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DemPrac2024 — The Carceral City and Its Abolition

The 5th Democratic Practices PhD Seminar on “The Carceral City and Its Abolition” takes place 25-28 June 2024 in Stockholm, Sweden. You will meet Andrés Henao Castro, Ashley Bohrer, and Henrik Ernstson as teachers and organisers in collaboration with KTH Royal Institute of Technology and co-hosted by its Environmental Science Department (aka SEED) and KTH Environmental Humanities Laboratory. 

PhD students, interested Master students, and junior scholars were encouraged to apply with and early deadline on 21 February 2024 and late deadline 13 March 2024. Participants have now been notified (15 March 2024). Below follows the reading list and schedule; participants will receive an email with links to the readings.


A 4-day PhD Intensive Reading Seminar

Democratic Practices: 


25-28 June 2024

at KTH in Stockholm, Sweden




Henrik Ernstson, Ashley Bohrer and Andrés Fabián Henao Castro

Produced by

The Situated Ecologies Platform

in collaboration with

KTH Royal Institute of Technology

KTH Environmental Humanities Laboratory & Environmental Science Department at KTH (aka SEED)



What is the historical relationship of confinement to capitalism? How does modern colonization both invent and modify technologies of confinement in ways that useful to capitalist logics of accumulation? What forms confinement takes with the development of the modern city, and how are technologies of confinement contested by the subjects it targets? What exactly is abolition, and how do we imagine a city and society free of prisons, police, and borders? How can we represent confinement, its violence, the plurality of its logics, but also the form that resistance to it takes? These, and many other questions are the main objective of this seminar to explore. “The Carceral City and its Abolition” is our fifth international seminar and part of our long-standing effort to put political philosophy, critical geography, urban studies, critical theory, and film in interdisciplinary conversation with each other, for us to address structural problems that shape democratic practices in the present and with a focus on the global south.

Venue: Seminar room on the ground floor of Teknikringen 10B, Environmental Science Department building (aka SEED), KTH Royal Institute of Technology, Stockholm, Sweden.

First meet-up: Tuesday 25 June 2024 at 09:00 am. You will find posters at Teknikringen 10B guiding you to the correct seminar room.

Schedule [SLIGHT UPDATES]: Seminars 9-13:30 with a first seminar session at 09:00-11:00 and a second session 12:00-13:30. Film forum 15-18 where we will screen films at KTH but possibly also at a different venue in the city. One of the nights, we will organise a simple collective dinner.

Free of charge: The seminar is *free* of charge. However, any other costs including travel, accommodation, and food, must be covered by each participant.

Travel bursaries: We have unfortunately *no* travel bursaries this year.

Visa and travel: Please contact us if well in advance if you need a letter for your visa application. Please draft the letter so that it contains all that is required to facilitate our work since we have no additional support in organising this seminar.

Accommodation and getting around

To find accommodation in Stockholm, there are some good hostels around. You will find a list of hostels here with prices from €20 to €50 per night depending on shared or single/double rooms. We recommend Långholmen hostel (a building that once, incidentially, hosted a prison), Zinkensdamm hostel, Den röda båten (where you live on a boat); or Skanstull hostel. The closest to KTH would be City Backpackers. All of these hostels lies centrally in Stockholm and you will easily access KTH and other possible seminar venues within 15-25 minutes using public transport. Public transport costs €4 for single tickets, but it would probably be best to by a 7-day card that costs €40 (note that prices might change). All public transport tickets are valid on buses, trains, and trams. You buy tickets in the subway stations and for single tickets you can also “blip” your normal credit card at the turnstile. For any emergencies, call as usual 112.

Detailed schedule with readings and films

(Reading list as per email sent out by HE on 10 April 2024. /HE)

Day 1: Confinement and Capitalism [Tuesday]

Through a discussion of Karl Marx, Michel Foucault, and Ruth Wilson Gilmore’s work, we will investigate the relationship of confinement to capitalism, understood historically and intersectionally. The idea of this session is to: first, introduce the seminar and give us its history; and second, start to sketch the idea of the carceral city as a feature of capitalism. 

During the first session of the seminar, we will introduce the seminar series and its history, and we will explain why we turn to the carceral city today. We will also do introductions of all the organizers and participants and hopefully have an opportunity to explain what are we all currently working on and how it relates to a critique of confinement. The evening film will bring the historical analysis to our contemporary moment by situating it in a concrete location, but the idea is precisely to watch the film with the readings in mind in order to have a film forum afterwards.


