Thomas Dichter

Andrew W. Mellon Graduate Fellow in the Humanities

20132014 Forum on Violence

Thomas Dichter


Race and the Rhetoric of Carceral Violence: A Genealogy of Imprisonment in North America

While racial domination has deeply influenced the history of incarceration in North America, imprisonment has also played an under-examined role in the making of race. Examining late nineteenth- through mid-twentieth-century writing about incarceration (from novels and autobiography to sociological studies and legal rulings), this project investigates the ways in which criminality, captivity and public safety were imagined throughout this period. What these texts reveal, I argue, is not merely the development of racial stereotypes about criminals, but the emergence of a lasting cultural logic—one that has normalized certain relationships between racial identities and legitimate state violence. Through diverse depictions of imprisonment and punishment, the writers in my archive helped establish a rhetoric of carceral violence that remains with us today.