Degree Year

2019

Document Type

Thesis

Degree Name

Bachelor of Arts

Department

Comparative American Studies

Advisor(s)

Wendy Kozol

Committee Member(s)

KJ Cerankowski
Gina M. Pérez

Keywords

Carceral feminism, Epistemology, Affect theory, Prison abolition, Sexual violence, Domestic violence

Abstract

This thesis draws upon recent works in feminist theory, epistemological theory, affect theory, and abolitionist theory to critically engage with contemporary U.S. forms of “carceral feminism,” Elizabeth Bernstein’s (2010) concept that describes the recasting of feminist politics in carceral terms. I expand upon Bernstein to contend that we must direct attention to our epistemic and affective conditions to understand our investments in carceral feminism.

I begin by mapping the origins of carceral feminism, first tracing its history through a discussion of the initial iterations of colonialism and enslavement. Turning to a more recent timeline of the mainstream feminist anti-violence movement—a predominantly white and liberal project—I consider the battered women’s movement’s reliance upon the state in the 1960s, the burgeoning of neoliberalism in the 70s, and the rape law reforms in the 80s. Positioning 1994 as a seismic genealogical moment in carceral feminism, I examine the rhetoric and implementation of the Violence Against Women Act of 1994 before introducing my case study: the Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network (RAINN), the nation’s largest anti-violence nonprofit.

I conduct a discourse analysis of RAINN’s website to demonstrate how it reifies the organization’s epistemic claims of punishment as justice just as it affectively persuades its visitors to endorse its carceral feminist agenda. I further wager healing is fundamental to carceral feminism. Focusing on RAINN’s “Survivor Series” YouTube playlist, I interrogate how the organization displays and utilizes survivors’ trauma narratives. Employing an analysis of affective moments as intensified by RAINN, namely through maneuvers of the camera, I reason that RAINN frames and operationalizes the survivors’ discussions of justice, healing, and disclosure to concretize a neoliberal understanding of intimate violence and redress.

I conclude by urging for an epistemic and affective de-linking, or divestment, from carceral logics, positing transformative justice—a community accountability process long-practiced by communities of color that seeks to abolish systems of harm—as a potential means to reach a future free from intimate violence and (carceral) state violence alike.

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