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CANCELLED - 4 Field Colloquium: "Cultivating Rage in the US Inner City: Hyper-Incarceration, Subsidized Pathology and the Moral Economy of Violence after Welfare"

Monday, February 2, 2015
5:00 AM
411 West Hall

Cancelled due to weather

For the five years we conducted participant-observation fieldwork on a drug corner in the segregated Puerto Rican inner city of Philadelphia, the blocks surrounding us have been subject to a spectacularly routinized whirlwind of shootings, stabbings and assaults.  The narcotics industry has filled the void left by deindustrialization, turning the city's former factory district into an open-air narcotics supermarket staffed at the entry level by young Puerto Ricans serving primarily poor white injectors. Entry-level employees and customers alike have become increasingly disabled, incarcerated, maimed or killed through a dynamic of embodied primitive accumulation that has emerged out of the uncoordinated nexus of global market forces, purposeful state repression and the unintended effects of an increasingly subordinated social service industry that mediates subsidies primarily through psychiatric diagnosis. Artificially high profit margins in both the free market and state services are sustained by coercion and the devastation of bodies and minds: 1) Addiction creates inelastic demand; 2) zero-tolerance policing raises drug prices by augmenting scarcity and supplies the captive and subjected bodies necessary for the parasitical carceral services industry; and 3) the absence of state-sanctioned legal recourse to regulate the narcotics industry rewards a moral economy of brutality that encourages drug lords to protect their monopoly of public space and open-air illegal markets. A habitus/subjectivity of rage, consequently, is multiply rewarded. On the street the ability to mobilize rage violently ensures success in the drug economy, and social solidarity within vulnerable families, but it also fills prisons. In clinics the same rage becomes the basis for access to a diagnostically-mediated minimal income for the no-longer-worthy poor. Simultaneously, the right hand of the state has exploded in size with massive investment in incarceration, while the left hand of the state--destabilized by the end of welfare entitlements in 1996--scrambles to find new subsidies for vulnerable individuals and to stabilize medical emergencies by diagnosing scarred bodies and vulnerable brains as proof of permanent cognitive disability requiring heavy medication funded by social security. The lifeline provided by this proliferation of psychiatric diagnoses expands legal pharmaceutical markets and opens up new secondary addiction markets for diverted prescription pills.

Phillipe Bourgois, University of Pennsylvania