The Racial State: Democratic and Despotic Dimensions

-- Research Focus 2013-2014

John Lewis, DC 1963

During the past decades the US rate of incarceration has increased by an entire order of magnitude. The equation of immigrants and criminality is common throughout the world. Yet higher rates of imprisonment and deportation have not appreciably altered crime rates, nor have draconian immigration policies halted human flows to the global North and West. What they have created are new, racially demarcated, social structures of repression. Prison is an intersectionality problem in its own right: felons and ex-felons are a racialized, gendered, and impoverished social sector. State repression and racial despotism of course extend far beyond formal incarceration: profiling, police abuse and violence, the netherworld of narcotrafficking and underground economies, immigrant raids and deportation, educational failure and inadequate legal services are all concentrated here, and have self-reinforcing, synergistic effects. While the despotic elements of the state's racial policies are profoundly entrenched, racial despotism deeply undermines legitimacy as well.

Indeed the "freedom dreams" rooted in racial politics are among the most enduring contributions to the endurance of democracy in the modern world. The persistence and depth of social justice-oriented movements among the "subaltern" strata, often operating quite autonomously and beneath the social scientific radar, suggests that the problem of incomplete democracy is re-emerging as a contentious political issue, especially where race is concerned.

We encourage research on both the racial dimensions of the crisis of social control and the problem of incomplete democracy. In parallel fashion, we support research on democratic self-activity and the challenge it represents to racially despotic regimes. Our overarching priority is to encourage research approaches that explore the interactions/contradictions between state-based racial repression and democratic rights and practices.

People Interested in this Research Area

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