race and racism
Anthropologist Pem Buck’s The Punishment Monopoly challenges anthropology to take seriously the history of dispossession in the study of the construction of white supremacy and class formation. Further, her work posits the centralization of the power to punish as a sine qua non of both, and of state formation itself. In a work of truly public scholarship, Buck reaches into her own family’s history and mythology to reexamine the state as a historically constructed entity. The book ranges widely, in time, geography, and political formations, as she follows one branch of her ancestors and the people they enslaved, fought, and dispossessed from the late 1500s in the Highlands of Scotland and England, through the 1600s in Igboland, Powhatan Virginia, and colonial Virginia, to the mid-1800s in Kentucky. A final chapter connects the history of the power to punish and the dispossession it enabled to ongoing processes in the present. How does Buck’s book push anthropology to examine the themes of whiteness, settler colonialism, racial capitalism, and the rise of the carceral state? How does it enrich our understanding of the some of the most contentious issues of the twenty-first century•issues such as the exploitation and mass detention of immigrants, the judicial and extra-judicial killings of people of color and some poor whites, mass incarceration, racialized phobias constructing enemies, and now the threat of a fascistic response to Covid-19? What are the ways in which Buck’s work challenges us to create an anthropology for the public?