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Call for Applications: Visualizing Abolition Dissertation Workshop

Westerbeke Ranch, Sonoma, California
April 24-27, 2023


The Mellon Foundation funded Visualizing Abolition Initiative, directed by Prof. Gina Dent and Dr. Rachel Nelson at the University of California, Santa Cruz, invites applications for an all expense-paid residential dissertation workshop on prisons, art, and visual culture. Doctoral students chosen for the two-day workshop will work extensively with faculty, including Herman Gray and Setsu Shigematsu (bios below).

We invite applications from doctoral students currently residing in the United States who have advanced to candidacy and whose projects speak broadly to one or more of a range of concerns—the role of art and culture in the historic and ongoing movement for abolition; visuality, prisons, and policing; feminist art practices and decarceration; visual criminology; popular culture and prisons; domestic and international movements for abolition engaging visual aesthetics; and other topics at the intersections of visual culture, prisons, and abolition.

Eight workshop participants will be selected on the basis of the quality of projects and the potential for fruitful exchanges among them, as well as in an effort to include a wide-range of disciplinary perspectives, intellectual traditions, and geopolitical sites. 

The workshop will take place at the Westerbeke Guest Ranch (five miles from the town of Sonoma) and will begin with dinner on April 24 and end with breakfast on April 27. The full cost of accommodation, meals, and travel will be covered by the award.  

To apply, please send the following application materials as PDF attachments to by March 24 and include “[Your Last Name] Application VA Dissertation Workshop” in the subject line of your message: 

  • One-page cover sheet including name, campus, department, contact information, title of dissertation, names and titles of dissertation committee members, projected date of completion, as well as a summary (in 250 words or less) of the relationship of the dissertation project to the workshop theme (kindly also let us know how you learned about the workshop)
  • Current curriculum vitae 
  • Project description of no more than ten double-spaced pages (proposal, prospectus, or abstract with chapter details, methodological description, and work plan)
  • One-page bibliography

Notification of awards will be made on March 27. Successful applicants should be prepared to circulate a writing sample for discussion at the workshop upon notification. For further information, contact  

Gina Dent is Associate Dean of Humanities for DEI and Associate Professor of Feminist Studies, History of Consciousness, and Legal Studies at UC Santa Cruz. She is a committed activist, scholar, and educator. She is the editor of Black Popular Culture ([1993] New York: The New Press, 1998) and author of articles on race, feminism, popular culture, and visual art. Her recent projects grow out of her work as an advocate for prison abolition—Abolition. Feminism. Now. (co-authored with Angela Davis, Erica Meiners, and Beth Richie, Haymarket 2022), and the in-progress work Prison as a Border, on popular culture and the conditions of knowledge.  Professor Dent has offered graduate courses and faculty seminars in black feminisms, critical race studies, critical theory and postcolonialism, and legal theory and visual culture in Brazil (Universidade Federal da Bahia, Salvador and Universidade Federal Recôcavo da Bahia, Cachoeira), Colombia (Universidad Nacional de Colombia), and Sweden (Linköping University), as well as at the European Graduate School, and lectures widely on these and other subjects. 

Herman Gray is Emeritus Professor Gray of Sociology at UC Santa Cruz where he taught graduate and undergraduate courses in media and television studies, cultural theory and politics and Black cultural studies.  Gray has published widely in scholarly journals like American Quarterly, International Journal of Communication, Cultural Studies, Communication and Critical/Cultural Studies, and Television and New Media in the areas of black cultural politics, media and television studies.  His books on jazz, television, and black cultural politics include Producing Jazz, Watching Race, and Cultural Moves. He co-edited Toward a Sociology of the Trace with Macarena Gomez Barris and The Sage Handbook of Television Studies with Toby Miller and Milly Buonanno. His most recent book is co-edited with Sarah Banet Weiser and Roopali Mukherjee called Racism Postrace (Duke University Press). 

Setsu ‘Sage’ Shigematsu (xe, xer, xem) is an abolitionist filmmaker, feminist media-maker, mother and writer. Sage directed and produced Visions of Abolition: From Critical Resistance to a New Way of Life (2010), ReVisions of Abolition (2021) and Abolish ICE and All Border-Prisons (2023). Xe is the author of Scream from the Shadows: the Women’s Liberation Movement in Japan and the creator of a series of anti-capitalist feminist-resister stories called The Guardian Princesses. Shigematsu is on the faculty UC Riverside.

Rachel Nelson, PhD, is Director of the Institute of the Arts and Sciences, University of California, Santa Cruz and adjunct professor in the History of Art and Visual Culture department. Nelson curates projects and writes extensively on contemporary art and geopolitics. Nelson is currently working on a monograph, Seeing in Whiteout, focusing on the strategies contemporary artists use to reveal and disturb the racialized histories and presents of prisons and policing in the United States. Recent publications include “In Perpetual Conflict” in Under the Skin: Feminist Art and Art Histories from the Middle East and North Africa Today, Oxford University Press, 2020, as well as exhibition catalog essays, journal articles, and reviews, including in Brooklyn Rail, NKA, Third Text, Savvy, and African Arts.

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