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Prison Abolition for Realists

Wednesday, December 6, 2023 4:30pm to 6pm

3203 Southeast Woodstock Boulevard, Portland, Oregon 97202-8199

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Prison abolitionists are often accused of being unrealistic, naive, and even dangerous. I will argue that they actually offer us a more "realistic" understanding of the carceral state, and of both the importance and the difficulty of dismantling it, than more familiar liberal approaches.

Anna Terwiel is Assistant Professor in the Department of Political Science at Trinity College. Her research and teaching combine political theory with feminist theory, critical carceral studies, and medical humanities. She has published multiple peer-reviewed articles on the politics of punishment and abolition, ranging from debates over prison conditions (why do prisoners deserve air conditioning?) to feminist debates about the role of state punishment in the struggle against sexual and gender violence (when does feminism become "carceral"?).

Professor Terwiel is currently completing her book manuscript, Prison Abolition for Realists. The book counters common preconceptions of prison abolition as an idealistic, moral, or politically naive project, and argues that prison abolition fits in the realist political tradition. Through close readings of key abolitionist thinkers from Michel Foucault to Angela Davis, Prison Abolition for Realists identifies an agonistic democratic politics at the heart of abolition.

Professor Terwiel also co-directs Trinity's Prison Education Project (TPEP), which offers credit-bearing courses to people incarcerated at York Correctional Institution (the state's prison and jail for women and people assigned female at birth) and Hartford Correctional Center, the city's jail.

Before coming to Trinity, Professor Terwiel taught at Northwestern University, the Feinberg School of Medicine, and, with the Prison + Neighborhood Arts Project (PNAP), Stateville Correctional Center. In the classroom, she combines theory with case studies to help students explore the contemporary political stakes of theoretical texts. She encourages students to develop their own interpretations through writing and collaborative class discussion.

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