Power over Life and Death: Feminism, Abolition, and the State

Friday, April 21, 2023, 9:30am–5:00pm
Saturday, April 22, 2023, 9:30am–6:30pm

Panels: Foster 107, 1126 E. 59th St.
Keynote: International House, 1414 E. 59th St.

Registration: https://www.eventbrite.com/e/power-over-life-and-death-feminism-abolition-and-the-state-registration-524742838957

Two major events in the last few years have drawn renewed attention to ongoing crises in American life: the Supreme Court decision in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization, giving constitutional validation to patriarchal legal regimes of forced birth, and the murder of George Floyd by four members of the Minneapolis Police Department, dramatically illustrating the routine and often fatal violence that accompanies regimes of racialized policing. We’re interested in theorizing these events as more than just chronologically associated: how might we understand them together as vivid expressions of the state’s multivalent power over life and death? Indeed, these events are cast against the backdrop of the COVID-19 pandemic, in which the state simultaneously abandoned minority and working class populations in the service of private accumulation and naturalized a vision of the home as a particular site of production and reproduction.

Theorizing our present—and the past from which it emerges—therefore requires new attention to the power of the state over life and death and its consequences for feminist and abolitionist critique and struggle. Who lives, who dies? Who is compelled to produce life? Who is abandoned by the state, and who is killed? Who polices these boundaries, and how are they constructed and contested? While Michel Foucault’s conceptual distinction between sovereign force and biopolitical control may be useful, these two forms of state power and resistance to them, frequently seem to travel together. How should abolitionists and feminists think about state power in our post-Dobbs, post-2020 conjuncture? And what can they learn from each other as they meet this moment?

Organized by Daniel Epstein, Kit Ginzky, and Helen Galvin Ross and 3CT with support from the Center for the Study of Gender and Sexuality at the University of Chicago; the Center for the Study of Race, Politics, and Culture’s Reimagining the University: Race and Freedom Initiative; the Department of Race, Diaspora, and Indigeneity; the Department of Political Science; the Pozen Family Center for Human Rights; Human Rights Lab; the Institute on the Formation of Knowledge; University of Chicago Graduate Council; the Franke Institute for the Humanities; and International House Global Voices Program.