Empire’s Classrooms

Care, Violence, and Curricula in the Carceral Spaces of America’s Long War

I’m getting pretty excited for this year’s AAGs. I’ll be giving a paper in a two-session series organized by Brittany Meché and Emma Crane called The Long Wars: Mapping Liberal Empire through the War on Drugs and the War on Terror (Session I; Session II). The organizers look to have pulled together a really interesting discussion, and the set of papers/topics all seem fantastic. The work I’ll be presenting is (mostly) new, but in working on it recently I’ve started to think that there’s possibly an article in the material. Now I just need to figure out how to tell the story in only 20 minutes!

Here’s my abstract:

A decade ago, populations in US-managed military detention facilities across Iraq and Afghanistan spiked as coalition forces intensified martial activity in the War on Terror. As numbers escalated, and in the wake of earlier prisoner abuse and torture scandals throughout their military detention archipelago, the US sought to transform both the image of camp facilities and how they functioned as key spatial instruments of global warfare. One of the ways that this shift manifested within the camps was an increased investment in prisoner education and vocational training programs. These wartime carceral curricula were built on Cold War antecedents that sought to draw together the objectives of military strategic necessity with a logic of humanitarian care enshrined in international law. They also relied on lessons learned in the wars on crime and drugs, which themselves had been workshopped in the military prisons of World War II, Korea, and Vietnam.

In this paper, I foreground the implementation of these prisoner education programs in the diverse militarized detention spaces of what historian Nikhil Pal Singh has called America’s Long War. These curricular endeavors highlight the complicated imbrications between care and violence, domestic and foreign, and practices of racialized exclusion and universalizing inclusion that lay at the heart of wartime carceral geography. Rather than approach military detention facilities solely as tools of wartime spatial management, I highlight their position as key sites of wartime labor and knowledge production that enroll soldiers, detainees, and academic communities alike in the process of liberal subject formation.