Abolition Geography: Essays Towards Liberation (Paperback)
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The first collection of writings from one of the foremost contemporary critical thinkers on racism, geography and incarceration
Gathering together Ruth Wilson Gilmore’s work from over three decades, Abolition Geography presents her singular contribution to the politics of abolition as theorist, researcher, and organizer, offering scholars and activists ways of seeing and doing to help navigate our turbulent present.
Abolition Geography moves us away from explanations of mass incarceration and racist violence focused on uninterrupted histories of prejudice or the dull compulsion of neoliberal economics. Instead, Gilmore offers a geographical grasp of how contemporary racial capitalism operates through an “anti-state state” that answers crises with the organized abandonment of people and environments deemed surplus to requirement. Gilmore escapes one-dimensional conceptions of what liberation demands, who demands liberation, or what indeed is to be abolished. Drawing on the lessons of grassroots organizing and internationalist imaginaries, Abolition Geography undoes the identification of abolition with mere decarceration, and reminds us that freedom is not a mere principle but a place.
Edited with an introduction by Brenna Bhandar and Alberto Toscano.
About the Author
Ruth Wilson Gilmore is Professor of Earth & Environmental Sciences, and American Studies at the Graduate Center of the City University of New York, where she is also Director of the Center for Place, Culture, and Politics. She is the author of Golden Gulag: Prisons, Surplus, Crisis, and Opposition in Globalizing California. Honors include the American Studies Association Angela Y. Davis Award for Public Scholarship (2012); the Association of American Geographers' Harold Rose Award for Anti-Racist Research and Practice (2014); the SUNY-Purchase College Eugene V. Grant Distinguished Scholar Prize for Social and Environmental Justice (2015-16); and the American Studies Association Richard A Yarborough Mentorship Award (2017).
"Scholars like Ruthie Gilmore, filmmakers like Ava Duvernay, and formerly incarcerated people like Glenn Martin have all done work to expose the many injustices of the industry of our prison system."
"Ruth Gilmore lays bare the diabolical logic of neoliberal incarceration. She shows us that the prison is a symptom of the decline of our civilization, how the California Nightmare has produced its disposable population. Gilmore's depressingly hopeful analysis is a wake-up call for our somnolence."
—Vijay Prashad, author of Keeping Up with the Dow Joneses: Debt, Prison, Workfare
"Ruth Gilmore, indefatigable activist-scholar, is one of our most dangerous and important minds. A radical geographer with roots in the Black liberation movement of the 1960s and 1970s, she pioneered the study of mass incarceration's catastrophic impacts on inner-city families and neighborhoods, and together with Angela Davis has played a catalytic role in the creation of today's movement for prison abolition. This powerful collection of essays is an indispensable conceptual armory for that struggle."
"Ruthie's clarity and courage is a talisman for these monstrous times, and a guide out of them."
—Vijay Prashad, director, Tricontinental: Institute for Social Research.
"Abolition Geography isn't shallow romanticism. It is a rigorous criticism of capitalist social relations, which foment premature death and needless suffering of the poor and destroy the planet. Abolition geography is a human necessity for there to be freedom and a livable earth. Ruth Wilson Gilmore, one of the foremost revolutionary thinkers on abolition, draws on real historical traditions of getting free, showing us what is possible and necessary."
—Nick Estes, author of Our History is the Future
"This well-crafted assemblage of thirty years worth of Ruthie Gilmore's countless, brilliant interventions is a tremendous gift to our movements. While tending to grounded practices and particularities, Ruthie's meticulous mapping of interconnected histories offers us prescient analyses across scale, geography, and time. At a time of incredible uncertainty and global upheaval, Abolition Geography illuminates a political vocabulary and vision that reorganizes even conventional left ideologies; a tour de force and absolute must read for our collective trajectories of freedom making as world making."
—Harsha Walia, author of Border and Rule and Undoing Border Imperialism
"The leaderly wisdom of Ruth Wilson Gilmore infuses this hefty volume, making it an indispensible compendium of practical abolitionism. In her hands, reducing police powers and dismantling the prison industrial complex become immediate matters of political struggle. If you want to come to terms with the movement that shaped the "American Summer" of 2020, this is the best available starting point."
—Paul Gilroy, author of The Black Atlantic
"Ruth Wilson Gilmore is one of the most impactful radical thinkers of our time. This compilation of thirty years’ worth of essays, interviews, and co-written reflections, is evidence of the depth and breadth of her extraordinary political praxis. Powerful, provocative, inspiring and inciting, this edited collection offers a formidable indictment of racial capitalism and the carceral state, a deep, complex and multi-faceted portrait of abolitionist work, and a call to action. Readers concerned with freedom-making and liberation will read this brilliant body of work carefully and act decisively."
