Blog post

Revolutionary Feminisms: Avery F. Gordon

An interview with Avery F. Gordon by Brenna Bhandar & Rafeef Ziadah, editors of Revolutionary Feminisms: Conversations on Collective Action and Radical Thought

Verso Books 2 September 2020

Revolutionary Feminisms: Avery F. Gordon

The following is an extract from Revolutionary Feminisms: Conversations on Collective Action and Radical Thought, now available from Verso. 

Avery F. Gordon is a professor of sociology at the University of California, Santa Barbara, and a visiting professor at Birkbeck School of Law, University of London. Her work focuses on radical thought and practice, and she writes about captivity, enslavement, war and other forms of dispossession and how to eliminate them.

She serves on the editorial committee of the journal Race & Class and is the cohost of No Alibis, a weekly public affairs radio programme on KCSB-FM Santa Barbara. She is the author of The Hawthorn Archive: Letters from the Utopian Margins (2017), The Workhouse: The Breitenau Room (with Ines Schaber, 2014), Ghostly Matters: Haunting and the Sociological Imagination (2008) and Keeping Good Time: Reflections on Knowledge, Power and People (2004). In addition to routinely collaborating with artists, she is the former keeper of the Hawthorn Archive.


BB/RZ Can you speak to us about both the context of your early political formation, as well as any particular intellectual influences that informed your theoretical and activist practice?

AFG Owing to the difficult and unhappy situation in my early home life, I ran away from the house, and also into books, which provided alternative and better worlds, and the idea of being a writer. I was already an experienced runaway (and truant) by the age of thirteen, and by fourteen, with all the annoying precociousness you could imagine, I had decided that I would be an existential philosopher, write poetry and short stories, and ‘change the world’, all of which at the time seemed reasonable occupations for an angry, smart and desperately miserable young woman, and were encouraged by well-meaning teachers and public librarians (‘Read Camus’s The Stranger,’ I was advised on several occasions!). Thankfully, the United Farm Workers (UFW) launched a national grape boycott starting in 1967 and by 1970 they were organising high school students in Florida, where I lived. It was from them that I received my first real education in political campaigns and grassroots organising. We sat outside the local supermarkets trying to persuade our mothers and the other women shoppers not to buy nonunion grapes and iceberg lettuce. There was also a surge of activity in 1972 when the UFW were heavily lobbying the Democratic Party at the 1972 convention in Miami.

I grew up in a Florida that was very much a Southern Confederate state. My maternal family is from rural Georgia, a small town not too far from Macon, many of whom eventually moved to Savannah, and my mother was raised in coastal South Carolina. I spent a good deal of time in Georgia and South Carolina as a child and grew up in an intensely and openly racist family and social environment, in the context of powerful anti-racist agitation and national mobilisation. My early political formation was thus heavily influenced both by the civil rights and Black Power movements, as these took shape in Florida, and my experience with the UFW union organisers, to whom I remain grateful today for having profoundly raised my consciousness and for having taught me to always ask who gathered, grew and built, and under what conditions, all the things we need and use.

My primary intellectual influences were whatever novels I could get my hands on in the secondhand shop, and American history, in school, until I went to university, where I began to study political theory and Marxism. For complicated reasons having to do with how someone not destined for university gets a place in a very good private one (in my case, with the help of the Jesuits, who, in light of my Spanish proficiency, answered the question of my life’s ambition with ‘Live in another country!’) I ended up in Georgetown University’s School of Foreign Service. I was ill-suited for the school, which prepared elites for diplomatic service, but, in addition to four years of economics taught according to the rote method and surviving the required course on ‘the problem of God,’ I was able to rigorously study Marxist theory, the Russian Revolution, and the history of communism. More importantly, I encountered the distinguished Palestinian historian and philosopher Hisham Sharabi, who made survival at Georgetown possible, and who had a profound influence on me. For me, he brought alive not the world of the diplomatic corps, but a vibrant non-aligned world of radical anti-capitalist anti-colonialism, in which intellectual life and culture more generally were central, not peripheral. This was a cultural lesson confirmed later by Raymond Williams, E.P. Thompson, and Stuart Hall, whose writings I first encountered during this same period, when I studied history at Warwick (1977–78), and who were also important influences on me. Remember, too, that this was a remarkable moment to be in England: widespread mobilisation against the National Front, the emergence of Rock against Racism, the lead up to the so-called Winter of Discontent and the rise of Thatcher. That first time in England was formative not just for the experience of selling newspapers for the Socialist Workers Party at the Coventry car factory gates at dawn, but because there was a left public culture then; and though it was highly sectarian, it was also a revelation to me.

I was helped along in life by a few people who took an interest in me, and who not only assisted with practical matters but also reoriented my way of thinking. Professor Sharabi was one of them; Phyllis Palmer was another, and it was she who both got me a better job than being a secretary, when I finished university, and introduced me to an anti-racist Marxist feminism I’d never encountered before. These were the main intellectual foundations I took with me to graduate school in 1980, where I continued to pursue them, as well as revise and redirect them with further study and in conversation with others. South Africa, Palestine, Central and South America, Northern Ireland, the United States – these were the points on the then-current geopolitical scene that organised my thinking and political engagements.

BB/RZ Your 2008 Ghostly Matters: Haunting and the Sociological Imagination is an incredibly rich and textured book. Can you unpack some of the concepts you use there, especially around the framing of ‘societal ghosts’, which frame our ways of thinking and acting?

AFG The ambitious problem that preoccupied me in Ghostly Matters – and still does to a large extent – was how to understand and write evocatively about some of the ways that modern forms of dispossession, exploitation and repression concretely impact the lives of the people most affected by them and impact our shared conditions of living. To me, this meant trying to understand the terms of racial capitalism and the determining role of monopolistic and militaristic state violence. The two main case studies in the book are about transatlantic slavery from the vantage point of Reconstruction in the United States, and political repression and state terror in the Southern Cone of Latin America in the 1970s.

Haunting was the language and the experiential modality by which I tried to reach an understanding of the meeting of organised force and meaning, because haunting is one way in which abusive systems of power make themselves known and their impacts felt in everyday life, especially when they are supposedly over and done with (such as with transatlantic slavery) or when their oppressive nature is continuously denied (such as with free labour or national security). Haunting is not the same as being exploited, traumatised or oppressed, although it usually involves these experiences or is produced by them. What’s distinctive about haunting, as I used the term (and this is not its only way, of course), is that it is an animated state in which a repressed or unresolved social violence is making itself known, sometimes very directly, sometimes more obliquely. I used the term ‘haunting’ to describe those singular and yet repetitive instances when home becomes unfamiliar, when your bearings on the world lose direction, when the over-and-done-with comes alive, when what’s been in your blind field comes into view.

Haunting raises spectres, and it alters the experience of being in linear time, alters the way we normally separate and sequence the past, the present and the future. These spectres, or ghosts, appear when the trouble they represent and symptomise is no longer being contained, repressed or blocked from view. As I understand it, the ghost is not the invisible or the unknown or the constitutively unknowable, in the Derridean sense. To my mind, the whole essence, if you can use that word, of a ghost is that it has a real presence and demands its due, demands your attention. Haunting and the appearance of spectres or ghosts is one way, I tried to suggest, we’re notified that what’s been suppressed or concealed is very much alive and present, messing or interfering precisely with those always-incomplete forms of containment and repression ceaselessly directed towards us.

