Confining the Demos: Incarceration in Democratic Political Thought
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Is imprisonment democratic? On the one hand, incarceration is a space of democratic inequality. Disenfranchised from voting, left off juries, and restricted in speech, the prisoner is excluded from the democratic community. On the other hand, incarceration has a long association with democratic self-rule, a place where the demos (or people) have condemned the guilty and strived to reform the redeemable. By turning to accounts of incarceration and democracy in Plato, Alexis de Tocqueville, W.E.B. Du Bois, and Angela Y. Davis, I analyze the prison as both a site of democratic inequality and constitutive of democratic politics. This dissertation reconstructs the long history of incarceration in democratic political thought, showing how the prison has been thought to instantiate democracy (Plato) and enhance democratic citizenship (Tocqueville), yet also criticized as violating norms of political equality (Du Bois) and political freedom (Davis) latent in democratic self-rule. I argue that this paradoxical relationship raises broader questions about the meaning of democracy and the future of incarceration in democratic politics.
Alexis de Tocqueville
Angela Y. Davis
W.E.B. Du Bois
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