“Can They Ever Escape?” Foucault, Black Feminism, and the Intimacy of Abolition

  • Stephen Dillon


In 1972, when Michel Foucault was asked, “Do you know of a model prison?,” he responded:

The problem is not a model prison or the abolition of prisons. Currently, in our system, marginalization is effected by prisons. This marginalization will not automatically disappear by abolishing the prison. Society would quite simply institute another means. The problem is the following: to offer a critique of the system that explains the process by which contemporary society pushes a portion of the population to the margins. Voilà.1

Throughout the GIP documents, Foucault and his coauthors argue that “none of us is sure to escape the prison” because the police and prison are so unimaginably expansive—physically, discursively, and epistemologically—that one is always already ontologically “marked by police custody.”2 In this formulation, the prison is more than an institution composed of cages, corridors, and guard towers; it is also a system of affects, desires, discourses, and ideas that make the prison possible. Thus, the prison captures not just bodies, but also feelings, desires, and forms of knowledge. The prison could disappear tomorrow and the types of power that give rise to its reign could live on in other forms such as the regimes we call freedom, rights, and the state or structures like settler-colonialism, heteropatriarchy, and white supremacy.


Black Woman White Supremacy Double Jeopardy Sexual Politics Black Nationalism 
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© Stephen Dillon 2016

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  • Stephen Dillon

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