  • Karl Marx. [1867] 1993. Capital: A Critique of Political Economy, Volume 1. New York: Penguin. [AB]
    • Part 8: Primitive Accumulation, Chapter 27 “Expropriation of the Agricultural Population From the Land” (pp. 510-521).
  • Michel Foucault. [1975]. 1995. Discipline and Punish: The Birth of the Prison. New York: Vintage. [AFHC]
    • Part 3: Discipline, Chapter 3 “Panopticism” (p. 195-230); 
    • Part 4: Prison, Chapter 3 “The carceral” (p. 293-308).
  • Ruth Wilson Gilmore. 2007. Golden Gulag: Prison, Surplus, Crisis and Opposition in Globalizing California. Berkeley: University of California Press. [HE]
    • Chapter 1 Introduction (pp. 5-29); 
    • Chapter 3 Prison Fix (pp. 87-127).

Evening Film:

Ava DuVerney’s 13th (2016)

Discussion will follow the film.

Day 2: Confinement and Colonialism [Wednesday]

Our discussion of the carceral city will continue through an analysis of the relationship of confinement to colonialism. We will explore the different forms that confinement takes, from congregation to segregation, inclusive of redlining and gentrification, as they differentially affect the city and generate both displacement and concentration. 

During the first session of the seminar, we will introduce the first two readings, while making connections between them and the readings that we discussed during our first day. Then, we will have a discussion before the break. During the second session we will discuss the other two readings and follow the same methodology. With this film, we expect not only to start shifting our discussion from historical representation to aesthetic considerations, but also to political strategy, as part of the forum.


  • Daniel Nemser. 2017. Infrastructures of Race: Concentration and Biopolitics in Colonial Mexico. Austin: University of Texas Press. [AFHC]
    • Introduction: Before the Camp (pp. 1-23); and
    • Chapter 1 “Congregation: Urbanisation and the Construction of the Indian” (pp. 25-64).
  • Keeanga-Yamahtta Taylor. 2019. Race for Profit: How Banks and the Real Estate Industry Undermined Black Ownership. Chapel Hill: The University of North Carolina Press. [AB]
    • Introduction “Homeowner’s Business” (1-24); and 
    • Chapter 6 “The Urban Crisis Is Over: Long Live the Urban Crisis!” (211-252). 
  • Peris S. Jones, Wangui Kimari, and Kavita Ramakrishnan. 2017. ‘“Only the People Can Defend This Struggle’: The Politics of the Everyday, Extrajudicial Executions and Civil Society in Mathare, Kenya.” Review of African Political Economy 44 (154): 559–76. [HE]
  • Premesh Lalu. 2022. Undoing Apartheid. Cambridge: Polity. [HE]
      • Chapter 6 “The Double Futures of Post-Apartheid Freedom” (pp. 162-191). 

Extended readings

  • AbdouMaliq Simone. 2022. The Surrounds: Urban Life within and beyond Capture. Durham: Duke University Press.
    • Introduction “Exposing the Surrounds as Urban Infrastructure” (p. 1-19)

Evening Film:

Sergio Cabrera’s “The Strategy of the Snail.” (1993)

Discussion will follow the film.

We will also organise a collective seminar dinner.

Day 3: Extreme Confinement [Thursday]

This day will have a double focus. On the one hand, we will analyze the most extreme forms that confinement takes, by studying the case of solitary confinement and that of Gaza as an open-air prison. On the other hand, we will focus on the relation of captivity to gender policing. 

During the first session we will introduce the readings and open-up the space for discussion. The second session will have two parts. During the first half of the second session, we will finish discussing the readings that we were not able to cover during the first session. During the second half, participants will have a chance to present their research to their peers. The film session will continue both with our analysis of aesthetic form and political resistance, this time in relation to forms of counter-acting and re-narrating the most radical forms of confinement.   


  • Lisa Guenther. 2013. Solitary Confinement: Social Death and Its Afterlives. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press. [AFHC]
    • Chapter 7 “Supermax Confinement and The Exhaustion of Space” (pp. 161-194)
  • Joy James (editor). 2005. The New Abolitionists: (Neo)Slave Narratives and Contemporary Prison Writings. New York: SUNY Press. [AFHC]
    • Chapter 8 by Assata Shakur, “Women in Prison: How We Are 1978” (pp. 77-90), 
  • Jasbir Puar. 2017. Terrorist Assemblages: Homonationalism in Queer Times. Durham: Duke University Press. 
    • Chapter 2 “Abu ghraib and U.S. sexual exception” (pp. 79-113). [AFHC]
  • Gary Fields. 2020. “Lockdown: Gaza through a Camera Lens and Historical Mirror.” Journal of Palestine Studies 49 (3): 41-69. [AB]

Evening Film:

Steve McQueen’s “Hunger” (2019).

Discussion of the film will follow.

Steve McQueen's Hunger Poster Finally Revealed |



Day 4: The Politics of Abolition [Friday]

On the last day we turn our attention to the politics of abolition and the ways in which it allows us to rethink anti-capitalist and anti-colonial forms of emancipation in international and intersectional ways. On this day, we would like to collectively imagine what would it look like to live in a world free of prisons, police institutions, borders, states, and other technologies seeking to confine life. 

