to Great Barrington, hometown of African-American intellectual and civil rights architect W.E.B. Du Bois.

"On the Harvard campus, he's probably the most widely taught thinker in the department," she said, noting that she frequently teaches courses on Du Bois.


Heather Bellow can be reached at hbellow@berkshireeagle.com or on Twitter @BE_hbellow and 413-329-6871.


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