Social Death

Racialized Rightlessness and the Criminalization of the Unprotected

236 pages

2 halftones

November, 2012

ISBN: 9780814723753



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Lisa Marie Cacho is Associate Professor of Latina/Latino Studies and Asian American Studies, with affiliations in Gender and Women’s Studies and English, at the University of Illinois, Urbana- Champaign.

All books by Lisa Marie Cacho

 Winner of the 2013 John Hope Franklin Book Prize presented by the American Studies Association
Social Death tackles one of the core paradoxes of social justice struggles and scholarship—that the battle to end oppression shares the moral grammar that structures exploitation and sanctions state violence. Lisa Marie Cacho forcefully argues that the demands for personhood for those who, in  the eyes of society, have little value, depend on capitalist and heteropatriarchal measures of worth.

With poignant case studies, Cacho illustrates that our very understanding of personhood is premised upon the unchallenged devaluation of criminalized populations of color. Hence, the reliance of rights-based politics on notions of who is and is not a deserving member of society inadvertently replicates the logic that creates and normalizes states of social and literal death. Her understanding of inalienable rights and personhood provides us the much-needed comparative analytical and ethical tools to understand the racialized and nationalized tensions between racial groups. Driven by a radical, relentless critique, Social Death challenges us to imagine a heretofore “unthinkable” politics and ethics that do not rest on neoliberal arguments about worth, but rather emerge from the insurgent experiences of those negated persons who do not live by the norms that determine the productive, patriotic, law abiding, and family-oriented subject.


  • "Even though this book is just being published, I have been telling people to find Lisa Marie Cacho’s work and read it for years. She has a rare ability to illuminate the collisions and erasures of identity, and she powerfully explains how their devastating consequences are the grounds for social order. This is a game-changing book, written in beautiful and lucid prose."

    —Rachel Buff, University of Wisconsin, Milwaukee

  • “A powerful analysis of comparative racialization. As a text that painstakingly details the contemporary circumstances by which race attributes value to certain lives while denying it to others, Social Death will be one of those books that we come back to over and over again.”

    —Roderick A. Ferguson, author of The Reorder of Things: The University and Its Pedagogies of Minority Difference

  • "Proves itself an eye-opening account of how and why the American polity is dependent upon the permanence of certain groups' criminalization, groups who are thus rendered functionally 'ineligible for personhood.'"

    American Studies

  • "An innovated, dense, and highly intellectual book best suited for graduate students, law students, scholars, and any layperson interested in race, law, philosophy, and politics."


  • “…Cacho is basically right in her assessment of death and devaluation, especially under the slanted promises of liberal democracy and national consciousness…[A] profound way to think about freedom.”

    —, Women' Studies Quarterly