During the first session we expect to introduce all the readings and open-up their discussion. During the second session we will engage in a collective imagining of an abolitionist city. Before the end of the second session, participants will have an opportunity to evaluate the seminar and give anonymous feedback to the organizers for the possible improvement of the seminar in a future iteration. The last film will be entirely devoted to political strategy. 

  • Angela Davis, Gina Dent, Erica Meiners and Beth Richie. 2022. Abolition. Feminism. Now. Chicago: Haymarket. (pp. 29-76) [AB]
  • Gracie Mae Bradley and Luke de Noronha. 2022. Against Borders: The Case for Abolition. Verso: London. [AFHC]
    • Chapter 8 “Abolition” (pp. 147-162).
  • Ruth Wilson Gilmore. 2022. Abolition Geography. London: Verso. [HE]
    • Chapter 1 “What Is To Be Done?” (pp. 25-50);
    • Chapter 16 “You Have Dislodged a Boulder: Mothers and Prisoners in the Post-Keynesian California Landscape” (pp. 355-409); 
  • Nik Heynen. 2018. “Uneven Racial Development and the Abolition Ecology of the City.” In Urban Political Ecology in the Anthropo-Obscene, edited by Henrik Ernstson and Erik Swyngedouw, pp. 111–28. Routledge. [HE]

Evening Film:

Alex Rivera’s “The Infiltrators.” (2019)

Discussion of the film will follow.

We will also suggest a place to go and have a drink together.

Short on the organizers

Andrés Fabián Henao Castro is an Associate Professor of Political Science at the University of Massachusetts Boston. He has been Post-Doctoral Fellow of the Academy of Global Humanities and Critical Theory at the University of Bologna/Duke University (2018-2020), and a Karl Lowenstein Fellow at Amherst College (2014). His research seeks to rethink the relationship between politics and aesthetics in relation to gender-differentiated colonial logics of capitalist accumulation. He has published two monographs, Antigone in the Americas: Democracy, Sexuality, and Death in the Settler Colonial Present (SUNY Press, 2021) and The Militant Intellect: Critical Theory’s Conceptual Personae (Rowman, 2022). To the seminar he brings his keen and long experience of Marxism, ancient and contemporary political theory, and the literary and performative arts as radical democratic practice.

Ashley J. Bohrer is Assistant Professor of Gender and Peace Studies at the University of Notre Dame and cohosts the Pedagogies for Peace Podcast. She is the author Marxism and Intersectionality: Race, Gender, Class and Sexuality under Contemporary Capitalism (2021, Transcript) and devotes much of her time to social movements for intersectional and anti-capitalist liberation. To the seminar she brings core insights into intersectional feminism, Marxism and decolonial thinking. She joined Henrik and Andrés in 2017 to further develop the seminar’s teaching and curriculum.

Henrik Ernstson is Professor and Docent in Political Ecology at KTH R!oyal Institute of Technology in Stockholm, Honorary Senior Researcher in Human Geography at The University of Manchester and Honorary Associate Professor at the African Centre for Cities at University of Cape Town. He has previously held lectureship positions at the universities of Manchester and Cape Town and was Postdoctoral Fellow at Stanford University. He has co-edited the two books Grounding Urban Natures: Histories and Futures of Urban Ecologies (2019, MIT Press) and Urban Political Ecology in the Anthropo-obscene (Routledge, 2019) and with Jacob von Heland, premiered two cinematic ethnographic films on the politics of knowing and owning in postcolonial cities, One Table Two Elephants (CPH:DOX Copenhagen, 2018, 84 minutes) and The Lindeka: When a City Ate a Book (SVA AAA Toronto, 2023, 66 minutes). He co-directs The Situated Ecologies Platform and the Situated Urban Political Ecology Collective and the PhD Seminar on Democratic Practices was developed based on funds from his various research projects. To the seminar, he brings his long interdisciplinary experience of intersecting political ecology, postcolonial urbanism, radical democratic theory and ethnographic practices. 


Ideas on active reading and taking notes that can serve to prepare for the seminar

A) “The modified Wacquant method: 1-2-1”

This assures that all coming to a seminar is bringing materials from the texts and can refer back to the pages of the texts where they have found interesting passages and points. This creates a reading seminar focusing on the texts. The method is first based on active reading (see below) and then the following tasks:

  • Choose 1 core quote that you think captures a significant idea of the article. Write the quote down and the page number so you can reference it in the seminar. Write down why you think it captures a significant idea.
  • Formulate 2 reflective questions. These are questions about a concept or a passage that you thought was highly interesting, or that you didn’t understand. Write down your question with reference to the page.
  • Formulate 1 critical question that addresses or critiques the foundation of the article. This should be a question that reveals the assumption the author is using (the ground on which they stand when they write). This might be difficult so don’t despair if you cannot find one, but try!