Haunting always registers the harm inflicted, or the loss sustained, by a social violence done in the past or being done in the present, and it is for this reason quite frightening. But haunting, unlike trauma, by contrast, is distinc- tive for producing a something-to-be-done. Indeed, it seemed to me that haunting was precisely the domain of turmoil and trouble, that moment of however-long duration when things are not in their assigned places, when the cracks and the rigging are exposed, when the people who are meant to be invisible show up without any sign of leaving, when disturbed feelings won’t go away, when living easily one day and then the next becomes impossible, when the present seamlessly becoming ‘the future’ gets entirely jammed up. Haunting refers to this sociopolitical-psychological state when something else, or something different from before, feels like it must be done, and prompts a something-to-be-done.

It is in large measure on behalf and in the interests of the something-to-be- done, which may be political in the formal sense, but it is not only there that the concept’s main value lies. To see the something-to-be-done as characteristic of haunting was, in a way, to limit its scope. For many people, haunting means exactly the opposite – aberrant mourning, traumatic paralysis or dissociative repetition. For better or worse, the emphasis on the something-to-be-done was a way of focusing on the cultural requirements or dimensions of individual, social or political movement and change. And one of those requirements was that the ghost him or herself be treated respectfully – its desires broached, and not ghosted or abandoned or disappeared again in the act of dealing with the haunting. Even if the ghost cannot be permitted to take everything over, a complicated requirement that’s especially pertinent with living people who haunt as if they were dead. Again, for me, haunting is not about invisibility or unknowability, per se; it refers us to what’s living and breathing in the place hidden from view: people, places, histories, knowledge, memories, ways of life, ideas. We’ll come back to this question of the blind spot in a moment.

This particular approach to or definition of haunting – again, limited in many important ways – had, then, at its core a contest over the future, over what is to come next or later. That’s to say, to the extent that a something-to- be-done is characteristic of haunting, one can say that futurity is imbricated or interwoven into the very scene of haunting itself. As I was using it, haunting is an emergent state: the ghost arises, carrying the signs and portents of a repression in the past or the present that’s no longer working. The ghost demands your attention. The present wavers. Something will happen. What will happen, of course, is not given in advance, but something must be done. I think this emergent state is also the critical analytic moment. That’s to say, when the repression isn’t working anymore, the trouble that results creates conditions that demand renarrativisation. What’s happening? How did it come to pass? What does it mean? These conditions also invite action. What do I do? Can you help? Will it get better? The something-to-be-done is something you have to try/do for yourself: while it can be shared, it can’t be imposed or even given as a gift.

It was a sign of the state of the social sciences, jurisprudence and legal scholarship, and a good deal of radical thought and political activism, that it was necessary to even mention the idea of complex personhood. The basic starting point of the book was stated by Patricia Williams: ‘It is a fact of great analytic importance that life is complicated.’ [1] Treating that fact as analytically important – making it matter to one’s knowledge practice – turns out to be harder than it seems for academic scholars. What I was trying to get at with that term was the importance of treating people with a respect that acknowledges their contradictory humanity and subjectivity. Neither victims nor superhuman agents, all people – albeit in specific forms whose specificity is sometimes everything – remember and forget, are beset by contradiction, and recognise and misrecognise themselves and others. I was looking for a language that could treat race, class and gender dynamics and consciousness as more dense and delicate than the categorical terms often imply, while also not losing sight of their brutalities. I was also trying to set out some conditions of recognition for long-lasting and effective solidiarities.

BB/RZ Your 2004 book Keeping Good Time explores what it truly means to be a scholar and political activist during times of war, and a number of chapters deal specifically with activism around the prison industrial complex. Can you please explain how you see this relationship between scholarship, activism and theoretical production?

AFG That book was put together in a moment of transition for me, or, its compilation gave permission for making a transition I was beginning: away from a work life centred in the university and its communities, towards a work life oriented to a para-academic or intellectual community in a certain segment of the art world. This transition also moved my work and me away from the United States and towards Europe.

In many ways, that very modest book was about insisting that we were at war – first with Iraq, then Afghanistan and then ‘terrorism’, when the global War on Terror was announced – and that educators and academics needed to have a consciousness of what that meant. That providing education during wartime was a major part of our job, and that we ought to know clearly what kind of education is required in these circumstances. I was still committed to engaging and addressing sociology in the earlier pieces, and I tried to rouse my colleagues with warnings against being or becoming what C. Wright Mills called ‘scared employees’ in the context of the criminalisation of dissent, and of a growing law and order society where national security ties militarism abroad to policing and imprisonment at home. As you both know, I eventually gave up on that appeal. It’s worth reading that 1944 Mills essay on ‘the social role of the intellectual’ again today – an essay he wrote during World War II while trying to avoid the draft. [2] There were very few political, rather than religious, conscientious objectors during that war (I actually wrote my history paper at Warwick on these men in England, Scotland and Wales), and Mills’s reason was prescient: he believed that the war buildup would become permanent. He basically argued that the social role of the intellectual was to refuse what he called ‘the job’ the institution offered, and the position of the ‘scared employee,’ who in being ruled by a ‘general fear . . . sometimes politely known as “discretion”, “good taste”, or “balanced judgement”, remained mired in “the job”’. Political ineffectiveness was, Mills argued, symptomatic of the scared employee.

I think there are different ways to conceive the relationship between scholarship and activism, and, especially as the space for critical thought and practice shrinks everywhere, we need to nurture as many modes as possible. I’ve long found Chuck Morse’s distinction between the radical critic and the politically engaged radical critic helpful as a guide to answering this question. He writes:

It is the task of the radical critic to illuminate what is repressed and excluded by the basic mechanisms of a given social order. It is the task of the politically engaged radical critic to side with the excluded and the repressed: to develop insights gained in confrontation with injustice, to nourish cultures of resistance, and to help define the means with which society can be rendered adequate to the full breadth of human possibilities. [3]

The politically engaged radical critic makes a commitment to a cooperative practice with others, and to an everyday life practice which instantiates the values attached to the cooperative commitment to take such a side or a standpoint. The politically engaged radical critic has also to do all the hard ‘scholarly’ work that the radical critic does, too.

One area where the question you’re asking becomes articulated and also enlivened – especially where I work, where we are legally prohibited from unionising – is in the classroom, in which, for me there is still autonomy and freedom over course content. It’s possible to create small, or sometimes big (I teach over 600 students in introduction to sociology), laboratories in which a lot of important unlearning and political education and guidance can take place. So too with postgraduate supervision, in which one by one, a conscientious teacher helps to train the next generation of radical scholars, hopefully helping to root out the fear that produces the scared employee and encouraging political engagement along the definitional lines Morse offers.

The university has always provided a limited and troubled space, both for critical praxis and radical scholarship – a terrain of work and struggle over the production of knowledge and the production of students. What strikes me about the situation today is that a lot of teachers and students in the elite sector of the academy want to take what they can from it – money, credentials, status, relatively autonomous labour, compared to most other professional work – in the uneven and unequal system in which they are distributed, and in which student debt and the precarity of faculty increase. But they do not want to fight to change it, to own it on different terms, to take stewardship over its future for others. That desire is not, however, acknowledged and accepted as the prize of privilege or the common sense of the exploited. Rather, it has been theorised as the height of radical thought and enabled by the dominance of social media, the cult of celebrity, the general social disrespect for intellectuals and for universities, and the elimination of slow-time anti-utilitarian research and thought. In the United States, this radical thought is completely removed from the work experiences and political organising of teachers and students working in non-elite schools, where, for example, faculty teach eight to ten courses a year (in my department we teach four), at schools with majority nonwhite working-class students. There are good reasons to poach from the university if you can, to steal what you can from it for other ends. The political questions are: Who can and who can’t? What is being done with what you take and with whom? Who else is poaching, to what end, and with what consequences? What happens when there’s nothing left to steal? We are facing really large complex questions about the conditions under and organisational forms in which scholarly research, writing and training are and will be defined and undertaken. These questions are not gripping, as urgent, radical scholars, and I fear for the consequences.

[book-strip index="1" style="buy"]

BB/RZ In your latest book, The Hawthorn Archive: Letters from the Utopian Margins, you write that you ‘fuse critical theory with creative writing in a historical context: fact, fiction, theory, and image speak to each other in an undisciplined environment’. [4] How would you describe what you do, your method, in this book? What do you find compelling or theoretically useful about centring what you are calling the ‘other utopianism’?

AFG Let me take the second part of the question first, as the method follows to some extent from the challenge of writing about the ‘other utopianism’. The impetus for the book, which I began thinking about a long time ago, was twofold. First, was a desire to pick up where Ghostly Matters ended, with ‘those historical alternatives’ that ‘haunt a given society’, as Herbert Marcuse wrote; [5] to find the place where, as Patricia Williams put it, our ‘longings’ are ‘exiled.’ In this book, I call that place, after Ernst Bloch, the utopian margins. [6]

The other impetus was to challenge the twined triumphalism of the Right’s ‘end of history’ claim and the Left’s claim that the political universe had closed shut after the failures of 1968. Both positions seemed completely out of touch with the remarkable wave of anti-capitalist resistance by diverse peoples across the globe, which remained invisible to many until first the Zapatistas (in 1994), and then more widely the Seattle World Trade Organization protests (1999), woke them up. The Right’s ‘end of history’ claim was also a ‘utopian’ one which went by the name ‘globalisation’ – the brave new Fourth Industrial Revolution, with its global assembly line, free trade and boundless privatisation – while dismissing any alternative notions of wordliness as TINA (There is no alternative), as Margaret Thatcher famously put it. The Left kept to its Marxist-inspired tradition of treating much of this opposition with the rejectionist epithet: ‘That’s not realistic, that’s utopian!’ Marcuse called it ‘the merely utopian’, a phrase which is often used as a bludgeon to manage proposals, people and actions that have gone too far out of bounds. Both prompts suggested the need for a more capacious language suitable for what seemed to me a significant historical moment of political and economic retrenchment and resistance to it.

There were good reasons to distrust and even dismiss the term ‘utopian’, although in my opinion, the main problem was not idealism and futurism, but rather the term’s deeply racialised historiography and narrow set of literary, aesthetic, philosophical, historical and sociological references. To put it bluntly, the extant meaning of the term treated the genocidal settler colonialism that founded the so-called New World as a successful utopian enterprise, while absenting entirely what Peter Linebaugh and Marcus Rediker call the ‘many-headed hydra’ of the seventeenth-century ‘revolutionary Atlantic’ – those slaves, maids, prisoners, pirates, sailors, heretics, Indigenous peoples, commoners and others who challenged the making of the modern world capitalist system. [7]

There was another kind of utopianism entailed by slaves running away, marronage, piracy, heresy, vagabondage, soldier desertion, and other illegible or discredited forms of escape, resistance, opposition and alternative ways of life that continued, of course, to challenge the modern racial capitalist system over time. This ‘other’ utopianism lends to the term ‘utopian’ a very different meaning – one rooted much more in the past and the present than in an unrealistic future – and a very different notion of politics – one rooted in ongoing social struggles, in various forms of nonparticipation, and in an autonomous politics hostile or indifferent to seizing state power.

Let’s come back to the significance of the past movements in your question, where you ask about historical memory and the temporality of the utopian margins. In the present, while it is always easier to see one’s historical moment after the fact than in the midst of it, I think we are still in that cycle of worldwide resistance and opposition that emerged in the 1990s. The triumphalism is gone, of course, and the Left, if it’s possible to even speak of such a thing, which I now doubt, is less dismissive of utopian ‘hopes’, even as the term ‘hope’ is another somewhat patronising reduction. Capitalism now lurches from crisis to crisis more frequently, and it is incapable of resolving them without ever increasing financial and military assistance from the state, even as its anti-state ideology sounds louder and louder. In this context of enhanced militarism and securitisation, the ongoing redistribution of resources from social property to private property has led to more widespread social abandonment and more entrenched inequalities within and between countries. The major capitalist powers in the West seem either not to understand or to be in denial about the decline of Western hegemony and the quiet but definitive eastward shift of the world system. The capitalist democratic state – what Ruth Wilson Gilmore calls the ‘anti-state state’, or most people know by the name of the neoliberal state – is also weakened, internally conflicted to the point of incapacity, nowhere more evident than in the UK’s Brexit debacle. [8] The legitimation crisis that besets the viability of a capitalist democratic state is real, and the authoritarian alternative quite further advanced than the notion of a populist surge implies.

At the same time, there is widespread, daily, active and open political opposition to all this, at the scale at which people can contest it: protecting this group of migrants from arrest, confinement and deportation; organising this strike among teachers in this city; defending this territory from oil drilling; filing lawsuits against a police department and so on; gathering in public to swear, shout, shake fists, confront the inevitably helmeted riot police. There is also widespread, daily, active, infrapolitical and even secret political opposition, which needs and wants to remain hidden. And there are also so many people, more and more in the Western wealthy countries, looking for ways to think and live on different – better terms – and doing it in small ways, whether in local collectives, or in extended family units, with illegal housing and electricity, alternative currencies, in cities and on old tribal lands.

What will happen we don’t know, of course. But as more people become unable to participate in the existing economic and governing systems, they must find another way. Many people in the global South, poor people of colour in the global North, and Indigenous peoples everywhere are the most experienced at this. Solidarity, assistance, fellowship will be needed. I am not invested in the term ‘utopian’ – and I don’t care if it’s used or not. I care about what I call, in the book, ‘being in-difference’. Being in-difference is a political consciousness and a sensuous knowledge, a standpoint and a mindset for living on better terms than we’re offered; for living as if you had the necessity and the freedom to do so; for living in the acknowledgement, that despite the overwhelming power of all the systems of domination which are trying to kill us, they never quite become us. They are, as Cedric Robinson used to say, only one condition of our existence or being.

I think the key challenge politically, is to promote and develop that being in-difference, to learn to stop appealing to the system itself for redress, to stop believing the forces that are killing you can or will save you. This doesn’t mean that we don’t engage politically in struggle. It does mean preparing for being ready and available, possibly at a moment’s notice, to live autonomously from the system one wants to abolish. The goal is not greater participation or assimilation into the given terms of order. The goal is to overturn that order or displace it or live otherwise than within it. The balance between withdrawal/ separation and engagement in social struggle is what has to be determined. And there are, unfortunately, no clear rules for this.

As for the form/method of the book: it consists of various items, organised in files and collections, from the Hawthorn Archive. There are no chapters as in a conventional book. The Hawthorn Archive is real and it is also a device for conveying that other utopianism’s mode(s) of living, for what it might mean to live in the utopian margins. It thus exists in a particular imaginative space and temporality. This temporality is not the conventional one of utopian literature – ‘what might be’ – nor is it quite the conditional past (‘what could have been’) that Lisa Lowe evokes in her brilliant book, The Intimacies of Four Continents (2015), although it crosses there in places. The Hawthorn Archive operates in the temporality of what was almost or not quite yet; or what was present and at the same time yet to come. It tries to represent the traces of the remains of the past, or the future yet to come, as if in the present. This is the future conditional or the imperfect past tense, a combination of the past tense and a continuous or repeating aspect, something that is unfinished. The Chimurenga Library and Pan African Space Station put the question this way: ‘Can a past that the present has not yet caught up with be summoned to haunt the present as an alternative?’ What would happen if we understood that what haunts from the past are precisely all those aspirations and actions – small and large, individual and collective – that oppose racial capitalism and empire and live actively other than on those terms of order. These living haunts are part of the past the present hasn’t caught up with yet. This is what I mean by the idea of the utopian margins – an alternate civilisation crossing time and place, accumulating a kind of cultural and political surplus, as Bloch called it. Julius Scott called it ‘the common wind.’ [9]

I found it very difficult to know how best to represent this while not writing a novel. I tried to follow Monique Wittig’s instruction in Les Guérillères: ‘There was a time when you were not a slave, remember that. Make an effort to remember. Or, failing that, invent.’ [10] The form  of the book both remembers and invents by inviting the reader into a world situated in a liminal place – one we can call the utopian margins, where then, now and soon we are capable of, and are, living on very different terms than the various forms of enslavement, indebtedness and repression that order this one.

BB/RZ One theme we’re interested in is historical memory, struggle and time – in this instance, as it relates to various movements active today. In a wonderful interview you conducted (in a Whole Foods with Natascha Sadr Haghighian), you explain:

Even if these memories of resistance and struggle and knowing otherwise are intensely constructed and staged, they nonetheless create a force field that connects us through time and space to others, and to a power we are constantly denied and told we do not possess: the power to create life on our own terms and to sustain that creation over the long term. [11]

This is a powerful take on both memory and the power to create life. But throughout the interviews in this book, we have also discussed a recurring erasure of history of movements or specific conversations, especially as it relates to race and previous anti-racist struggles. This question is twofold: how would you explain the wilful amnesia around issues of race and anti-racist struggles? And do you think this ‘force field that connects us through time and space’ is a constant, or needs specific forms of excavation to be sustained?

AFG Over the years, I’ve had the pleasure of doing various projects with artist Natascha Sadr Haghighian, who is also a very active member of the Hawthorn Archive. The conversation you mention took place in 2009 in the large, upscale organic Whole Foods supermarket in New York’s Bowery neighbourhood, next door to the New Museum, as part of a ‘seminar’ entitled ‘Sleepwalking in a Dialectical Picture Puzzle’. We walked through the Whole Foods while being secretly filmed, talking about the commercialisation of organic food, the way Whole Foods was appropriating radical ecological and political ideas for profit and political agency. Natascha had pointed out a sign in the store that read ‘Power to the People’, and I was describing some of what was not signed in the store that suggested a far more radical anti-capitalist, anti-imperialist ecological approach: People’s Park; MOVE; Earth First!; the Diggers, from whose 1649 manifesto against greed, private property, inequality and war I read in front of the cheese department. Natascha raised the question of whether revealing or exposing the hidden facts or histories was effective in producing action or change. And the statement you quote was part of my answer to her.

Calling up and out, naming what’s missing, is as much about haunting as it is about history. Naming the Diggers, for example, provides information many might not have, and it also creates a connection across time and space so we who are living now can work to put an end to the conditions that repeat and thus haunt. The exposure or revelation gives notice to the sedimented conditions that make putting that ‘Power for the People’ sign up in a megastore even possible. I’m quite interested in time, the feel of it and what form it takes in social struggles, which I find difficult to express in abstract or academic language. We tend to call this time-form memory, even if the memories are constructed and staged. You’re absolutely right that the force field – the connection – must be activated. It might always be there; that’s certainly my argument about the utopian margins, and Toni Morrison’s argument about those ‘rememories’ that are always waiting for you, whether they happened to you or not. [12] But everything hinges on the encounter and what the encounter yields. There’s a difference between knowing that there are continuities in forms of repression and in the struggles against them, and encountering them as a force field – as something that changes your perceptual boundaries and political compass, that prompts action, and that enables an honouring of those who came before and a necessary carrying of the struggle forward.

The wilful amnesia about anti-racist struggles and racism can be explained in part, given the direction of the discussion with Natascha, by the whitening of radical environmental politics and the history of the commons, such that the Diggers, the various maroon societies, the Seminoles, the Zapatistas and the keelboatmen, for example, appear as if in separate universes and in separate histories rather than part of one. It’s striking today that despite widespread interest in and attention to climate change and global warming – all school-children know these terms – environmental racism and the histories of those struggles, which necessarily addressed racial capitalism, even if they didn’t name it as such, remain almost completely invisible. The lack of visibility of a critical environmental justice – as that seasoned environmental anti-racist scholar David N. Pellow has proposed, where the Movement for Black Lives, the prison abolition movement and the anti-occupation struggle of Palestinians are all considered ‘environmental’ or ecological – is evident and to the detriment of dealing with these catastrophic problems. [13]

At a more general level, as Cedric Robinson concisely argued, ‘Racial regimes are unstable truth systems in which race is proposed as a justification for relations of power.’ [14] Racial regimes, which ‘masquerade’ as natural and unchanging, are in reality unstable and fragile, and they shift over time as the power needs they serve change. They are unstable and fragile because they construct, rank and ontologise artificial differences among people, making them seem natural. Because in doing so they exclude an ever-present, noisy, repressed reality (we’re not that!), which is always threatening to destabilise the justifications. It takes enormous work for racial regimes to function since they are constantly confronting realities that counter them in varying degrees of organised opposition. A considerable amount of that work is done by violence – by the police, the army and other organs of the repressive state. And a sufficient amount of that work is done by intellectuals, including well-meaning reformers.

BB/RZ Indeed, in your work you attend to ‘Marxism’s blind spots’ and note the importance of critiques coming from authors like Cedric Robinson. However, you see a focus on blind spots as coming from a ‘gracious spirit of reconstruction’. [15] What would you say are the key features of these critiques?

AFG ‘Forged in an . . . erudite and gracious spirit of reconstruction’ is how I described the nature of Cedric’s exposure of the philosophical and historical compromises Marxism made with bourgeois society in his book An Anthropology of Marxism, for which I wrote the preface. I’m pleased to say that this book, long unavailable and thus not well known, has been reissued by the University of North Carolina Press in the United States and Pluto Press in the UK. To simplify, the critique of Marxism in Black Marxism: The Making of the Black Radical Tradition focused on two main lines. [16] The first is the significance of the precapitalist history of racism within the West and its significance to the development of a constitutively racial capitalism, consistently mistaken by Marx and Marxists, and sometimes also now by well-intentioned intellectuals. Capitalism is a product of a highly racist and racialised Western civilisation, not the other way around, and Robinson is at pains to establish this point. The second line concerns Marx’s claims about the specificity and dominance of the capital/(free) labour relation and his attachment to the figure of the revolutionary proletariat. Robinson critiques this intellectual and political investment and argues that it bound the development of Marxian socialism to nationalism, racism and bourgeois epistemology. The result is a way of seeing, a structure of anticipation or expectation, that could not and did not recognise Black radicalism on its own terms, but, if at all, as ‘merely an opposition to capitalist organization’. A similar and expanded argument is made in An Anthropology of Marxism, where Marx and Engels’s dismissal of precapitalist forms of socialism, female heresy and rebellion, among other outcomes, ‘oblit- erated the most fertile . . . domain for their political ambitions and historical imaginations’. [17]

In both of these books, whether the subject is the Black radical tradition, or the European socialist tradition, the point is not merely to identify a blind field or to point out that something is missing or not seen. The list of blind spots is now rather well known, in any event: capitalocentrism, to use J.K. Gibson-Graham’s term; [18] the overemphasis on a two-class model of society and a corresponding notion of class struggle and class politics; the dismissive treatment of nonindustrial labour – peasants, slaves, indentured – and of women as a class; and an economism that prevented, as Robinson writes, ‘a more comprehensive treatment of history, classes, culture, race-ethnicity, gender, and language’. [19]

The point is rather to show what is living and breathing in the place blinded from view. There’s always something living and breathing in the blind spot, and the question is what, or who, is there. This is, in my view, the more important approach and one I have tried to pursue in my own work, in various ways. Robinson argues that Marx and his heirs missed an opportunity to see the rich thought and the complex struggle comprising the Black radical tradition – its collective wisdom – as worthy of theorisation and thus of gener- alisation. He writes, ‘The difference . . . is not one of interpretation but comprehension.’ [20] I think this is a very precise way of putting it.

Movements and activists, whether they make them explicit or not, assume standpoints, historiographies, terms of solidarities and what Alex Lubin calls ‘geographies of liberation.’ [21] These assumptions form the infrastructure of comprehension. It’s not a matter of whether an individual or a movement covers everything or knows everything. This is virtually impossible; moreover, political struggles and campaigns require precision and focus to be effective. What do matter and are necessary are the deeper understandings, visions, values and connections – the collective wisdom, or what Haghighian calls the emotional intelligence – that are carried in specific demands and articulated in the daily operating organisational cultures in which activists and move- ments think and act.

BB/RZ Moving slightly away from your writing, you have been involved longer term in cohosting a weekly public affairs radio programme, No Alibis. Can you talk to us about this part of your work?

AFG A radio programme – even a radical grassroots programme like ours – is perhaps not considered political activism in the way door-to-door campaigning or organising protests are. But my most sustained political activism is the radio programme I have cohosted with Elizabeth Robinson since 1997.

No Alibis is a spin-off, created in late 1999, of an earlier radio programme Elizabeth did for a long time called Viewpoints with H.L.T. Quan, and which I joined in 1997. No Alibis is a two-hour public affairs / cultural radio programme which airs on KCSB 91.9 FM Santa Barbara. The show focuses on a range of current events in an internationalist perspective, using a semi-structured format of news (thirty minutes) and in-depth analysis of social/political issues, usually with two interview segments. On certain places and issues – Palestine, the Middle East, US imprisonment, militarism, the European border regime, Africa – No Alibis has been consistently reporting, long before shows like Democracy Now! We have a special programme in December called ‘Book Tastings’, in which we read excerpts of new and notable books, and in earlier years, we participated in global media projects associated with the World Association of Community Radio Broadcasters (AMARC), for which Elizabeth held several officer positions, such as live reporting at the World Social Forum, and Voices without Frontiers (Voix sans fronteres), an anti-racist and anti-xenophobia youth radio project.

I had done a little radio at university and was involved with the radio station at Boston College, but it was around music, not public affairs. When I first started doing the radio programme, I had to learn to speak intelligently to and dialogue with people all over again. Thanks to Elizabeth, it was a very good learning experience in democratic communication. KCSB and No Alibis have, over all these years, successfully resisted the trends towards monopolisation, standardisation and globalisation of commercial media, including the pressure on community and grassroots radio stations to mainstream programme content and station scheduling, and to professionalise the format and the sound of programmes. One of the most common ways in which the pressure to professionalise operates is in the taken-for-granted value that a ‘good product’ is one in which professional-sounding programmers either speak for or arrange for experts to speak for the people/listener. In this model, a good professional product does not enable people to speak for themselves. On No Alibis, we take political stands and stand explicitly in political solidarity. We do not ever mask our views and what we think is important. And we try to operate on the principle of self-determination – that people have the right to speak for themselves in their own language – and not on the principle of professionalisation. Experts are routinely invited on our show, of course, but we engage discussion and try to generate dialogue (or multilogue) to model a more democratic, less subservient, relationship to experts. No Alibis is a site where we can show other ways of seeing the world than what can be found in the mainstream media, trying to keep the imagination open, even when the course for political action seems less immediately available. Right now, for example, there is a moratorium on Trump news, unless more airspace can be reasonably justified! And a commitment to reporting on social struggles and making sure we spread the news about important initiatives and small successes. We see the programme operating in a global context, with an internationalist perspective, and so try not to treat the local and global as contradictory or contentious.

The creation of an alternative media voice is an essential political activity and an important medium of popular education, and I think Elizabeth would agree. There is, in fact, a creative, politically astute, and inclusive community and grassroots media in the United States and elsewhere. It is sustained by a set of ethical principles based on the right of all members of civil society to just and equitable access to all communications media. This media sector has been and is still under attack. The suppression of dissent, the nationalistic calls to patriotic loyalty, all the agitated and false information presented in the mainstream print, broadcast and social media are serious challenges to sustaining democratic, noncapitalist, community radio. It is important that we keep this work going.

BB/RZ You have been centrally involved in the prison abolition movement – can you tell us about shifts (if any) you’ve observed happening in the movement from its earliest days? A central concept of the movement is, of course, abolition – can you please explain to us the key ideas behind abolitionism and its importance to a multiplicity of social movements today?

AFG The prison abolition movement in the United States has grown considerably and remarkably from its earliest (post–prison boom) days when you could count the abolitionist groups on one hand and name maybe one – the Prison Moratorium Project [22] – and the organisers of the first Critical Resistance conference thought maybe a couple of hundred people would show up. This growth reflects real organising success and also brings with it the challenges of many more people identifying with and defining what abolition means. [23]

Abolition feminism, whose best-known theoretical practitioner is Angela Y. Davis, is a part of the Black radical internationalist tradition. Although it is often associated with the movement to abolish police power and the carceral state, it names a set of positions and standpoints which understand that in order to abolish the prison system as we know it today, it is necessary to eliminate the political, social and economic conditions that produce it, to radically transform our present social order, which cannot be grasped in national or nationalist terms. As she writes, ‘Prison abolition is a way of talking about the pitfalls of the particular version of democracy represented by U.S. capitalism.’ [24] What’s distinctive about abolition feminism is this deeper vision and the analytic, political and human connections or intersections it makes.

Perhaps the most succinct articulation of this connectedness or intersectionality is the idea of the indivisibility of justice, expressed by Martin Luther King Jr in 1963 in the letter he wrote from the jail in Birmingham, Alabama. He famously wrote: ‘Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly.’ This notion of the indivisibility of justice – and remember very soon King himself would come to identify militarism and capitalism as what must be fought to achieve racial justice – which binds us to a network of mutuality is a way of describing solidarity or fellowship. [25] It gives us what King called standing, as well as a certain obligation to know and to act in concert with others. This is a beautiful idea of our connection, of what we have in common – an inescapable network of mutuality, a single garment of destiny. Sometimes these connections are strong and sometimes they are weak and fractured, but they are abolition’s political commons.

The intensification of police power as a mode of governance – arguably, the US is a police state – and the growth of the carceral state have activated interest among many younger people. They can see and often feel quite directly the various spatial forms of enclosure and confinement of land, people, ideas, of their capacity for so much more. They can also glimpse what Brenna has called the ‘racial regimes of ownership’ and the militarised infrastructure for maintenance of a highly stratified racial capitalist order. [26] There’s a reach, or desire, for something else – for a life without racial capitalism, a life in which we are not enclosed by values and modes of being together based on money and exchange values, status hierarchies, violence and force, alienation, racialisation and discipline to externally imposed standards. It may be inchoate, underanalysed or inexperienced, but something of what we used to call a revolutionary impulse is more widespread than the authorities would like us to believe. That we have to build this life ourselves – it will not be given to us – is also I think partially understood, if not quite comprehended in full, and makes an already enormous job even more complex, difficult and fraught with seemingly overwhelming obstacles and challenges.

People start or enter into this process via distinct routes, picking up vocabularies, alliances, strategies and lessons, hopefully wisely and with a minimum of sectarianism. To take abolition feminism seriously, each individual, in common with others, must learn to become ‘unavailable for servitude, back stiff with conviction’, to use Toni Cade Bambara’s words. [27] This is, in my view, the heart of the abolitionist imaginary, which understands servitude in its broadest meaning, so that the struggle to transform the world takes place immanently today through the means that embody and instantiate the values, practices and institutional formats we desire. It is also the heart of the intellectual work of organising – to link this imaginary to the capacity to build the life we need with others. It can’t be done by rhetoric. It is done by the people working with INCITE! Women of Color against Violence, Critical Resistance, Survived and Punished, Oakland Power Projects and many other groups to create a portable knowledge of abolition as a way of life and a working infrastructure to reduce the role of policing and prison in our lives.

BB/RZ In your writing you have made the connection between militarism internationally, the prison industrial complex and the War on Terror, especially in your article on imprisonment in the context of the Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq. [28] What led you to make these connections? Would you frame this as the ‘internationalisation’ of the US prison system?

AFG The war on terror launched by the United States in 2001 gave custodial responsibility to the Army and the Marine Corps for large numbers of prisoners of war, who were not prisoners of war but enemy alien combatants – a legal invention of the US – and civilian security threats. The Military Police Corps, in charge of prisons, were not prepared for this responsibility: military bases all had a prison or a brig, mostly used for soldiers sleeping off drunkenness, or for punishing insurbordination and so on. It was not a full-blown prison system, nor was it set up for either large numbers of prisoners of war treated according to Geneva Convention standards or for confining civilians (or soldiers) charged and or sentenced for crimes. The personnel (guards and directors), the punishment regime with its racialised sadism and normalcy of exceptional brutality, the security apparatus, and the legal infrastructure were all imported from the US civilian prison.

When the photographs of the abuse of prisoners by guards at the large Abu Ghraib prison complex and news and images of the conditions of the prisoners held at the base in Guantanamo, Cuba, went public, there was considerable attention to the normally hidden US military prison network. But most of that attention treated what was happening in those prisons as isolated instances of the abuse of state power, which obscured the relationship and the continuum between the US military prisons abroad and territorial US civilian prisons. I began writing a series of articles analysing that connection and the role of the military prison in the War on Terror – for example, ‘The United States Military Prison: The Normalcy of Exceptional Brutality’ and ‘The Prisoner’s Curse’. [29]

I did not see the military prison as the internationalisation of the prison industrial complex so much as a fungible technology or portable model in the perpetuation and expansion of a security-centred world economy. There is a vast transnational military security industry operating today – the largest business sector in the world – which underwrites a parasitic global capitalist order and an increasingly globally integrated repressive apparatus designed to suppress and criminalise dissent and the attempts to create anti-capitalist life forms. The United States is the largest arms dealer in the world, but it hardly acts alone. In fact, the Israeli military, which has long promoted itself as the world’s leader in security expertise based on its occupation of Palestine, is a major trainer of US law enforcement personnel. This is, of course, the tip of the iceberg of a set of global connections that maintain a permanent war economy, with long-term captive populations.

When the term ‘prison industrial complex’ was introduced, its purpose was, more than anything else, to question taken-for-granted assumptions about crime and punishment (that people went to prison because they committed crimes) and focus on the process of criminalisation (what is a crime, exactly? who exactly becomes a criminal?), and to identify the political and economic interests invested in building a seemingly self-reproducing prison system whose function had little to do with public safety. It was a powerful construct and did a good deal of the political education required of it in the US context, even though it could not and was not expected to cover everything. People today are still struggling to find the right term or terms for the expansion of criminalisation, punishment and confinement, and for what’s often now called the carceral state, which shapes or ‘deforms’, to quote Marie Gottschalk, millions of people, many of whom have never been in a jail or prison. [30]

To my mind, privatisation of management is not the key problem or indicator for the general patterns. In the United States, around 8 per cent of all prisoners are housed in private facilities; the vast majority of those are in immigration prisons run by the federal government, which is also the fastest-growing sector of detention in the US. These private facilities are paid for by individual states or the federal government, are authorised by state authorities, and implement policies made by every branch of government – including now, rather spectacularly, by the executive branch, the president. Legally, in every way, the state is responsible for them and is the agency that contracts with private businesses. The focus on state power and on state accountability is key.

Here, I think the larger concern should be understanding the constituent role war, criminalisation (of poverty and troublemaking), punishment and confinement (whether in the workhouse, on the slave ship or the transportation ship carrying banished convicts, or on the native reservation) played historically in the making of the modern capitalist world, and in the recurring waves of primitive accumulation necessary for it to continue. Dispossession, expulsion, imprisonment and theft of land, bodies and knowledge continue in racial capitalist democracies today, and they continue to require war and militarised police power to function. Without an understanding of the historical lines and the complicated patterns of a global history in which the prison is both a means of expropriation and repression and a site of subjugated knowledge, infrapolitical resistance, political conspiracy and (when possible) organised rebellion, it is difficult to grasp what’s involved in fighting armed police and armies, which has been necessary in the past and is necessary again now.

BB/RZ Shifting gears slightly for this final question, at the 2019 Venice Biennale, a work by Swiss-Icelandic artist Christoph Büchel, titled Barca Nostra (Our ship), was exhibited to the great consternation of some. The ship was previously a fishing vessel, en route from Libya to Italy in 2015, in which approximately 700 to 800 migrants (many of them African) died when the boat collided with a Portuguese freighter attempting to rescue those on board. The artist said the intention was for Barca Nostra to be a ‘monument to contemporary migration’. Can you tell us about this ‘artwork’ and what the controversy around its exhibition represents in your view?

AFG The first thing to note is that based on his past practice of creating provocative installations, I think it’s fair to say that whatever else Christoph Büchel hoped to do, he also intended to create controversy and draw public attention to himself, as he did for his 2015 Venice project, in which he turned a church into a mosque that was closed down within two weeks after a great deal of negative media publicity. As his spokeswoman announced about Barca Nostra: ‘As with all of his previous projects, public response – including press articles, critical essays and social media posts – is integral to the overall concept.’ [31]

Büchel spent two years and 33 million euros, with the help of Sebastiano Tusa, Sicily’s councillor for cultural heritage, to deal with the bureaucracy necessary to acquire the boat, salvage it (which cost 9.5 of that 33 million), move it, and display it at the world’s most well-known and wealthy art exhibition. He originally claimed the process, not the boat, is the artwork, which was true in the literal sense of the work involved, although once the controversy heated up, he defended himself by making the claim you quoted above, that it was a ‘monument to contemporary migration . . . representing the collective policies and politics that create such wrecks’, and which, at the same time, was partial proof of the League party’s Matteo Salvini’s characterisation of the work as ‘political propaganda’. [32]

The rusty wreck of the former Tunisian fishing boat, carrying ten times more individuals than it was built to hold and in which most of them died trying to reach Lampedusa and then other points in Europe, was hung in the Arsenale, the former Venetian shipyards, near a café, where people were constantly passing it by, without any labels displayed near the boat to explain what it was. Accompanying information was in the costly catalogue most people don’t buy.

The combination of the artistic context of the Venice Biennale, which its theme – ‘May you live in interesting times’ – did nothing to challenge its placement, the lack of accessible contextualising information or related public programming, the exorbitant cost, the high level of media attention beyond the art press (which the work, the artist and the curators seemed to cultivate), and the seeming lack of any attention to the longer history of or the institutions responsible for the deaths of people moving without authorisation from Africa to Europe. Not to mention that the unseemly (or ‘distasteful’, to quote the BBC) act of exhibiting a mass grave led to considerable criticism of the work from many quarters, in varying degrees of intensity of anger.

Some of the specific criticism of the work was spot on, but overall the media debate, in which the controversy was produced and embedded, stayed close to the question of what the artist and the artwork can and cannot do in the highly commodified and appropriative art world, which can and does absorb and repackage a lot of critical ideas and impulses. It could be argued that the avant-garde work of art, situated within a larger political project and community, has been replaced by the political or radical art work, whose politics and radicality is measured by art world standards and entirely situated within it.

I don’t expect the media, much less the art media, to provide a satisfying analysis of the European border regime, but I do expect it to do two things it did not. The first was to follow the money. It is virtually impossible to find reliable and detailed information on exactly where that 33 million came from and how it was spent. And while there was some good opportunity cost analysis in the blogsphere – for example, showing that the budget spent on the art work could fund two health clinics with free medication for about ten years [33] – there was little analysis or holding to account of the art institutions, curators, private donors, corporate funders and governments who enabled the work. Obviously, without this financial infrastructure, which primarily remained unnamed, Büchel could not have made the work. This is, in part, what I mean by calling it a work of political propaganda. It hides well the puppet masters.

The second element missing in the media controversy was an engagement with the many other artists working critically around the subject of the European border regime (at least one of whom, Nastascha Sadr Haghighian, was at Venice exhibiting, in a completely different mode, in the German Pavillion), or engaged, even more specifically, with migrant deaths at sea whose work was more sensitive or humane or emotionally moving or politically intelligent. [34] In the interests of space here, I’ll just mention one project that provides a strong contrast.

Sink without Trace was exhibited in a small London gallery, P21, from June to July in summer 2019. Curated by the academic Federica Mazzara and artist Maya Ramsay, [35] this show was everything Büchel’s Barca Nostra was not. It was organised by two women with modest means, who were involved since at least 2014 in research, art and political activism around migrant deaths at sea. It was framed not by immediate media time and state-sponsored slogans, but by this opening statement: ‘Migrant deaths are not a new phenomenon, as the media and government might have us believe. They did not begin in 2015 with the death of Alan Kurdi or the so called “migration crisis”.’ And it was dedicated to ‘all those who have perished whilst trying to reach Europe by sea, to all those who will perish in the future and to all those who have successfully made the journey’. The exhibition did not focus on the work of one famous artist, but included eighteen artists from ten countries, several of whom came to Europe as refugees. Found objects from shipwrecked vessels (Ramsay’s Countless [2016–19]) were displayed, in the scale of the trace, not the monument, along with Ramsay’s graphite rubbings from the graves of unidentified migrants and Victoria Burgher’s fragments of foil survival blankets laminated in gold leaf, in a context that also included unsigned drawings made on migrant ships and sculptural works made by young people travelling alone and living in the Calais camps. Side by side were Forensic Oceanography’s detailed scientific analysis of a 2011 case (Liquid Traces – The Left-to-Die Boat Case [2014]) and an elegiac ten-minute film, Asmat: Names in Memory of All Victims of the Sea (2014), made by Dagmawi Yimer, who made an illegal sea crossing himself, in which the names of 368 Eritreans who died off the coast of Lampedusa on 3 October 2013 are read slowly in Tigrinya. Max Hirzel’s photographs of the forensic examination of the 450 bodies recovered from the vessel Büchel exhibited are set in the context of a project begun in 2011 to find the places where migrants were buried and to mark them, notifying relatives where possible. Kurdish artist Mariwan Jalal’s beautiful screen prints chart his journey to the UK by sea. And more. There are intelligent, informative wall captions, as well as a small, affordable (five-pound) book with the artworks, artists’ biographies and precise, thoughtful essays by the curators and post-colonial scholar Iain Chambers. The book’s sales are used to raise funds for AlarmPhone, a telephone hotline for refugees in the Mediterranean Sea started by activists. The exhibition itself was free, unlike Venice, and the curators note that ‘after years of discussion with public galleries, who agreed on the . . . importance of the exhibition’, they were nonetheless ‘unable to give it space’. [36] Not one of these artists sought to ‘provoke’ for provocation’s sake, but together the exhibition stands as a quiet collective act of aesthetic and political sabotage. 


