Carceral Subjectivity and the Exercise of Freedom in Israel-Palestine

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Carceral Subjectivity and the Exercise of Freedom in Israel-Palestine

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What do 20th century attempts of Israelis, Palestinians, and Humanitarians to affect subject formation in Israeli prisons reveal about the relation between domination and freedom? Literatures of carceral subject formation regard prisons as sites where subjectivity is either irrelevant (Wallace 2015, Guenther 2013), liberatory (Nashif 2008, Bargu 2014, Dilts 2014), or manipulated (Daka 2011). The resulting analyses of these approaches regard Israeli incarceration of Palestinians as a site of “neutral and objective” humanitarian work by the Red Cross, purely liberatory political action by Palestinian prisoners, or an all-catching Israeli top-down apparatus that is able to harness every attempt of Palestinian political action to its own benefit. To offer a competing approach, my dissertation builds on newly exposed archival materials from Israeli, Palestinian, and Red Cross archives on Israeli prisons between the arrest of the first self-proclaimed Palestinian political prisoner in 1965 and 2019. With and against contemporary political and social theorists such as Michel Foucault, Iris Young, and Walid Daka the dissertation traces how the Israeli Prison Service attempted to use the prisoners’ actions—such as their leadership structures, hunger strikes, demands for improved material conditions, and inner-relations—to amplify Israeli interests. It further traces how the Red Cross’s “neutral” humanitarian work participated in the constitution of the prisoners as individualized consumers and limited the prisoners’ ability to act collectively. Last, it traces how the prisoners were nevertheless able to change their reality by cultivating alternative kinships, textures of collectivity, and senses of selves. The result is a differentiation between practices where the Palestinian prisoners were only able to act according to definitions set by others and those rare moments when they were able to participate in defining the structure of their participation.


University of Minnesota Ph.D. dissertation. February 2020. Major: Political Science. Advisor: Nancy Luxon. 1 computer file (PDF); viii, 263 pages.

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Gortler, Shai. (2020). Carceral Subjectivity and the Exercise of Freedom in Israel-Palestine. Retrieved from the University Digital Conservancy,

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