This article proposes that a brutal empiricism, constituted in abolitionism’s originary iterations, authorizes contemporary abolitionist politics, interrogating how the focalization of the prison over slavery reveals politicallibidinal investments in the reproduction of antiblackness. It argues that asserting the prison as the object of abolition both presumes and reifies an antiblack historiography, repeating the ruse of Emancipation (therefore imagining racial slavery to be a historical condition) while simultaneously deploying slavery’s idiom to animate a contemporary postracial politics. To arrive at this critique, the essay offers an analysis of the epistemic brutality subtending abolitionist politics during the long nineteenth century to put pressure on its circulation within ostensibly radical political imaginaries today. In other words, it argues that just as the originary abolitionists distorted the political demands of the enslaved to consolidate liberal humanism, so, too, do contemporary deployments of abolition similarly sediment enslavement as a regime of power.
patrick teed is a PhD candidate in York University’s Graduate Program in Social and Political Thought. Broadly speaking, his research projects cohere around abolitionist theory and praxis; critical historiographies of racial slavery; antiblackness and settler colonialism; and science and technology studies.
Patrick Teed; Whither Abolition?. differences 1 September 2023; 34 (2): 27–57. doi: https://doi.org/10.1215/10407391-10713805
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