† Criminal InJustice is a weekly series devoted to taking action against inequities in the U.S. criminal justice system. Nancy A. Heitzeg, Professor of Sociology and Race/Ethnicity, is the Editor of CI. Kay Whitlock, co-author of Queer (In)Justice, is contributing editor of CI. Criminal Injustice is published every Wednesday at 6 pm.
Some Thoughts on Language and “Industrial Complexes”*
by nancy a heitzeg
I write a lot about the prison industrial complex. And I think a lot too about the power of language, of naming and claiming and all that entails. Recent conversations and observations have led to questions about the proliferation of “industrial complex” as attached to nearly everything. Savior (mostly White) Industrial Complex. Ally Industrial Complex. Academic Industrial Complex. And yesterday, i saw this: Anti-Aging Industrial Complex. In some ways, this usage makes perfect sense. These “complexes” do exist. There is a Non-Profit Industrial Complex, an Athletic Industrial Complex, and a Medical Industrial Complex too — a term I have often used myself.
Since we live in a society thoroughly dominated by the multi-national capitalist corporation ( the Supreme Court of the United States will not let you forget!), I suppose at some point it might be fair to make the claim that the entire damn deal is an “industrial complex” of some sort or another. An interdependent, interlocking mess of political and economic interests. Self-reinforcing. Self-perpetuating. Forever and Ever. Amen.
But if we call everything “an industrial complex”, then what does that mean for those devoted to the critique and abolition of the prison industrial complex and its’ counter-part the military industrial complex? Does overuse trivialize the deadly meaning? Obscure the scope of this peculiar power over life? And death?