Damien M. Sojoyner, “Joy and Pain: A Story of Black Life and Liberation in Five Albums” (U California Press, 2022)

This highly original story reflects on how the carceral state shapes daily life for young Black people–and how Black Americans resist, find joy, and cultivate new visions for the future. Joy and Pain: A Story of Black Life and Liberation in Five Albums (University of California Press, 2022) is about a young man, Marley, and a particular place, the Southern California Library–an archive of radical and progressive movements and a community organization where the author meets Marley. 

Taking music as its thematic undercurrent, the book is structured as a “record collection.” Each of the five “albums” relates Marley’s personal encounters with everyday aspects of the carceral state through an ethnographic A side and then offers deeper context through an anthropological and archival B side. In telling Marley’s story, Damien M. Sojoyner depicts the overwhelming nature of Black precarity in the twenty-first century through the lenses of housing, education, health care, social services, and juvenile detention facilities. But Black life is not defined by precarity; it must embrace social visions of radical freedom that allow the cultivation of a life of joy beyond systems of oppression. In Joy and Pain, we see how Marley’s experience intersects with history and the contemporary political moment–Black knowledge production, Black liberation movements, community-based organizing–to imagine expansive futures.

Damien Sojoyner is Associate Professor of Anthropology at the University of California, Irvine. He is the author of First Strike: Educational Enclosures in Black Los Angeles. 

Reighan Gillam is Associate Professor in the Department of Anthropology at the University of Southern California. She is the author of Visualizing Black Lives: Ownership and Control in Afro-Brazilian Media (University of Illinois Press).

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