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.

Capturing the Forgotten War

Carceral Spaces and Colonial Legacies in Cold War Korea

Currently in press at The Journal of Historical Geography.

In this paper, I offer a detailed examination of the spaces and practices of detainment used by the United States military and its proxies between 1945 and the armistice that produced a so-called ‘end’ of the Korean War in 1953. Avoiding the reductive trappings of the Cold War binary, which positions this ‘long peace’ as a byproduct of two territorial powers struggling for geopolitical control, my chief objective is to explore how the use of carceral infrastructures on the peninsula demonstrates the abundant connections between the brutal imperialism of the Japanese regime, the US military government which ostensibly sought to liberate people from colonial oppression, and the violent police action meant to contain the ‘expansive tendencies’ of the Communists.

I first position this paper relative to geographic scholarship on prisons, focusing on the important links between carceral spaces and state border-making practices. Next, I place the border-making capacities of carceral spaces into conversation with the complexities of empire by briefly describing the Korean prison assemblage under Japanese colonial rule. I then argue that key aspects of the Cold War carceral infrastructure overseen by the US in the wake of World War II are protractions of the often-ruthless violence of Japan’s colonial prison system. In the paper’s final two sections I outline the prison systems of the U.S military occupation of southern Korea and the subsequent landscape of detention during the Korean War. Though frequently overlooked, I demonstrate here that spaces of military detainment are important contact zones where the racial and the imperial collide, offering historical geographers a suite of crucial sites through which to push back against the Cold War’s simplified binary rhetoric.

Photo: Handmade weapons (includes flails, hatchets, and knives) captured at the UN EPW Camp, Koje Do, March 5, 1952.

A Review of Rightlessness

I wrote a review of A. Naomi Paik’s fantastic book Rightlessness: Testimony and Redress in U.S. Prison Camps since World War II:

“The U.S. state often uses the declaration that “we are a nation of laws” as a pretext for the its increased reliance on rights suppression, expulsion, and carceral power (c.f. Trump, 2017). Whether in reference to the expansion of strategies for the apprehension and detention of migrants, the intensification of racialized urban policing tactics, or the torture of so-called unlawful enemy combatants, the specter of law paradoxically works to rationalize the removal of legal protections from targeted populations.”

Read more…

Manifesto for a Sustainable Future

At the end of our last classroom meeting, the students in Environmental Geography worked in small groups to imagine a future in which our lives are not beholden to the extraction and incineration of eons-old subterranean hydrocarbons.

Informed by a semester-long exploration into the histories of our shared present, and banged out in a day, this is our draft manifesto for a more sustainable future. I have to say, I’m pretty proud of these kids:

Read More

Urban Geography

Geography 2600 - Fall 2018

Happy to be teaching urban geography again. I’ve revised the syllabus a great deal since the last time I taught it–this time with an increased focus gender, race, and geographic inclusivity.

Read More

Environmental Geography

Geography 2700 - Fall 2017

Another new class is in the books. This was a fun one to teach and the students brought a lot of really interesting perspectives to the discussions. Hopefully I can run it again soon.

Read More

History of Architecture

History / Geography 2552 - Spring 2019

I’m pretty excited to link my past life as an architect with my present life as a historical and political geographer this spring in teaching a global history of architecture and architectural theory. It’s going to be fun!

More to come…

Read More

Against the Sublime

I really enjoyed the interview with Joe Masco from the most recent Cultures of Energy podcast. The pod is always good–funny and light but also rigorous and thought-provoking. I recommend. Anyway, towards the end of this episode, the conversation shifted to a discussion about the role that certain images played in producing the logics of national security in the Cold War, and the perils of repeating those practices as the security/insecurity narratives shift to address global climate change. The hosts Dominic Boyer and Cymene Howe toyed with the idea of t-shirts imploring the population to resist both the nuclear and the climate sublime.

After a long day teaching with a beast of a head cold, I didn’t want to grade. So, randomly, I made these. I don’t think they’re ominous enough, nor do they get at the intensity of these sublimes, but they still allowed me to feel productive while I watched a basketball game.

Resist

#Resist!