Dean Spade, 'Equality Claims and Population Control'

Keynote Address
PECANS International Workshops
July 2011
Centre for Feminist Legal Studies, University of British Columbia

Critical Race Theory generally and intersectionality theory in particular have provided scholars and activists with clear accounts of how the legal approaches to oppression that have been taken up through the anti-discrimination principle have failed to sufficiently change conditions for those facing the most violent manifestations of settler colonialism, heteropatriarchy, white supremacy, ableism, and xenophobia. These interventions have exposed how discrimination principle's reliance on individual harm, intentionality, and universalized categories of identity has made it ineffective at eradicating these forms of harm and violence and has obscured the actual operations of systems of meaning and control that produce maldistribution and targeted violence. This paper follows this line of thinking an additional step to focus on the racialized-gendered distribution schemes that operate at the population level through programs that declare themselves race and gender neutral but are founded in the production and maintenance of race and gender categories as vectors for distributing life chances. In the context of intensifying criminal and immigration enforcement and wealth disparity, it is essential to turn our attention to what Foucault called "state racism"--the operation of population-level programs that target some for increased security and life chances while marking others for insecurity and premature death. This paper looks at how social movements resisting intersectional state violence are formulating demands (like prison abolition and an end to immigration enforcement) that exceed the narrow confines of the discrimination principle and take administrative systems as adversaries in ways that pull the nation-state form itself into crisis.

Video by Stacy Douglas
Music by John Maus 'Believer' (Upset the Rhythm 2011)

Dean Spade on 'Equality Claims and Population Control' from Stacy Douglas on Vimeo.

Dean Spade is an Assistant Professor at the Seattle University School of Law. In 2002, Dean founded the Sylvia Rivera Law Project (, a non-profit law collective that provides free legal services to transgender, intersex and gender non-conforming people who are low-income and/or people of color. While working at SRLP, Dean also taught at Columbia and Harvard Law Schools. Dean was recently awarded a Dukeminier Award for his 2008 article "Documenting Gender" and the 2009-2010 Haywood Burns Chair at CUNY Law School, and was selected to give the 2009-2010 James A. Thomas Lecture at Yale.