Orisanmi Burton, an assistant professor at American University and a social anthropologist working in the United States, examines in his research the imbrication of grassroots resistance and state repression. Within this broad area of inquiry, his present work explores the collision of Black-led movements for social, political, and economic transformation with state infrastructures of militarized policing, surveillance, and imprisonment.
During his Radcliffe year, Burton is completing his first book manuscript, “Tip of the Spear: Black Revolutionary Organizing and Prison Pacification in the Empire State,” which traces the historical development of prisons in New York State as a political response to the Black radical social movements of the 1960s and 1970s. Drawing on ethnographic, archival, and epistolary sources, he demonstrates that the US prison is a terrain of strategy, contestation, and undeclared war. Burton will also begin work on a new project, tentatively titled “A Language of Liberation: Prisons, Letter Writing, and the (Un)Making of Carceral Subjects,” a meditation on the ways in which letter-writing across prison walls is an ethnographic and archival practice that generates new configurations of intimacy, knowledge, kinship, gender, race, power, and human being.
Burton earned a bachelor’s degree from Hampshire College, a master’s in library and Information science with a concentration in archival studies from Long Island University, and a PhD from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. His research has received support from the Institute of African American Research at the University of North Carolina and the Wenner-Gren Foundation.