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Lecture and Seminar / Workshop: Prof. Dr. Norbert Finzsch

The Murky Waters of Free Labor: African American Labor from Reconstruction to the Prison Industry Complex, 1862 to 2012.


Course description:


The American Civil War ended chattel slavery as the most oppressive form of unfree labor on American soil; unlike other societies, however, the US in its former slave states did not develop a system of wage labor in which workers would be exposed to the threats and possibilities of a market society. Instead it reverted to a system of peonage and political oppression which tended to keep African Americans subaltern by violence, brute force, discursive power, racism, political disenfranchisement and economic exploitation. Over the decades this system isolated the Solid South from the rest of the Union. When  the Civil Rights Movement finally ended the Jim Crow System in 1965, the result was not an open society,  but increasingly Jim Crowism was replaced by economic segregation and juridical sanctions that kept African Americans at the bottom of the social ladder. The Prison Industry Complex plays an important role in hypersegregation, since the majority of young male African Americans tend to have experience with the police, courts of law, prisons, and probation officers. The first part of the lecture will focus on the development of Jim Crowism, whereas the seminar will deal with the Prison Industry Complex.


Workshop: Prison Industry Complex, 1862 to 2012.

US-Prisons stop being under the control of state authorities, be it in the form of the county, the municipal administration or the US government because increasingly prisons are run by private corporations. They yield huge profits and the states and the local government see prisons as an asset because they provide jobs and economic opportunities. Inmates work for the corporation for minimal “wages”, resulting in large industries of the secondary and tertiary sector that tended to be located in the economic periphery to be repatriated onto US homeland. This lamentable condition is a direct result of the Jim Crow laws that were established in the South after 1870 and leads to a disproportionally high percentage of inmates being African American or Latin American.


Recommended readings: