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On the Suspended Sentences of the Scott Sisters: Mass Incarceration, Kidney Donation, and the Biopolitics of Race in the United States

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)250-271
Number of pages22
JournalScience Technology and Human Values
Issue number2
Early online date12 Jun 2014
E-pub ahead of print12 Jun 2014
Published14 Mar 2015

King's Authors


In December 2010, the governor of Mississippi suspended the dual life sentences of two African American sisters who had been imprisoned for sixteen years on an extraordinary condition: that Gladys Scott donate a kidney to her ailing sister Jamie Scott. The Scott Sisters’ case is a highly unusual one, yet it is a revealing site for inquiry into US biopolitics more broadly. Close attention to the conditional release and its context demands a broader frame than traditional bioethics and helps to push science and technology studies (STS) analysis of race past its conventional focus on genetics. This article draws on the Scott Sisters’ case as a site for interrogating the US context of racialized mass incarceration and kin-oriented and consumerist valorization of organ donation. Tensions between racialized exclusions, the promise of consumerist freedom, and the lack of expectations of the state are foundational to a distinctly American biological citizenship. By putting the Scott Sisters’ case into conversation with broader arguments about incarceration as a site of racialization and STS literatures of organ transplantation and of biological citizenship in diverse geographical sites, this article seeks to articulate some of the racialized contours of biopolitics in the United States.

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