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Social Death

Racialized Rightlessness and the Criminalization of the Unprotected

Lisa Marie Cacho

Publication Year: 2012

Social Death tackles one of the core paradoxes of social justice struggles and scholarship—that the battle to end oppression shares the moral grammar that structures exploitation and sanctions state violence. Lisa Marie Cacho forcefully argues that the demands for personhood for those who, in  the eyes of society, have little value, depend on capitalist and heteropatriarchal measures of worth.

With poignant case studies, Cacho illustrates that our very understanding of personhood is premised upon the unchallenged devaluation of criminalized populations of color. Hence, the reliance of rights-based politics on notions of who is and is not a deserving member of society inadvertently replicates the logic that creates and normalizes states of social and literal death. Her understanding of inalienable rights and personhood provides us the much-needed comparative analytical and ethical tools to understand the racialized and nationalized tensions between racial groups. Driven by a radical, relentless critique, Social Death challenges us to imagine a heretofore “unthinkable” politics and ethics that do not rest on neoliberal arguments about worth, but rather emerge from the insurgent experiences of those negated persons who do not live by the norms that determine the productive, patriotic, law abiding, and family-oriented subject.

Published by: NYU Press


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Title Page, Copyright

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p. vii

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pp. ix-xii

This has been a difficult book for me to write, and because it was, I had to rely on many people during all its stages. While I claim all its flaws and shortcomings, the people I acknowledge in these pages helped me conceptualize and clarify all its best and most interesting parts. First and foremost, I would like to acknowledge Liz Gonzalez, my first-rate research assistant; I would ...

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Introduction: The Violence of Value

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pp. 1-33

Hurricane Katrina decimated the poorest, the brownest, and the blackest neighborhoods along the Gulf Coast in Louisiana, Alabama, Florida, and Mississippi. By almost all accounts, the people most devastated and the places most damaged were disproportionately black and impoverished. And while not all coverage was without sympathy, some articles’ portrayals of Katrina victims were disconcerting. ...

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1. White Entitlement and Other People’s Crimes

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pp. 35-60

High school teenagers Morgan Manduley, Bradley Davidofsky, Adam Ketsdever, Nicholas Fileccia, Steven DeBoer, and Kevin Williams (ages 15– 17) set out to “hunt” undocumented Mexican migrant workers on July 5, 2000. They cased an area near their homes in Rancho Peñasquitos, an affluent suburb of San Diego, California. They found Andres Roman Díaz (age 64) walking ...

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2. Beyond Ethical Obligation

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pp. 61-96

Oun Roo Chhay was ambushed by members of a gang that called itself the Local Asian Boyz (LAB) in the parking lot of his apartment building in the Rainer Valley neighborhood of Seattle, Washington. He was 20 years old when he was murdered. Four young adults were arrested for his murder; three were convicted. Kim Ho Ma, only a high school sophomore, was among those convicted. ...

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3. Grafting Terror onto Illegality

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pp. 97-113

... The post-9/11 moment asked Americans to risk their lives as well as others’ lives in a “new type of war” waged against the “evildoers” of the world. Although Bush intended for his audience to equate “evildoers” with “terrorists,” he did so with descriptors that could easily refer to gang members (“people who strike and hide”), undocumented immigrants (“people who ...

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4. Immigrant Rights versus Civil Rights

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pp. 115-145

In 2002, Elvira Arellano was arrested during a sweep of Chicago’s O’Hare International Airport for using a false Social Security number. Implemented after and in response to September 11, “Operation Tarmac” was designed to find and deport unauthorized airport workers. On the day she was ordered to report to immigration in 2006, she defied her deportation orders and took ...

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Conclusion: Racialized Hauntings of the Devalued Dead

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pp. 147-168

On March 24, 2000, my cousin Brandon Jesse Martinez died in a car accident in San Diego, California.1 He was nineteen. When Brandon was alive, he frustrated teachers, counselors, employers, and even his friends and family. He took drugs sometimes, drank sometimes, and sometimes slept all day. He liked low-rider car culture and Tupac Shakur. He was quick witted and ...


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pp. 169-212


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pp. 213-223

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About the Author

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p. 224

Lisa Marie Cacho is an associate professor of Latina/Latino Studies, Asian American Studies, Gender and Women’s Studies, and English at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. ...

E-ISBN-13: 9780814723777
E-ISBN-10: 0814723756

Page Count: 240
Publication Year: 2012

OCLC Number: 816075427
MUSE Marc Record: Download for Social Death

Research Areas


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Subject Headings

  • Immigrants -- Civil rights -- United States.
  • Minorities -- Civil rights -- United States.
  • Illegal aliens -- United States.
  • Marginality, Social -- United States.
  • Criminal liability -- United States.
  • Racism -- United States.
  • Illegality -- Social aspects -- United States.
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