Marisol LeBrón is an Assistant Professor in the Department of American Studies at Dickinson College. Marisol received her PhD in American Studies from New York University and her bachelor's degree in Comparative American Studies and Latin American Studies from Oberlin College.
An interdisciplinary scholar, her research and teaching focus on social inequality, policing, violence, and protest. She is currently at work on her first book, Policing Life and Death: Race, Violence, and Resistance in Puerto Rico, which examines the growth of punitive governance in contemporary Puerto Rico.
Journa Articles & Book Chapters
Book Reviews and Encyclopedia Entries
“Feminism,” in Latin Music: Musicians, Genres, and Themes, ed. Ilan Stavans (2014).
"Review of Pancho McFarland’s Chicano Rap: Gender and Violence in the Postindustrial Barrio," Latino Studies (2011).
"Review of Straight Outta Puerto Rico: Reggaeton’s Rough Road to Glory," Centro: Journal of the Center for Puerto Rican Studies (2009).
Policing Life and Death
I am currently at work on my first book, Policing Life and Death: Race, Violence, and Resistance in Puerto Rico, which examines how policing reinforces social inequality along lines of race, class, gender, and sexuality and analyzes the ways that marginalized populations push against logics and practices of criminalization. In the manuscript, I trace the growth of punitive policing in contemporary Puerto Rico as a means of managing the perpetual dislocations caused by the Commonwealth arrangement between Puerto Rico and the United States. Following the virtual collapse of the Commonwealth as an engine for development during the late-twentieth century, the Puerto Rican government responded to high-unemployment, an explosive drug-based informal economy, and heightened levels of societal insecurity with increasingly repressive modes of governance. I document how Puerto Rican elites and policy makers turned to policing, and particularly the policing of space and bodies, as a way of reorganizing and strengthening the state in response to this deep structural crisis. I assert that the refusal on the part of the Puerto Rican political establishment to fundamentally alter the island’s neocolonial relationship with the United States lays not only at the foundation of the island’s ongoing socio-political and economic crises, but also tells us why it is in the realm of biopolitical calculation – the policing of life and death – where we encounter the contemporary Puerto Rican state at its most robust.
Centrally, my work illustrates the multiple ways in which punitive governance functions through the reification of already existing hierarchies of value at work on the island that largely target young, low-income, Black, and/or queer Puerto Ricans who find themselves both on the margins of traditional Puerto Rican society and at the margins of the island’s political economy. Rather than focusing solely on the repressive force of the state and its security apparatus, however, I document how Puerto Ricans contest punitive logics and structures and actively reject the positioning of policing as a solution to the complex social problems affecting the island. In this way, my manuscript makes a significant contribution to the growing body of literature in the humanities and social sciences that has analyzed the “punitive turn” of the late-twentieth century by underscoring activist responses to police violence and carceral expansion. Additionally, given the growing national demand within and beyond academia for an end to racialized police violence, this project’s emphasis on how marginalized communities are imagining alternatives to the punitive policy they encounter in their daily lives is all the more urgent.
While Puerto Rico might seem like a unique or singular case because of its continued status as a territorial possession of the United States, what has unfolded in Puerto Rico mirrors broader transformations in the relationship between citizens and law enforcement in the United States as well as globally. From New York City, to London, to Cape Town, to Rio de Janeiro, and beyond, punitive policing and the warehousing of troublesome populations in slums and prisons have emerged as central functions of governance aimed at managing increased social polarization resulting from neoliberal policies and logics. And in Puerto Rico, as in other sites, the consolidation of policing as a solution to social problems has hardened racial, spatial, and economic inequalities while simultaneously inciting marginalized populations into forms of creative and sustained resistance to the precarity and proximity to harm that animate their lives. Policing Life and Death: Race, Violence, and Resistance in Puerto Rico thus engages a number of popular and scholarly debates at the same time that it expands understandings of safety and justice, demands that we interrogate the entrenched role of punitive policing in vulnerable communities, and asks how those very communities are reimagining their own futures.
I teach a range of introductory and advanced level courses across the fields of American Studies and Latina/o Studies. Click on the course titles below to see the syllabi.
Learning Injustice: The School-to-Prison Pipeline, First Year Seminar Program (Fall 2017).
Workshop in Cultural Theory: Theories of Power and Resistance in the Americas, Department of American Studies (Fall 2017).
Writing in American Studies, Department of American Studies (Spring 2015).
Prisons and Punishment in American Society, Department of American Studies, Cross-listed with Sociology (Spring 2015).
Introduction to American Studies, Department of American Studies (Fall 2014).
Latina/o Studies, Department of American Studies, Cross-listed with Latin American, Latino, and Caribbean Studies (Spring 2014, Fall 2014).
Black and Latinx Intersections: Race and Power in the U.S., Program in Latino/a Studies in the Global South, Cross-listed with African & African American Studies, Sociology, Cultural Anthropology, and Romance Studies (Spring 2017).
Policing Latinidad: From Border Wars to Mass Incarceration, Program in Latino/a Studies in the Global South, Cross-listed with Sociology, Public Policy, and Romance Studies (Fall 2016, 2015).
Capstone Seminar: Queer Latino/a Studies, Program in Latino/a Studies in the Global South, Cross-listed with Women’s Studies, Cultural Anthropology, Latin American Studies and Romance Studies (Spring 2016).
Puerto Rico Syllabus
I worked with Yarimar Bonilla (Rutgers University) and Sarah Molinari (CUNY Graduate Center) to develop the Puerto Rico Syllabus, a digital syllabus project that compiles essential primary and secondary sources for understanding the contemporary debt crisis in Puerto Rico. The #PRSyllabus grew out of the Unpayable Debt working group at Columbia University led by Frances Negrón-Muntaner and Sarah Muir, and is the first in a series of public syllabi to be released by the working group.
We hope that this resource can serve as a springboard for discussion and analysis of how the debt crisis is affecting the lives and futures of millions of Puerto Ricans across the territory and in the diaspora. As educators committed to social justice, we hope that this syllabus project not only educates a greater public about what is occurring in Puerto Rico, but also serves as a call to action against the imposition of even greater neoliberal austerity measures, which will only increase harm and insecurity in the lives of more and more Puerto Ricans.
“It Is Time to Transform, Not Just Rebuild, in Puerto Rico,” co-written with Hilda Lloréns for Truthout, September 27, 2017.
“Congress could help Puerto Rico recover. What's stopping it?,” written for The Guardian, September 27, 2017.
Interviewed by Doug Henwood about how Puerto Rico’s debt crisis is shaping hurricane recovery efforts for KPFA’s Behind the News, October 5, 2017.
“Policing and Recovery in Puerto Rico,” interview with Helen Hazelwood Isaac for the NACLA Podcast, October 2, 2017.
“Austerian Disaster,” interview with Daniel Denvir for The Dig (Jacobin Podcast), September 29, 2017.
“What To Do About The Disaster In Puerto Rico,” interview with Esty Dinur for WORT Community Radio’s Public Affairs, September 29, 2017.
Interviewed by Joe Donahue about effects of Hurricane Maria on Puerto Rico for WAMC Northeast Public Radio’s The Roundtable, September 28, 2017.
“Trump Sees Devastated Puerto Rico as Captive Market,” interview with Aaron Maté for The Real News Network, September 28, 2017.
Interviewed by Frank Stasio for WUNC North Carolina Public Radio's The State of Things, October 10, 2016.
Upcoming Talks & Events
Stay tuned for upcoming talks and events.