1 Patricia J. Williams, The Alchemy of Race and Rights (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1991).

2 C. Wright Mills, ‘The Social Role of the Intellectual’, in Power, Politics and People, ed. Irving Louis Horowitz (1944; repr., Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1963), 292–304.

3 Chuck Morse, ‘Capitalism, Marxism, and the Black Radical Tradition: An Interview with Cedric Robinson’, Perspectives on Anarchist Theory 3:1 (Spring 1999), 1.

4 Avery F. Gordon, The Hawthorn Archive: Letters from the Utopian Margins (New York: Fordham University Press, 2017), v.

5 Herbert Marcuse, One Dimensional Man (Boston: Beacon Press, 1964). 

6 Patricia J. Williams, The Alchemy of Race and Rights (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University 
Press, 1991), 49; Ernst Bloch, A Philosophy of the Future, trans. John Cumming (New York: Herder & Herder, 1970); and The Principle of Hope, 3 vols., trans. Stephen Plaice, Paul Knight and Neville Plaice, 2nd ed. (Frankfurt: Suhrkamp, 1954 [vol. 1], 1955 [vol. 2], and 1959 [vol. 3]; Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 1995). Citations refer to the MIT Press edition.

7 Peter Linebaugh and Marcus Rediker, The Many-Headed Hydra: Sailors, Slaves, Commoners and the Hidden History of the Revolutionary Atlantic (Boston: Beacon Press, 2013).

8 Ruth Wilson Gilmore, ‘Forgotten Places and the Seeds of Grassroots Planning’, in Engaging Contradictions: Theory, Politics and Methods of Activist Scholarship, ed. Charles R. Hale (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2008), 31, 36.

9 Julius Sherrard Scott, The Common Wind: Afro-American Currents in the Age of the Haitian Revolution (London and New York: Verso, 2018).

10 Monique Wittig, Les guérillères (Paris: Les Éditions de Minuit, 1969), 89.

11 Natascha Sadr Haghighian, ‘Sleepwalking in a Dialectical Picture Puzzle, Part 1: A Conversation with Avery Gordon’, e-flux journal 3 (February 2009),

12 Toni Morrison, Beloved (New York: Knopf, 1987).

13 David N. Pellow, ‘Toward a Critical Environmental Justice Studies: Black Lives Matter as an Environmental Justice Challenge’, Du Bois Review: Social Science Research on Race 13:2 (2016), 221–36.

14 Cedric J. Robinson, Forgeries of Memory and Meaning: Blacks and the Regimes of Race in American Theater and Film Before World War II (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2007), xii.

15 Cedric J. Robinson, An Anthropology of Marxism, 2nd ed. preface by Avery Gordon (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2019), xi.

16 Cedric J. Robinson, Black Marxism: The Making of the Black Radical Tradition (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2000).

17 Robinson, Anthropology of Marxism, 138–9.

18 J.K. Gibson-Graham, The End of Capitalism (As We Knew It): A Feminist Critique of Political Economy (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2006), 80.

19 Robinson, Anthropology of Marxism, xiii.

20 Robinson, Black Marxism, 96. 

21 Alex Lubin, Geographies of Liberation: The Making of an Afro-Arab Political Imaginary 
(Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2014).

22 Prison Moratorium Project official website, 

23 Critical Resistance official website, 

24 Angela Y. Davis, Abolition Democracy: Beyond Empire, Prisons and Torture (New York: 
Seven Stories, 2005).

25 The text in this paragraph is reproduced, in part, from Krystian Woznicki, ‘Unshrinking the World: An Interview with Avery F. Gordon about The Hawthorn Archive: Letters from the Utopian Margins’, Commonist Aesthetics, June 2019.

26 Brenna Bhandar, Colonial Lives of Property: Law, Land and Racial Regimes of Ownership (Durham: Duke University Press, 2018).

27 Toni Cade Bambara, Deep Sightings and Rescue Missions: Fictions, Essays and Conversations (New York: Vintage, 1996). See also Cherrie Moraga and Gloria Anzaldúa, ‘Foreword’, in This Bridge Called My Back: Writings by Radical Women of Color, ed. Cherrie Moraga and Gloria Anzaldúa, 4th ed. (Watertown, NY: Kitchen Table Press, 2015), xxix–xxxii.

28 Avery F. Gordon, ‘Abu Ghraib: Imprisonment and the War on Terror’, Race & Class 48:1 (2006), 42–59.

29 Avery F. Gordon, ‘The United States Military Prison: The Normalcy of Exceptional Brutality’, in The Violence of Incarceration, ed. Phil Scraton and Jude McCulloch (New York: Routledge, 2009), 174–96; and Avery F. Gordon, ‘The Prisoner’s Curse’, in Toward a Sociology of the Trace, ed. Herman Gray and Macarena Gómez-Barris (Minneapolis: Minnesota University Press, 2011), 17–55.

30 Marie Gottschalk, Caught: The Prison State and the Lockdown of American Politics (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2016).

31 Cristina Ruiz, ‘Fierce Debate over Christoph Büchel’s Venice Biennale Display of Boat That Sank with Hundreds Locked in Hull’, Art Newspaper, 14 May 2019,

32 Ibid.

33 Alexandra Stock, ‘The Privileged, Violent Stunt That Is the Venice Biennale Boat Project’, Mada, 29 May 2019,

34 ‘Journal’, Deutscher Pavillon official website, Biennale Arte 2019, 

35 Sink without Trace, exhibition catalogue,

36 Ibid., 4.

Selected Writings

Gordon, Avery F. Keeping Good Time: Reflections on Knowledge, Power and People. Boulder: Paradigm, 2004.

———. Ghostly Matters: Haunting and the Sociological Imagination. 2nd ed. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2008.

———. ‘The United States Military Prison: The Normalcy of Exceptional Brutality’. In The Violence of Incarceration, edited by Phil Scraton and Jude McCullough, 164–86. New York: Routledge, 2009.

———. ‘The Prisoner’s Curse’. In Toward a Sociology of the Trace, edited by Herman Gray and Macarena Gomez-Barris, 17–55. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2010.

———. ‘I’m already in a Sort of Tomb’: A Reply to Philip Scheffner’s The Half- moon Files’. South Atlantic Quarterly 110:1 (Winter 2011), 121–54.

———. The Hawthorn Archive: Letters from the Utopian Margins. New York: Fordham University Press, 2018.

———. ‘Preface’, in Cedric J. Robinson, An Anthropology of Marxism, xiii–xxxii. 2nd ed. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2019.

Gordon, Avery F., and Christopher Newfield, eds. Mapping Multiculturalism. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1996.

Gordon, Avery F., and Ines Schaber. The Workhouse (Breitenau Room) = Das Arbeitshaus (Raum Breitenau). Köln: König, 2014.

Revolutionary Feminisms
In a moment of rising authoritarianism, climate crisis, and ever more exploitative forms of neoliberal capitalism, there is a compelling and urgent need for radical paradigms of thought and action....