Call to submit an abstract for a chapter in the volume “Biopolitical Personhood: How the Law Constructed Racial Difference in the Americas”

This collection brings together scholars working at the intersection of law and race in the Americas from the eighteenth century to the present. Some recent scholarship on biopolitics in the Americas has focused on biopolitics and globalism in the past century, or on the emergence of biopolitics in the U.S. Yet, with some notable exceptions, relatively little scholarship has investigated how law — whether in foundational documents, case law, or supreme court decisions — played a central role in adjudicating racial categories across the Americas, including the Caribbean Basin.

This collection will expand upon previous research in areas of recent research that addresses the intersections of biopolitics, colonialism, race studies, and critical legal studies. We imagine it in dialogue with texts such as Colin Dayan’s The Law Is a White Dog: How Legal Rituals Make and Unmake Persons, Saidiya Hartman’s Scenes of Subjection: Terror, Slavery, and Self-Making in Nineteenth-Century America, Michelle McKinley’s Fractional Freedoms: Slavery, Intimacy, and Legal Mobilization in Colonial Lima, 1600-1700 and Daniel Nemser’s Infrastructures of Race: Concentration and Biopolitics in Colonial Mexico. Its focus on law will examine how biopolitics takes shape in cultural, political and judicial terms. This collection will investigate key moments and contexts in which Enlightenment principles are put into tension with constitutions, case law, and legal formulations around defining rights, personhood, and citizenship.

All papers will center on the Americas in the broadest sense from the eighteenth century to the present. Some possible topics of interest include:

  • How did law and liberalism intersect in legal formulations of racialized hierarchies?
  • Where can we detect traces of the emergence of biopower and how might this contrast against narrations of its emergence in Europe or elsewhere?
  • How do legal and literary or other aesthetic discourses interact or reflect (on) each other?
  • How do aesthetic productions reflect how racialized groups are erased, defined, or even hyper-present in the law?
  • How do different legal registers, such as common law, customary law, or canon law operate within specific contexts?
  • How does the presence of multiple legal registers relate to ideas of personhood and citizenship within an idealized populace?
  • How does race emerge as a distinct category in how imagined political communities measure and discipline populations?
  • How might we historicize the role of race in imagining and implementing forms of security?
  • How is the racialization of bodies (and the corporealization of race) part of the emergence of biopolitics in this region?

We invite to submit an article abstract (from 350 to 500 words) in English for consideration by September 1, 2018. The article proposal should include the title and the author’s academic affiliation, and be sent to and

We have discussed the project with several presses, all of which have expressed interest. Acceptance will be provisional pending final approval of the completed essay. The article manuscripts will be due on February 1, 2019, and should be 6,000-7,000 words including notes and bibliography.

The editors are Ashley Byock (Ph.D. Northwestern University; Associate Professor of English at Edgewood College) and Rebecca Janzen (Ph.D. University of Toronto; Assistant Professor of Spanish and Comparative Literature at the University of South Carolina).

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