Ruth Wilson Gilmore

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Ruth Wilson Gilmore
Ruth Wilson Gilmore, Heinrich Böll Foundation, 2012 (cropped).jpg
Gilmore in 2012
Born (1950-04-02) April 2, 1950 (age 71)[1]
Occupationscholar, professor
Academic background
Alma materRutgers University (Ph.D., 1998)
ThesisFrom military Keynesianism to post-Keynesian militarism: Finance capital, land, labor, and opposition in the rising California prison state[3] (1998)
Doctoral advisorNeil Smith[2][3]
Academic work
InstitutionsGraduate Center, CUNY, University of Southern California
Main interestsPrison-industrial complex, Race

Ruth Wilson Gilmore (born April 2, 1950) is a prison abolitionist and prison scholar.[4] She is the Director of the Center for Place, Culture, and Politics and professor of geography in Earth and Environmental Sciences at The City University of New York.[5] She has been credited with "more or less single-handedly" inventing carceral geography,[6] the “study of the interrelationships across space, institutions and political economy that shape and define modern incarceration”,[7] although as subdiscipline of human geography, carceral geography has been driven by a broad and international group of scholars. She received the 2020 Lifetime Achievement Award from the American Association of Geographers.[8]

Early life and education[edit]

Ruth Wilson was born on April 2, 1950 in New Haven, Connecticut. Her father, Courtland Seymour Wilson, was a machinist and active in the union having been raised himself by a family active in the workers’ union at Yale University. In 1960, she attended a private school in New Haven as the first, and mostly only, African American student. In 1968, she attended Swarthmore College where she became involved in campus politics. In 1969, she enrolled in Yale where she obtained a degree in drama.[6]


Gilmore earned her Ph.D. from Rutgers University in 1998 in economic geography and social theory, inspired by the work of Neil Smith.[9][6] After finishing her Ph.D. she was hired as an assistant professor at Berkeley and began working on her concept of carceral geography. Carceral geography examines the relationships between landscape, natural resources, political economy, infrastructure and the policing, jailing, caging and controlling of populations.[6] The community of academic scholars in this area is associated with the Carceral Geography Working Group (CGWG) of the Royal Geographical Society with the Institute of British Geographers. Gilmore gave a keynote address at the 2nd International Conference for Carceral Geography at the University of Birmingham, UK, on 12 December 2017.

She is a cofounder of many social justice organizations, including California Prison Moratorium Project.[10] In 1998, she was one of the cofounders of Critical Resistance along with Angela Davis. In 2003, she cofounded Californians United for a Responsible Budget (CURB) to fight jail and prison construction and currently serves on its board.[6]

Gilmore has been a leading scholar and speaker on topics including prisons, decarceration, racial capitalism, oppositional movements, state-making and more. She is the author of the book Golden Gulag which was awarded the Lora Romero First Book Publication Prize for the best book in American Studies by the American Studies Association in 2008.[11] Other writings of hers have been published in such venues as Race & Class, The Professional Geographer, Social Justice, Global Lockdown: Race, Gender, and the Prison Industrial Complex, and the critical anthology The Revolution Will Not Be Funded: Beyond the Non-Profit Industrial Complex, which was edited by the Incite! collective.

Awards and recognition[edit]

In 2011, Gilmore was the keynote speaker at the National Women's Studies Association annual conference in Atlanta, Georgia.[12]

In 2012, the American Studies Association awarded her its first Angela Y. Davis prize for Public Scholarship that "recognizes scholars who have applied or used their scholarship for the "public good." This includes work that explicitly aims to educate the public, influence policies, or in other ways seeks to address inequalities in imaginative, practical, and applicable forms."[13]

In 2014, Gilmore received the Harold M. Rose Award for Anti-Racism Research and Practice from the Association of American Geographers.[14]

In 2017, Gilmore earned the American Studies Association Richard A. Yarborough Award. This honors scholars who demonstrate an excellence in teaching and mentoring.[15]

In 2019, the New York Times Magazine published an article[16] about her and her abolitionist work.

In 2020, Gilmore was listed by Prospect as the seventh-greatest thinker for the COVID-19 era, with the magazine writing, “Gilmore has spent the best part of 30 years developing the field of carceral geography [...] She’s helped shift the conversation about responses to crime from one of punishment to rehabilitation. As the failings of the US justice system come once again to the fore, Gilmore’s radical ideas have never felt more relevant.”[7]

In 2021, Gilmore was elected as a Member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences.[17][18]


  • Gilmore, Ruth Wilson (2007). Golden Gulag: Prisons, Surplus, Crisis, and Opposition in Globalizing California. University of California Press. ISBN 978-0-520-22256-4.
  • Clyde Adrian Woods; Ruth Wilson Gilmore, Development Arrested: The Blues and Plantation Power in the Mississippi Delta London ; New York: Verso, 1998. ISBN 9781844675616


  1. ^ "Gilmore, Ruth Wilson, 1950-". Library of Congress Name Authority File. Library of Congress. Retrieved November 23, 2016.
  2. ^ a b Johnson, Pamela J. (October 1, 2006). "Portrait of an Activist-Academic". News - USC Dornslife. Los Angeles, California. Retrieved November 23, 2016.
  3. ^ a b Gilmore, Ruth Wilson (1998). From military Keynesianism to post-Keynesian militarism: Finance capital, land, labor, and opposition in the rising California prison state (Ph.D.). Rutgers University. OCLC 48273060. ProQuest 304451485.
  4. ^ Kelly, Kim. "What the Prison-Abolition Movement Wants". Teen Vogue. Retrieved 2020-04-27.
  5. ^ "The Graduate Center, CUNY". Retrieved 2014-11-05.
  6. ^ a b c d e Kushner, Rachel (2019-04-17). "Is Prison Necessary? Ruth Wilson Gilmore Might Change Your Mind". The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved 2019-05-13.
  7. ^ a b "The world's top 50 thinkers for the Covid-19 age" (PDF). Prospect. 2020. Retrieved 2020-09-08.
  8. ^ American Association of Geographers (2019-12-02). "AAG is Proud to Announce the 2020 AAG Honors". AAG Newsletter. Retrieved 2020-06-13.
  9. ^ "Ruth Wilson Gilmore Biography". University of California. Archived from the original on 2014-11-08. Retrieved 2014-11-07.
  10. ^ "The Worrying State of the Anti-Prison Movement - Social Justice".
  11. ^ "USC College's Ruth Wilson Gilmore receives prestigious book award". Retrieved 2014-11-05.
  12. ^ National Women's Studies Association 32nd Annual Conference: Feminist Transformations. National Women's Studies Association. 2011-11-10. doi:10.13016/M2BZ61B9X. hdl:1903/20632 – via Digital Repository of the University of Maryland.
  13. ^ "ASA Awards and Prizes - ASA".
  14. ^ "Ruth Wilson Gilmore to Receive Award for Anti-Racism Research, Practice". Retrieved 2014-11-05.
  15. ^ "Richard A. Yarborough Award | ASA".
  16. ^ "Is Prison Necessary? Ruth Wilson Gilmore Might Change Your Mind". The New York Times. 2019-04-17. Retrieved 2020-05-04.
  17. ^ "Graduate Center Professor Ruth Wilson Gilmore Elected to the American Academy of Arts and Sciences". Retrieved 2021-05-01.
  18. ^ "New Members". American Academy of Arts & Sciences. Retrieved 2021-05-01.

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