Subversive ‘Institutional’ Knowledge: The Emergence of Black Power in Prison and of a Pan-Indian Consciousness in Boarding Schools / Residential Schools

Investigator: Dr. Katharina Motyl

In this expressly North Americanist research project, I focus on ‘non-intended side effects’ of the state’s attempt to discipline resisting subjects by analyzing the emergence of empowering knowledge in ‘environments of enclosure’ (Deleuze). I pursue two case studies in parallel: First, I seek to trace a genealogy of Black Power ideology in the thought of incarcerated Black American intellectuals such as George Jackson, Assata Shakur, Eldrige Cleaver, and Malcolm X. These intellectuals’ thought was profoundly animated by the following question: If Black people in the U.S. are always already unfree, how does the experience of being Black and incarcerated differ from ‘regular’ Black American existence? Second, I investigate the emergence of a pan-Indian consciousness among Indigenous children and adolescents in boarding schools in the U.S. and residential schools in Canada. While the state pursued an assimilationist agenda by separating Indigenous youths from their families and ‘educating’ them in boarding / residential schools, these spaces simultaneously enabled encounters between members of different tribes, which sowed the seeds from which a pan-Indian consciousness was to grow. The English language assumes a highly ambivalent role in this context: On the one hand, it serves the imperialist aims of cultural uprooting and epistemicide; on the other hand, as a lingua franca, it constitutes the necessary precondition of communication across tribal lines.