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Punitive Societies. Postcolonial and Abolitionist Critiques

Dr. Vanessa Eileen Thompson

MA-Seminar: MEK; KGMOE; MAL; SMG; MAKS; MASS; MES, Migration, Ethnizität, Ethnozentrismus; MEK; KGMOE, MAL; MASS; SMG; MAKS, Politische Ordnung - Wirtschaft – Gesellschaft

3/6/9 ECTS

This course will be held in English. Readings are mostly in English and presentations should be in English. However, we can have discussions in English and/or German according to students’ needs and abilities. This is a hybrid course, please be aware of the course schedule:


The preparation meeting for this course will take place online on Thursday, November 5 from 2-4 p.m.

In the context of neoliberal reconstructions of liberal democratic states and the dismantling of welfare institutions, social and cultural theorists are analyzing the punitive and carceral turn of the late twentieth century, which articulates alongside an increasing securitization of society and policing of civil life. This can be seen in the expansion of state and private security regimes (Gilmore 2007, Richie 2012), the regulation and punishment of poverty (Wacquant), urban security policies, the further criminalization of migration and securitization of borders, and in global security regimes and militarization, both alongside the postcolonial North-South divide and South-South relations. The securitization of society, however, unfolds alongside ambivalent divisions, which are shaped by colonial-racist, socio-economic, dis/abled and gendered legacies and orders.

This course introduces students to key theories and frameworks for the analysis of security regimes and regimes of punishment. We will discuss key texts of cultural, social and political theory as well as approaches from Marxist, poststructuralist, postcolonial, feminist and critical race theories and from migration studies and black studies. In particular, we will take up intersectional and queer-feminist debates, which also address migration and border regimes as well as the ambivalence between the need for state protection and the violence of securitization (such as in debates about domestic and sexual violence, urban and border racial profiling, protection of women's and LGBT*IQ rights and carceral feminism). Students will also be introduced to transformative and abolitionist theories of safety and justice. Besides the reading and discussion of texts, students will work on and present small practical research projects.

Course organization:
The course consists of short lectures and presentations by the instructor and invited guests, collective discussions, break up sessions for smaller group discussions, and group presentations. Course sessions foreground conversation and discussion, so you need to come prepared. Besides theoretical texts and empirical studies, the course will be supplemented by cultural and media formats and productions. Each session will be accompanied by a poem, account, short video performance or teaser.

Course Requirements:
Regular attendance, being prepared (do the readings and bring one argument from each text and one question) and active participation

3ECTS: One seminar group presentation

6ECTS: Paper proposal (1-2 pages) and final paper (13-15 pages)

9ECTS: Paper proposal (1-2 pages) and final paper (20-25 pages)

Among others (the literature for this course will be uploaded to the moodle platform):

Fassin, Didier (2011): “Policing Borders, Producing Boundaries: The Governmentality of Immigration in Dark Times”, Annual Review of Anthropology, 40(1): 213-226.

Foucault, Michel (1994): Überwachen und Strafen. Die Geburt des Gefängnisses, Frankfurt/Main: Suhrkamp, Kapitel III.3: „Der Panoptismus“, S.   251-292.

Gilmore, Ruth Wilson (2007): Golden gulag: Prisons, surplus, crisis, and opposition in globalizing California. Univ of California Press.

INCITE! Women of Color Against Violence & Critical Resistance (2008): Ten Years of Strategy and Struggle Against the Prison Industrial Complex, Oakland, CA: AK Press.

Loick, Daniel (2018): Kritik der Polizei, Frankfurt/Main: Campus.