Dr. Jess Whatcott (they/them/theirs) studies, teaches, and organizes against state violence in the U.S., especially in prisons, carceral disability institutions, and eugenics programs. An interdisciplinary scholar, I work in critical disability studies, critical prison studies, queer studies/queer of color critique, Marxist political economy, American political development, and California history. I organize with movements for abolition, transformative justice, and migrant justice.
I am an Assistant Professor of Women’s Studies and an affiliate of LGBTQ+ Studies and Digital Humanities at San Diego State University. I hold a PhD in Politics, with emphases in Feminist Studies and Critical Race & Ethnic Studies, from University of California Santa Cruz. I earned a MA in Social Science, Environment and Community Program, and a BA in Political Science and Women’s Studies from Humboldt State University.
I am writing a book titled A Menace to the Future: Carceral Eugenics in California, which examines state violence at the intersection of eugenics and carcerality. Looking historically at the early twentieth century development of the policy of “segregation” (institutionalization), the book applies a queer disability feminist framework to theorize what I call carceral eugenics. The state of California developed policies of commitment for the purpose of eugenics at a variety of institutions including state hospitals, state homes for the feeble-minded, reform schools, and reformatories for women from the turn of the century to World War II. Drawing on archival, public policy, literary, visual, and museum research, the book shows how eugenics theory and practice was integral to developing the carceral logics that defined California in subsequent decades. The book also uncovers traces of how the patient-inmates of California institutions enacted alternative practices of freedom.
A huge speculative fiction nerd, I have written about how writers Octavia Butler and Ursula Le Guin, and popular television shows and film, offer political education about state violence, eugenics, and neoliberal precarity — past and present. I locate in speculative fiction both a diagnosis of “the crisis” and the imagination of transformative abolitionist queer and crip futures.
My work has been published in Signs: A Journal of Women in Culture and Society; Politics, Groups, & Identities; Lateral: Journal of the Cultural Studies Association (forthcoming); the Routledge Handbook of Disability and Sexuality (2021); and Representations of Political Resistance and Emancipation in Science Fiction (2020).
I identify as a queer, non-binary, neurodivergent, non-disabled white person from a working-class Mormon family of origin.
Photograph by Rich Soublet. Description: A white, genderqueer person with short curly hair wearing a black jacket over a floral shirt and shorts, smiles into the camera. They are in front of a white background.