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  • Unsettling Archives:Cultures of Carceral States and Settler Logics
  • Christopher Perreira (bio)
Alien Capital: Asian Racialization and the Logic of Settler Colonial Capitalism. By Iyko Day. Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2016. 256 pages. $94.95 (cloth). $24.95 (paper).
City of Inmates: Conquest, Rebellion, and the Rise of Human Caging in Los Angeles, 1771–1965. By Kelly Lytle Hernández. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2017. 312 pages. $28.00 (cloth). $19.99 (e-book).
Slaves of the State: Black Incarceration from the Chain Gang to the Penitentiary. By Dennis Childs. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2015. 280 pages. $79.00 (cloth). $22.50 (paper).

In the opening of "Conquest and Incarceration," the brief introduction to City of Inmates: Conquest, Rebellion, and the Rise of Human Caging in Los Angeles, 1771–1965, Kelly Lytle Hernández begins with the statement: "Mass incarceration is mass elimination" (1). Signaling Patrick Wolfe's influential theory, which argues that settler societies are the structures built on the logic of Native elimination, the author invites reflection on what might be gained by bringing together, and potentially expanding the parameters of, both carceral studies and settler colonial studies. Lytle Hernández argues that, while twentieth-century historical accounts of incarceration have been generally focused on narrow analyses of race and labor, what remains underexamined are deeper engagements with indigeneity, immigration, the constructions of borders, and the impact of borderlands (2). A cultural history interested in expanding the frameworks for understanding mass incarceration, this book offers much for thinking through how to center social, cultural, and political forms of resistance in the archives—what Lytle Hernández calls "rebel archives." On their own, the books under review present important insights on how we might critically engage these topics. Dennis Childs's Slaves of the State: Black Incarceration from the Chain Gang to the Penitentiary, Iyko Day's Alien Capital: Asian Racialization and the Logic of Settler Colonial Capitalism, and Lytle Hernández's City of Inmates [End Page 327] do the work of expanding the histories of racialized criminality, capitalism, exclusion, and settler logics. Together they also offer models for comparative scholarship concerned with the as-yet unfolding logics of incarceration. While the content they cover moves across time and location, and while the tone, methods, and questions take up a specificity guided by their own theoretical and historical considerations, read together they raise questions about how those histories highlight the collisions of power and resistance, disappearance and representation, and the critical push against historical narrative across time, space, and bodies.

In Slaves of the State, Childs argues for a different entry point into studying black incarceration by focusing on what he describes as the temporally unfixed racial violence of neoslavery. In the introduction, "Inhuman Punishment: The (Un)dead Book of Chattel Carcerality," Childs frames the book as one that brings attention to a US legal system which operates as a gothic program of unhistorical transmutation. One of Childs's central claims is that incarcerated people have been, and continue to be, transformed by the US prison, from "living, nominally rights-bearing, human beings into 'slaves of the state'" (4). Indeed, the book's title comes from the Virginia Supreme Court case Ruffin v. Commonwealth (1871), in which Justice J. Christian declared that US law, in fact, maintained the power to "re-chattelize" and make prisoners "the slave of the State," managing person and property "'like that of a dead man'" (3). This calls attention to the entrenched "U.S. national fable" that narrates chattel slavery as contained within pre-1865 history—what Saidiya Hartman describes as the "grand narrative of Emancipation" that has structured the US national imaginary (3). The central concern of the book, then, becomes clear: How has the US judicial, legislative, and penal legal system disavowed chattel slavery and modern incarceration—and how has this disavowal been in operation as an uninterrupted continuum since its earliest formations on the slave ship? Descibing the legacy of chattel slavery as "one overarching, cross-fertilizing, and temporally unfixed network of racial and spatial terror," Childs builds on prison abolitionist thought to argue for understanding carceral institutions as part of a centuries-old project...


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