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Power over Life and Death: Feminism, Abolition, and the State

Friday, April 21, and Saturday, April 22, 2023

University of Chicago

Keynote panelists: Sarah Haley and Sophie Lewis

Two major events in the last few years have drawn renewed attention to ongoing crises in American life: the Supreme Court decision in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization, giving constitutional validation to patriarchal legal regimes of forced birth, and the murder of George Floyd by four members of the Minneapolis Police Department, dramatically illustrating the routine and often fatal violence that accompanies regimes of racialized policing. We’re interested in theorizing these events as more than just chronologically associated: how might we understand them together as vivid expressions of the state’s multivalent power over life and death? Indeed, these events are cast against the backdrop of the COVID-19 pandemic, in which the state simultaneously abandoned minority and working class populations in the service of private accumulation and naturalized a vision of the home as a particular site of production and reproduction.

Theorizing our present—and the past from which it emerges—therefore requires new attention to the power of the state over life and death and its consequences for feminist and abolitionist critique and struggle. Who lives, who dies? Who is compelled to produce life? Who is abandoned by the state, and who is killed? Who polices these boundaries, and how are they constructed and contested? While Michel Foucault’s conceptual distinction between sovereign force and biopolitical control may be useful, these two forms of state power and resistance to them, frequently seem to travel together. How should abolitionists and feminists think about state power in our post-Dobbs, post-2020 conjuncture? And what can they learn from each other as they meet this moment?

Schedule, speakers, and registration to be announced soon.

This event is free and open to the public, and registration is recommended. Please email us at  if you require any accommodations to enable your full participation.

Masks are strongly recommended for all 3CT events. For more information about the University of Chicago’s COVID precautions and guidelines, please visit UChicago Forward.