—Barbara Ransby, activist, historian and author of several books, including Making All Black Lives Matter and Ella Baker and the Black Freedom Movement.
"Abolition Geography is a collection of three decades of Ruth Wilson's Gilmore's brilliance in the form of essays and interviews on the politics of abolition as a theorist, researcher and organizer. The result is a precious gift that will be read, studied and cherished for years to come by those of us who believe her when she says to be green we must be red, and to be red our world building must be planetary."
—Leanne Betasamosake Simpson, author of Noopiming: The Cure for White Ladies
"An essential collection of writings from one of the most important thinkers on abolition, geography and racism of our time."
—Karla J. Strand, Ms.Magazine
"Abolition Geography is the first collection of writing by this major thinker, activist, and writer in the fields of racism, geography, and incarceration. The book includes essays, articles, and interviews from the last two decades, covering topics such as the origin of mass incarceration and racial violence and the concept of the ‘anti-state state’."
"Anyone with an interest in the critical theory of mass incarceration and social justice can’t miss this first-ever compendium of writing by one of the most brilliant and radical minds in the field. [An] impactful guidebook for a whole new generation looking to join the movement."
—The Chicago Review of Books
"For over three decades, Gilmore's work has been crucial to the study of policing and prison abolition...Her newest anthology, Abolition Geography: Essays Towards Liberation, includes essays on policing, capitalism and organizing [that] are more critical than ever two years after the largest street mobilization in decades. Expertly assembled by scholars Brenna Bhandar and Alberto Toscano, the anthology reproduces Gilmore's essays chronologically from 1991 to 2018. The only way to escape the cycles of police violence, protest and retrenchment will be to collectively build popular, abolitionist frameworks for relating to each other. Gilmore's work helps us move toward that goal."
—Andreas Petrossiants, AJ+
"A geographer by training, Gilmore has a sweeping understanding of prisons and policing, one that approaches the issue at scale… If you haven’t read her yet, it’s a good year to start."
—Lexi McMenamin, Teen Vogue
"A scathing exploration of global systems of oppression through a lens of geography, in which [Gilmore] asserts that freedom and liberation are a physical, tangible place - they’re material conditions, not platitudes and niceties from ultra-rich politicians."
—Kylie Cheung, Jezebel
"Introduced by a stimulating essay by Brenna Bhandar and Alberto Toscano, [Abolition Geography] ranges from theoretical chapters originally published in academic journals to public speeches and interviews conducted with other scholars. This anthology format allows the reader to see how Gilmore introduces, experiments with and then develops ideas in real time, taking us from the 1992 Los Angeles riots to the 2021 neo-fascist attack on the US Capitol building."
—Christopher McMichael, New Frame
"Gilmore is clear as a bell: potent and factual on injustice, filled with sharp intelligence and even wit, but also somehow continuously surprising and emotional. With every page, Gilmore forces us to think of race, class, prisons, and the world in entirely new ways."
—Kamil Ahsan, NPR
"Gilmore's work is enlightening and informative, a must-read for scholars and activists seeking a complex and interdisciplinary deep dive to effectively drive systemic change...Anyone committed to prison reform and social justice has much to learn from Gilmore’s insights about the cognitive work and tactical organizing required to imagine and build an abolitionist future."
—Maileen Hamto, Seattle Book Review
"Gilmore's prose is descriptive and direct; it describes a society whose economy has failed too many of its members and whose only solution is to create a police state."
—Ron Jacobs, Counterpunch
"More than explaining or urging any single scalar change in social life, the purpose of Abolition Geography is to develop the ability of its readers to study the transformations of racial capitalism, figure out what to do about them, and follow through with enough patience to withstand the enormity of the task and enough urgency to get it done...Abolition Geography is written to be used."
—Kay Gabriel, Dissent
"As Gilmore always reminds us, theory is a guide for action. This volume is a call to get on with the practice of getting free together."
—Orlando R. Serrano, Jr., Smithsonian Magazine, Best Books of 2022
"Notable book, 2022"
"[Abolition Geography] is only the latest generous and supportive gift from Gilmore to liberation-minded abolitionist movements. This gift seems to be written as a call, an invitation to act and do...Abolition Geography contains fire, grit, and hope as well."
—Brit Schulte, The Avery Review
"Gilmore highlights the role of social justice unionism and the ideological work of recognizing the continuum of exploitation and oppression and imperialism. Understanding the prison and policing system enables us to see how racist oppression and worker exploitation function to try to resolve the crisis of capitalism. Our people, our class, and our communities are the victims."