Episode 8: Refuse Powers' Grasp

21–23 Oct 2016
Tramway & The Art School, Glasgow

Refuse Powers' Grasp

We don’t even want to gain rights for women, we are fighting to change society, which is something different… Mujeres Creando

This episode explores the messy, unruly and ungovernable ways queer, trans and women's anti-racist, decolonial, anti-deportation and prison abolitionist struggles imagine themselves. By looking to these movements, the episode explores  our social entanglements with each other, the worlds we want to live in and the ways we bring those worlds about, now and in the future.

If we understand the Prison Industrial Complex as the set of relations in capitalist society enforcing the idea that policing, courts and imprisonment can “solve” the social problems it creates, how do communities most affected by it organise themselves socially, without resorting to the logic of punishment and exile? How can we work to dismantle rather than reform prisons and borders, eroding rather than reproducing the structural violence inflicted on communities? How can we think, organise and bring about entirely different societies?  And do those societies exist already, even if only in part and under duress, in everyday practices of abolition, entanglement and care?

  • What does the dominant culture have that we want?
  • What does the dominant culture have that we don’t want?
  • What do we have that we want to keep?

The perceptive, simple, generative questions above are taken from the curriculum of the 1964 Mississippi Freedom Schools, a huge social educational movement that through direct action and pedagogy sought to recognise and support self-knowledge within black communities so that they could become agents of social change.

The first question recognises that the dominant culture claims to ‘own’ some things we need; the second that it has much that we should refuse. But the third question recognises that we are not totally captured by power; that we already have much of what we need. It recognises that our ways of being and organising - of socialising, thriving and understanding ourselves - don’t have to be shaped by the terms used to gain control over us by regimes of power, and that we can celebrate, defend and nourish the spaces in which we practice them. 

…if the state is ready to kill to defend itself from the black, sexual, trans body brought before it, do we want to be somebody before the state, or no-body against it?

Denise Ferreira da Silva, speaking at Episode 6

The legal idea of Habeas Corpus ensures the right of a citizen to seek protection from false imprisonment1. It literally means ‘you shall have the body’. Populations not granted the status of owning a ‘body’ don’t get that protection; they can ‘legally’ be subjected to various techniques - colonialisation, enslavement, confinement, punishment, violation, death - for the benefit of those included in power. 

Both Black Feminist and Queer thinking proposes that one thing the dominant culture has that we might not want is an idea of the segregated, categorised ‘body’: a fixed and ownable, private organic space. While survival means trying to protect ourselves, the quote from Denise above suggests that to understand ourselves as owning a ‘body’ comes at a price. It’s a self-understanding via the laws that power uses to subjugate and bring us to heel, causing us to forget our entanglement with each other and how we cannot be segregated into private spaces. It means forgetting all the ways we care for and with each other; practices of care that remind us that their laws will never make us safer.

I am not going to claim that I’m like you, your equal, or ask you to allow me to participate in your laws or to admit me as a part of your social normality.  My ambition is to convince you that you are like me. Testo Junkie - Paul B Preciado

Which is to say: struggles against the Prison Industrial Complex and against the imposition and policing of bodies, genders, races, sexes or sexualities are intimately linked.  They are entangled in their insistence that their sociality is not defined by or against power’s attempts to grasp, fix or regulate it.2 Together they refuse to let the carceral logic of an inside and an outside determine how we can understand ourselves, and insist that the way to bring about an entirely different world is to practice that here and now.

This kind of sociality is not asking to be assimilated within power’s law, or asking for recognition as subjects, bodies or individuals brought under the yoke of regimes of violence and separation. It is not the noise of dissensus that can’t yet be heard by systems of oppression.  Instead, sociality vibrates on a completely different frequency, paradoxically out-with powers’ hearing, but audible to us all.

If you’d like to come but something makes that difficult for you, we would love to hear from you. Please get in touch with Arika and we will try to help - info@arika.org.uk or 0131 556 0878.

  • 1. Which maybe means being ante-anti-essentialist, or under-anti-normative…
  • 2. It doesn’t prohibit imprisonment, it simple asserts the States authority to decide matters of punishment and exile.