What Freedom Is For: The Chicago School, Neoliberal Domination, and Abolitionist Insurgency

**Book Manuscript in Progress**

In What Freedom Is For: The Chicago School, Neoliberal Domination, and Abolitionist Insurgency, I argue that contemporary white supremacy in the United States is not a contingent aspect of political ideology and legal practice, but rather that it is built into the core of the neoliberal consensus that has come to characterize political thought and legal discourse across the U.S. political spectrum. I show how this mode of political thinking functions through contemporary notions of equality and freedom, embedding patriarchal, hetero-normative, and white supremacist practices into how those living in the United States are expected to experience freedom. Freedom under this neoliberal formation, to put it bluntly, is for some at the expense of others.

The project gives a critical genealogy of the “Chicago School” of neoliberal economic theory and, in particular, the idea of “human capital” that was developed and promoted by the economists Theodore Schultz and Gary Becker in the 1960s and 1970s. By tracing the historical and theoretical roots of human capital (and its related concepts of “living capital,” “human wealth,” and “population quality”), I show how neoliberal human capital theory purports to take “difference” seriously through its theory of productive consumption, but in fact, does little more than redeploy uncritical tropes of the universal subject, supposedly race and gender neutral. I diagnose the implicitly racist, sexist, and ablist structure of neoliberal economic thought (especially apparent in its accounts of policing, crime, and punishment) and demonstrate how a radical investment in political solidarity (modeled on Michel Foucault’s prison activism and current “queer” and abolitionist campaigns against prisons) can take both neoliberalism seriously and yet also produce spaces of ethical freedom within (and against) neoliberalism’s strictures.

Alongside this first genealogy of human capital theory, What Freedom Is For also traces this second critical history of radical projects of police and prison abolition, especially those which emerged in the wake of the black power movement and within the queer and trans liberation movements. These movements offer practices of freedom that counter and escape the flattening logic of neoliberal freedom. I turn to these movements to identify that such an ethical approach was and is already apparent in radical queer, trans*, and women-of-color- led abolitionist anti-prison projects in the United States since the late 1960s through to the present moment.

The accounts of solidarity and community accountability that have emerged from these perspectives focus rightly on the criminal punishment system in the United States (as both instruments and manifestations of white supremacy and hetero-patriarchy), offer concrete models of resistance, insurgency, and rebellion that academic and scholarly accounts have wrongly neglected for far too long, and question, resist, and ultimately destroy these white supremacist and hetero-patriarchal forms of “freedom.” What Freedom Is For reads these prison and police abolitionist movements to show us the other possibilities for living that have already been available to us, and which continue will to offer powerful critiques of what freedom can be, and what it can be for.

Tentative Chapter Outline:

Preface: What Freedom Is For (On the Irony of “Liberation”)

Ch. 1) What Method Is For (On Abolitionist Genealogy)

Ch. 2) What Human Capital Is For (On the Ideology of the Chicago School: Inequality and the End of Politics)

Ch. 3) What Eugenics Is For (On the Chicago School’s Racial Theory: Liberal Racism, Sexism, and Ablism)

Ch. 4) What Sexuality Is For (On Bodies That Matter: Police Abolition and Queer Uprising)

Ch. 5) What Prison Is For (On Bodies That Don’t Matter: Technologies of Elimination)

Ch. 6) What Democracy Is For (On Bodies Acting Together: Abolitionist Practices and Abolitionist Lives)

Ch. 7) What Abolition Is For (On Living Impossible Lives as Nobodies: Rejecting Liberal Subjectivity)

Coda: Who Is It All For? (On the Ethos of “Nothing about Us without Us”)