Sociological scholarship on Latinx education and incarceration has been largely bifurcated, vexed by the seemingly incommensurable experiences of Latinxs that have attained their Ph.D.s and Latinx adolescents that have been pushed out of academia via the school-to-prison pipeline. This tendency of studying in isolation of what can be considered the poles of what might be considered a Latinx exceptionality and disposability continuum has led to the segmented study of each of these populations as separate and isolated processes.
In an attempt to address this practice, my research reorients the lens to not see only one population as a site of inquiry but instead pans out to look at how two seemingly oppositionally construed groups of the same gender and racial strata navigate the institutions that they find themselves in. More specifically, my research seeks to establish parallels in how formerly incarcerated Latinas (those deemed ‘disposable’) navigate the Prison Industrial Complex and how Latina professors with Ph.D.s. (those deemed ‘exceptional’) navigate the Academic Industrial Complex and how these institutional operate despite having seemingly opposite functions. Utilizing a mujerista portraiture methodological framework, I conducted interviews/critical narratives with twenty formerly incarcerated Latinas and twenty Latina professors with Ph.D.s from carceral communities. Grounded in an Althusserian state apparatus framework informed by the intersectionality of the multiple layers of marginalization of these Latinas, my study asks the following questions: 1) What are the continuities in the gendered racialization of Latina prisoners and professors? 2) How do the sanctioned socialization processes of carceral and educational institutions socially control the parameters of these scripts? 3) In what ways do these State Apparatuses benefit from the disposability of Latina prisoners and the exceptionality of Latina professors? Finally, I ask 4) what is the shared ideological constellation that could facilitate a union between Latina faculty and incarcerated Latinas. The areas of inquiry that I connect are violence, social embeddedness, and institutionalization.
I argue that despite socially constructed as opposites, Latina professors deemed as exceptionals and criminalized Latinas deemed as disposables are deliberately situated as such within the public imaginary to serve a powerful narrative about worth. The individualizing of professoriate success obscures the intense struggles that working class origin Latinas overcome and the village of support that these women rely on to reach that point. Meanwhile, the individualization of Latina criminalization conceals the hyperbolic interpersonal and structural violence that these women contended with that catalyzed their trajectories of criminalization. Working in conjunction, this construction preaches a neoliberal meritocratic narrative that puts the onus of human behavior and outcomes on the individual all while enacting policies and practices that have devastating consequences in the lives of Latinas inside and outside of carceral communities. Regardless of where they are situated along the exceptionality and disposability continuum, Latinas are forced to navigate institutions whose formal and informal protocols contribute to the reification of Latina devaluation and replication of the existing neoliberal social order. Thus, the many parallels in experiences before and after entering the carceral and educational institutions and the interconnectedness of fates between both groups provide a strong basis for these two groups to unite against their collective struggle. Such a union would demonstrate powerful praxis in refuting the veracity of the exceptionality and disposability continuum.