Over the past four decades, the US prison population has risen tenfold, reaching 2.3 million people behind bars. At the same time, the number of people living in gated communities has risen to over 11 million households. What is the relationship between carceral enclosures designed to lock people in and suburban fortresses designed to lock people out? Building on Jonathan Simon’s account of “homeowner citizenship” as a form of political subjectivity that endorses ultimate sanctions such as capital punishment as a form of “homeowner’s insurance” against crime and falling property values, I argue that the gated community is the structural counterpart to the prison in a neoliberal carceral state. Levinas’ account of the ambivalence of dwelling—as both a site of possessive isolation and a site of hospitality—helps to articulate what is at stake in homeowner citizenship, beyond the spectre of stranger danger: namely, my own capacity for murderous violence, and my investment in this violence through the occupation of territory and the accumulation of private property. Given the degree to which such investments are incentivized and rewarded by the carceral state, the political condition for hospitality in the US today is the abolition of carceral enclosures through collective acts of putting the world in common.
Lisa Guenther is Associate Professor of Philosophy at Vanderbilt University. She is the author of Solitary Confinement: Social Death and its Afterlives, and co-editor of Death and Other Penalties: Philosophy in a Time of Mass Incarceration. She facilitates a discussion group with men on Tennessee's death row, called REACH Coalition.
Free and open to the public. If you are interested in attending Levinas Research Seminar papers or text sessions on Saturday 4/22 and Sunday 4/23, please be in touch with Jill Stauffer at email@example.com.
Organized by Jill Stauffer, Associate Professor, Peace, Justice and Human Rights, Haverford College.
Sponsored by the Levinas Research Seminar, the Hurford Center for the Arts and Humanities, and the Initiative in Ethical Engagement and Leadership.