2017-2018 Catalog

CSP 64 Race & Punishment in America

Though ostensibly founded on the principle of liberty, the United States incarcerates more people than any other country in the world, past or present. Why does our country punish so much? What roles does punishment play in a society where it disproportionately affects communities of color and the poor? In this writing-intensive seminar, we examine the relationship between punishment and race in America from different disciplinary perspectives (history, social theory, philosophy, and literary studies), contextualizing the emergence of the prison and the development of mass incarceration within the long history of racialized punishment in America. We begin with narratives and images of punishments enacted upon slave rebels in late 18th-century Suriname, studying theories of punishment as spectacle and examining the forms of slave resistance that refused punishment's project to create terror and obedience. We turn next to writers and activists such as W. E. B. Du Bois, Ida B. Wells, and James Baldwin to explore the relationship between "legal" punishment and white supremacist terrorism in the US between the end of the Civil War and the Civil Rights Movement. In the second half of the course, we will examine histories (and critiques) of the rise of the prison and mass incarceration while students research a topic related to punishment, such as: the continued constitutional justification of slavery as punishment in the 13th Amendment; solitary confinement; or the relationship between race and punishment in cultural production (works as various as Richard Wright's Native Son and Alyse Emdur's Prison Landscapes would be appropriate).


4 units


Open only to first year frosh.