Abolition Democracy 13/13

Abolition Democracy 13/13 is grounded on the concept of “abolition democracy” that W.E.B. Du Bois developed in his landmark study, Black Reconstruction in America: 1860-1880. In that book, published in 1935, Du Bois outlined his ambition for a racially just society, which, he argued, required not only the dismantling of chattel slavery, but also the construction of new institutions, new practices, and new social relations that would afford freed Black persons the economic, political, and social capital to live as equal members of society. We discuss Du Bois’s writings and vision at Abolition Democracy 2/13 with Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak, Robert Gooding Williams, Flores Forbes and Kendall Thomas:


Using Du Bois’s concept of abolition democracy, we explore historical and contemporary abolitionist movements, from the abolition of slavery to the abolition of oilWe discuss prison abolition with Dwayne Betts and Allegra McLeod; the abolition of family policing with Dorothy Roberts; the abolition of the death penalty with Kelley Henry, Alexis Hoag, Liliana Segura, Susannah Sheffer, and our Congressman Adriano Espaillat; and, more broadly, the abolition of the punitive society with Miguel Beistegui, Henrique Carvalho, Stuart Elden, Daniele Lorenzini, Goldie Osuri, Irene Dal Poz, and Federico Testa. We explore the abolition of property with Amy Allen, Étienne Balibar, Karuna Mantena, and Dan-El Padilla Peralta; the abolition of capital with Martin Saar; the abolition of fossil fuels with Alyssa Battistoni, Daniela Gandorfer, Reinhold Martin, and Noah Smith-Drelich; and the abolition of borders with Seyla Benhabib, Joseph Carens, and Paulina Ochoa Espejo. We return to the history of emancipation and the abolition of slavery with artist Dread Scott, Dennis Childs, Maeve Glass, and Stephanie Jones-Rogers. We debate the abolition of the policewith Amna Akbar, Ghislaine Pagès, Derecka Purnell, Josmar Trujillo, and Alex Vitale


We are joined by organizers, activists, scholars, historians, lawyers, artists, musicians, and so many people who have been affected by the criminal legal ordeal, including Samantha Felix, whose brother was killed by police in  Queens; Kenyatta Emmanuel, Robbie Pollock, Ivan Calaff, Isaias Umali III, Cheryl Wilkins, and Adnan Khan, who served so many years in prison; Lee Greenwood, whose son Joseph Nichols was executed by the state of Texas in 2007. We are joined by scholars, such as Bruce Western and Katherine Franke, who study the history and present of racial injustice, and by abolitionist activists and organizers like Woods Ervin of Critical Resistance, Jindu Obiofuma, and Ghislaine Pagès, as well as abolitionist groups such as the Barnard Prison Abolition Collective, the Abolition Collective, and The Digital Abolitionist.

We hear from remarkable artists including The Freedom Trap, who set the tone for the series at the opening seminar; Theo Bleckmann, who composes and performs a unique rendition of Bertolt Brecht’s Threepenny Opera for the seminar on the abolition of capital; the Heartbeat Opera, and their amazing virtual opera, Breathing Free, with filmmaker Anaiis Cisco, director Ethan Heard, and creative producer Ras Dia; The Iron Bull Singers from Standing Rock, who generously shared their drum circle with us; Ian Manuel, who opened and closed the series with his moving and powerful poetry; Tymber Hudson, who created the remarkable Garden of Vitality project; and playwright Cori Thomas, who shares how she came to write the play LOCKDOWN with friends inside San Quentin. 

We read the brilliant and thought-provoking original essays that accompany the seminar presentations and discussion, including:

Please join us by clicking on any of the seminars listed to the right or sequenced at the top (1/13, 2/13, 3/13, etc.) to read, watch, or listen to the conversation.

Welcome to Abolition Democracy 13/13!


Abolition Democracy 13/13 is the 6th 13/13 seminar series held over the course of the academic year at the Columbia Center for Contemporary Critical Thought. These seminars focus, each year, on a different set of topics at the heart of contemporary critical thought and action in philosophy, politics, law, and social inquiry. During the 2015-2016 academic year, the seminar focused on Michel Foucault’s 13 Collège de France lecture series and produced the Foucault 13/13 series. During the 2016-2017 academic year, the seminar focused on 13 critical readings of Friedrich Nietzsche and produced the Nietzsche 13/13 series. During the 2017-2018 academic year, the seminar focused on 13 modalities of uprisings and produced the Uprising 13/13 series. During the 2018-2019 academic year, the seminar focused on the relationship between critical theory and praxis, and produced the Praxis 13/13 series. During the 2019-2020 academic year, the seminar returned to the fundamental texts of critical theory, and produced the Critique 13/13 series.

The seminar for 2020-2021 focuses on abolition today and works through the different dimensions of contemporary arguments for abolition (regarding the prison, the police, and the death penalty, but also the abolition of property, of capital, of coverture and marital dominion, of oil, and of borders) through the lens of W.E.B. Du Bois’s idea of “abolition democracy.” Together, we read and discuss the following texts, among others:

  • Ambedkar, B.R. Annihilation of Caste. 1936.
  • Davis, Angela. Abolition Democracy. 2005.
  • Davis, Angela. Are Prisons Obsolete? 2011.
  • Du Bois, W.E.B. Black Reconstruction in America, 1860-1880. 1935.
  • Foner, Eric. The Second Founding: How the Civil War and Reconstruction Remade the Constitution. 2019.
  • Foucault, Michel. The Punitive Society. 2015.
  • Kaba, Mariame. We Do This ‘Till We Free Us. 2021.
  • Marx, Karl and Frederick Engels. Manifesto of the Communist Party. 1848
  • Proudhon, Pierre Joseph. What Is Property? 1840
  • Roberts, Dorothy. Killing the Black Body. 1997.
  • Vitale, Alex. The End of Policing. 2017.
  • Walia, Harsha. Borders & Rule. 2021.

Welcome to Abolition Democracy 13/13!