by Sarah Haley
Abolition is most narrowly defined as the end of slavery. But in African American studies, abolition is a keyword that raises a complex set of questions about when, and whether, slavery actually ended. As a concept, then, abolition raises critical questions about black temporality—what shifts in relations of power constitute freedom’s beginning and captivity’s end? Scholars within African American studies have considered the complexity of abolition as a process; while recognizing the dramatic transformations that emancipation wrought, theorists have challenged its interpretation as grand event, questioned its completeness, and demanded abolition’s continued salience for challenging regimes of antiblack captivity. For black studies, abolition means far more than an end but rather a struggle over the terms of the future. From the perspective of the enslaved, abolition meant, at least in part, the reconstitution of relations of property. Abolition is tethered to political and social arrangements outside of regimes of racial and gendered violence and normativity that were inaugurated under slavery. As a site of black studies analysis, abolition offers a rejoinder to linear and triumphant narratives about the history of slavery.
Justice is undoubtedly a central, if rarely explicitly defined, concept in the institutional and intellectual life of gender and sexuality studies. Most feminist, gender, queer, sexuality, and women’s studies programs and departments across the United States name social justice as a foundational pillar of their curriculum and mission. Reflective of the significant number of scholars in the field who research, write, and teach about social justice movements, the National Women’s Studies Association themed its 2018 and 2019 annual meetings, respectively, “Just Imagine, Imagining Justice” and “Protest, Justice, and Transnational Organizing.” Such invocations of social justice index gender and sexuality studies’ roots in liberation movements of the 1960s and 1970s as well as the field’s continued commitment to praxis (theory in and through action) and social transformation. Here we highlight only three of the critical imaginaries of justice that animate gender and sexuality studies scholarship and activism today: economic justice, reproductive justice, and prison industrial complex abolition.