Of course, this is only a suggestion.

B) Active reading and taking notes and highlights – then summing these up with your own words

The following is written for when you read articles, but you can adapt it as you see fit to our seminar that is more using chapters from books. For instance, while we are not reading full books, it is worth checking out if you can find reviews of the whole book. If you don’t know about the author, see if you can find information pages about the author on Wikipedia or elsewhere to read up about the author and their work. This will also help to grasp the texts we have assigned.

1: Examine the article for its audience 

Peer-reviewed academic journals are intended for scholars in that field. The author may reference other scholarly works assuming that you’ve read them, or they may cite facts or events that you haven’t learned about. If you encounter these elements, notice them, but try to keep moving through the article – sometimes you can keep moving without looking everything up. Also remember that if you are not the primary audience, you may not enjoy the writing style – so a little perseverance may be necessary!

2: Think about why your lecturer assigned this reading

You may not be the author’s intended audience, but understanding the reason you’ve been asked to read the article can help you stay engaged and read with purpose. What subject will this article prepare you discuss? How does this article fit into the main questions or topics of the course? What will the instructor ask you to do with the knowledge you gain from the article?

3: Skim strategically to identify the main argument or idea in the text 

Before you read the text from beginning to end, skim it strategically to locate the author’s main purpose and argument. Having the author’s purpose and main argument in mind can help you read and interpret the rest of the text. These are sections where you find out about the purpose and main point:

  • The Abstract: The abstract is an “executive summary” and when you read it, try to identify the text’s purpose, the main problem or question it answers, what its main findings are, and why readers should care. Abstracts are densely written – do not despair if you must re-read them. It is worth researching the terms in the abstract if you do not understand them.
  • The Introduction: This is a real gem: the introduction of an article often provides clear statements about the article’s purpose, the question it answers, and its main point.
  • Conclusion: Pay close attention here, even if you assume the conclusion might be repetitive. The author may re-phrase a key point in a way that makes it clearer to you. This may also be the only place in the paper where the author discusses unanswered questions. These questions can help prepare you for discussion or fuel a written reflection.

Active reading: Make sure to make your own notes as you discover what the article is about. You don’t need to get it all, but the bits and pieces you get, write these down. Also underline and highlight sections, and write in the margin so that it is easier to come back to later. Remember, you want to come to the seminar with your own notes and questions on a piece of paper (or on the computer). To only have scribbles is the first step, to write and reflect with your own words is the next and more mature step. Writing is thinking!

4: Skim for the article’s organization or “architecture”

Before you read the text from beginning to end, skim it to get a sense of its organization or “architecture.” Doing this gives you a mental map that helps you see the different parts of the article and how they function in the overall argument. This perspective can help you read and process the article more easily. Strategies for building a mental map of the article’s organization include these:

  • The Introduction (again): Look for a “forecasting statement” in the introduction (often at the end of the Introduction). In addition to telling you about purpose and main point, the introduction often provides one or more statements that preview the article’s content and structure. Such statements give you a road map that helps you interpret the rest of the article.
  • Section Headings: Flip through the article to read through all the section headings. Doing so can help you see the article’s overall structure. Again, look up any terms you do not understand.

5: As you read the body of the text: Skimming and reading in depth…. 

Use your knowledge about the main point of the article and context clues from your class as you decide which parts of the article deserve most of your energy, and where you can skim.

  • Imagine you’re reading an article and you’re drowning in details about concepts that you don’t really understand, say “socio-ecological embroglios.” You are not sure if you should skim this part. If you have done the points above you should know if this concept relates to the main point of the article and decide if you should skim or read hard.
  • Similarly, the main point of the course may change how you read. So remember the course’s main objective when reading.

Active reading: Again, make sure to make your own notes. If you are preparing for a reading seminar this is the material that you will bring, your notes and questions. To only have scribbles is the first step, to write and reflect with your own words is the next and more mature step. Writing is thinking!

6: Make It Social! 

  • Engage with your professor and peers, discuss your questions, and help your friends out!
  • Always keep in mind that reading academic writing means you’re participating in a conversation.

This page is adapted from a post at the Writing Centre at George Mason University who in turn states that they adapted it from Karen Rosenberg’s article “Reading Games: Strategies for Reading Scholarly Sources.”


Application Process

PhD students, Master students, and junior scholars are encouraged to apply through sending a 1-page motivation letter and CV to

Maximum number of participants: 20

Early deadline 21 February 2024 with first acceptance notice sent out by 28 February 2024.

Second deadline 13 March 2024 with final acceptance notice by 18 March 2024.

To read more about the Democratic Seminar PhD seminars, its teachers, and previous years seminars and reading lists, please go here.