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Kita, E. (2019). “They hate me now but where was everyone when I needed them?”: Mass incarceration, projective identification, and social work praxis. Psychoanal. Soc. Work, 26(1):25-49.

(2019). Psychoanalytic Social Work, 26(1):25-49

“They hate me now but where was everyone when I needed them?”: Mass incarceration, projective identification, and social work praxis

Elizabeth Kita

Mass incarceration has been thoroughly explored as a racial, social, and economic project. A psychoanalytic lens makes visible another dimension: the ways in which the dehumanization and criminalization of certain members of society forces them to function as repositories for the unbearable aspects of our otherwise shared humanity. In this article, I take a psychodynamic social work perspective and explore how the creation and maintenance of traumatogenic conditions, and the criminalization of the adaptations that people make to them, enables the logic of mass incarceration by taking a problem in the environment—one that implicates the collective—and relocates it inside the individual—as a person to be punished. Applying the concept of projective identification to these social-level dynamics, I argue that mass incarceration serves an important psychological function for society related to anxieties about racial and economic inequality and, as such, we continue to invest in mass incarceration despite its failure. I discuss its implications for social work praxis, emphasizing the need for both meaningful thought and effective action. I take an interdisciplinary approach and rely on psychoanalysis, sociology, criminology, and critical race studies in the hope of making clear the pernicious hold that mass incarceration has on the United States, and the work we must do as a collective to wrest ourselves from it.

[This is a summary excerpt from the full text of the journal article. The full text of the document is available to journal subscribers on the publisher's website here.]

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