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Dissertation Workshops

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Annual two-day residential gatherings bring graduate students from across the nation who are working on issues of incarceration and prison abolition together with faculty from UC Santa Cruz and the UC system in order to workshop dissertations in progress.

As part of the Mellon-funded Visualizing Abolition initiative, the workshops support research which questions the social attachment to prisons by providing opportunities for conversation and collaboration among promising researchers as well as mentorship in the fields of abolition and visual studies.

The organizing faculty, staff, and my fellow participants treated each other as equals deserving of rigorous scholarly consideration. With participants coming from different fields, methods, and approaches, both our academic and personal conversations were dynamic.

Anthony James Williams

2024 Dissertation Workshop Application:

This year’s Dissertation Workshop will take place April 29 – May 2, 2024 in Sonoma, California.

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 Herman Gray and Sage (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 in Sonoma, CA and will begin with dinner on April 29 and end with breakfast on May 2. The full cost of accommodation, meals, and travel will be covered by the award.  

Apply Now:

To apply, please send the following application materials as PDF attachments to vast@ucsc.edu by March 4 and include “[Your Last Name] Application VA Dissertation Workshop” in the subject line of your message: 

Notification of awards will be made on March 21. Successful applicants should be prepared to circulate a writing sample for discussion at the workshop upon notification. For further information, contact vast@ucsc.edu.  


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 Recôncavo 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.

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.

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).

Sage (Setsu) Shigematsu (xe, xir, xem) is an author and abolitionist filmmaker engaged in public-facing feminist media making. An Associate Professor in the Media & Cultural Studies Department at UC Riverside, xir research and intellectual concerns include the historical relationship between U.S. and Japanese imperialisms, transnational liberation movements, comparative feminist and critical theory. Setsu is the author of Scream from the Shadows: The Women’s Liberation Movement in Japan (2012), and the co-editor of Militarized Currents: Towards a Decolonized Future in Asia and the Pacific (2010). Professor Shigematsu directed and co-produced Visions of Abolition, a feature-length documentary about the prison industrial complex and the prison abolition movement updated in 2021 as Re-Visions of Abolition (visionsofabolition). Xe is currently finishing a new documentary titled Ghosts of Adelanto: the Rise of Abolish ICE.