So, this week we’ve had some conceptual readings and this reflection was an attempt to ground them in some different ways. The main article I’m using here is Arturo Escobar’s “Culture sits in places: reflections on globalism and subaltern strategies of localization,” Political Geography, 2001.
Reflection 4, Jaymes Winell
“A Site for Resistance”
In considering the various understandings of concepts like “place,” “space,” “agent/agency,” and “structures,” the criminalization of identities and lifestyles and subsequent militarization/incarceration/deportation becomes all the more important to analyze closely and, in a multitude of methods, expose. Authors including Arturo Escobar (2001) have addressed how globalism has interacted with cultures and places. In spotlighting various movements resistance and/or autonomy building, the power of “localization” can be clearly seen. Escobar and others have written on how highlighting both “place” and the “culture” (both history and current manifestations) that exists there movements have found rally points for both theory construction and political action. After looking at what “localization” can and does mean for movements, I want to talk about resistance to the prison industrial complex and womens’ voices.
“PLACE”: “a particular location with some measure of groundedness (however, unstable), sense of boundaries (however, permeable), and connection to everyday life,” (p.140). While places and identities do have a reciprocally-reproducing relationship, identities are also “constructed, traversed by power, and never fixed,” (emphasis mine, p.140). Escobar argues that for those working at the intersection of environment, culture and development (consider environmental justice movements) place specificity enables a different reading of culture, economy, capitalism and modernism which is useful at a number of levels. For one, it is helpful in combating eurocentrism: Escobar discusses the lineages of thought that have resulted in, as he terms it, “a marginalization of place,” which include nineteenth and twentieth century European social thought, philosophy, political economy, anthropology, and theories globalization. Place-specificity and place-based analysis also work to combat “capitalcentrism,” wherein capitalism is the only form of economic imaginary. Because, as Escobar puts it, capital can have no sense of place, the radical underpinnings of localizing could give capitalism an identity crisis. Localizing involves prioritizing the daily practices of being, knowing and doing, which are much too complex for monetary assessment and thus have the power to complicate an analysis of a region which is only defined by its development on a road of modernization or its interaction with capital.
There is not the space in this reflection for delving into all of the implications for movements, but with the space remaining I wish to go deeper into these concepts in relation to the prison-industrial-complex: How do the “structures” and “agents” in prisons interact? Do we conceptualize prisons as place-based or as supra-place correctional facilities? How do networks of communities, and their inherent structures (think poverty, patriarchy, and white supremecy), interact outside of facilities and between “agents”? To be honest, these questions are rather huge and beyond the scope of my investigation. However, in the movement to analyze and antagonize the prison-industrial-complex, the use of narrative and real voices is increasingly crucial and powerful. Take for example just one project: “Women and Prison: A Site for Resistance makes visible women’s experiences in the criminal justice system. Documenting these stories is integral to this project of resistance.”1
With highlighting personal stories, a multitude of structures of oppression become evident: “The incarceration of women is linked to a multitude of interconnected issues facing poor women, drug-addicted women, women of color, lesbians, and women in prostitution, including interpersonal and state violence, poverty, racism, reproductive rights, homophobia, harassment, lack of quality healthcare, homelessness, and more.” I think that part of the reason that the highlighting of personal narratives is so powerful is because realizing someone is not just another number (perhaps, one of the 85% of women in prison who are mothers) but is a fully knowing-being-and-doing actor. Can we “localize” incarceration? Through the use of narrative? Through narratives we can see how the structures of the prison-industrial-complex work to limit personal agency. Of course the agency that incarcerated people have is still evident, but the profoundly inhuman elements are truly only visible through real people’s voices, coming from their place-based bodies and experiences of supra-place oppression. Humanizing oppression is a task for many movements – to highlight how people struggle against obstacles, find satisfaction and survival, and have agency.