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Dissertation/Thesis Abstract

The lives of race and destiny: The drug war, nothingness, and the cultural violence of neoliberalism in the crack landscape
by Kolb, Christopher, Ph.D., The Johns Hopkins University, 2009, 367; 3395661
Abstract (Summary)

Based on two years of ethnographic research in Cincinnati, Ohio, this dissertation argues that the mass incarceration policies of the War on Drugs and the shift to the neoliberal model of society in the United States are forms of "cultural violence" that have entailed excess-generating expenditures of life, especially in the African American community, that have become key elements in the conservative counterrevolution that has defined the post-civil rights era of American society. These dynamics have come together to produce "the crack landscape" as a regular feature of American geography and socio-political life.

For those inhabiting a landscape dominated by the crack trade, homelessness, violence, and entrenched racial isolation, life itself is routinely experienced as an open question, and being alive as an oneric possibility rather than a self-evident certainty. A racially-saturated public morality bound up with the neoliberal disdain for social spending and the promotion of incarceration as a cure-all social policy further erodes the tenuous attachment to life. Ethnographic findings have disclosed how "nothingness" envelops one's relation to the world in these circumstances, not only as an existential concept through which life struggles to emerge but also as a binding socio-political force. This nothingness is thus, as with W. E. B. Du Bois's notion of "double consciousness," an intimate, originary bridging of the personal and the political that stands as the simultaneous possibility and failure of national belonging. This dissertation shows how racism derives its vitality from this particular union of the personal and the political.

In so doing, I argue that neoliberal capitalism - the apotheosis of market-based individualist philosophy - is itself a "sociality of nothingness" that negates the institutional dimensions of social life, including stratification, in purporting to offer a way of bringing a metaphysical ordering of the proper into concrete life. Thus, I investigate capitalism as a form of secular theology intimately bound up with the biopolitical form of the modern state. In this, I argue that racial thought plays a central role and thus remains an issue fundamental for understanding modern life.

Indexing (document details)
Advisor: Guyer, Jane, Haeri, Niloofar
School: The Johns Hopkins University
School Location: United States -- Maryland
Source: DAI-A 71/01, Dissertation Abstracts International
Subjects: African American Studies, Black studies, Cultural anthropology, Law, Criminology
Keywords: Biopolitics, Cincinnati, Ohio, Crack addiction, Crack cocaine, Cultural violence, Ohio, Racism, War on Drugs
Publication Number: 3395661
ISBN: 978-1-109-58536-0
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