Abolition Politics

Course content

Abolition has a long history as political technique. From calls in the 18th century to abolish the Atlantic slave trade, to the contemporary demand to abolish the prison industrial complex, abolitionism has become an important and specific political practice in democratic political life. Abolition politics, no matter the object to be abolished, share a goal of ending unjust or immoral social, political, and economic institutions, leaving space to found new institutions and accompanying social relations. From organized resistance to the prison, to the abolition of the death penalty, slavery, capitalism, and the police, amongst others, abolitionists aim to rethink the future of social and political life.

But as abolitionism has transformed, so too has its politics. The aim of this course is to offer in-depth study of abolition as a political technique. Political science has often read institutions as political solutions, but under what conditions would political societies benefit from the destruction of such institutions. Abolition politics asks us to consider the future without such institutions. In this course, students will have the chance to consider what abolition has come to mean as a political practice. What is abolition as undoing? How should we understand the logic of elimination? Can we distinguish abolition as destruction from abolition as subtraction? What is abolition ending? What is abolition beginning? What futures do abolitionists imagine? What lessons can help us reimagine a politics “without”?

This course explores various strands of abolitionism’s contemporary possibilities, attempting to explicate the politics that might come from the abolition of political institutions. Through close engagement with abolitionist pamphlets and texts in contemporary political theory—including Phillips, Du Bois, Davis, Adorno, Foucault, Moten, Roberts, Olson, and Rancière, amongst others—this course will explore the variations of abolitionist political thought. In this course, students will be asked to think experimentally about these abolitionist political ideals and practices. In this way, this course will offer a tracing of abolitionism’s developments as a constellation of resistant theories and techniques, as well as their radical visions for new political futures.


Bachelor student (2017 programme curriculum): 7.5 ECTS

Master student: 7.5 ECTS


Notice: It is only possible to enroll for one course having a 3-day compulsory written take-home assignment exam due to coincident exam periods.



Learning outcome

Goals Description:

The objective of the course is to enable students to:

Describe the origins and tensions of abolition as a political practice, and the promise and risks such a practice poses to democratic politics, in particular with regard to power and sovereignty.

Present and analyze key contributions to the reconceptualization of abolition in contemporary political thought.

Apply reconceptualization of abolition to discussions about the institutions and culture of democratic politics.

Evaluate the validity of various arguments regarding the abolition.


This course enhances students’ ability to think critically and to combine complex theories with insight from contemporary political world. Emphasis will be on the ability to present a coherent argument, and to discuss and evaluate competing claims. The course will be relevant for students interested in working with complex issues in politics and elsewhere.

Feedback by final exam (In addition to the grade)
7,5 ECTS
Type of assessment
Written assignment
3-day compulsory written take-home assignment
Marking scale
7-point grading scale
Censorship form
No external censorship
Criteria for exam assessment
  • Grade 12 is given for an outstanding performance: the student lives up to the course's goal description in an independent and convincing manner with no or few and minor shortcomings
  • Grade 7 is given for a good performance: the student is confidently able to live up to the goal description, albeit with several shortcomings
  • Grade 02 is given for an adequate performance: the minimum acceptable performance in which the student is only able to live up to the goal description in an insecure and incomplete manner

Single subject courses (day)

  • Category
  • Hours
  • Class Instruction
  • 28
  • English
  • 28