Ursula K. Le Guin’s classic work of anarchist literature, The Dispossessed (1974), is preoccupied with the issue of imprisonment. This is hardly surprising given anarchism’s longstanding critical engagement with the prison as state apparatus. For classical anarchists, the prison represents one of the most vile and visible examples of state repression. However, while the abolition of prisons constitutes one of the fundamental goals of anarchism, the alternatives put forth by classical anarchist thinkers risk perpetuating the underlying power relations of carceral justice by encouraging social shaming and the policing of norms. The anarchist society of The Dispossessed uses these techniques to discourage the accumulation of power in order to create an egalitarian society. Unfortunately, these same techniques encourage a conformity that hinders other anarchist values, such as creativity and individual self-determination. In essence, the anarchist society depicted in the novel replaces the literal prison with a different form of imprisonment—the social prison, which continues the repressive function of the state through different means. By creating an “ambiguous” anarchist utopia, Le Guin anticipates the critiques of classical anarchism formulated by poststructural and postmodern anarchist theorists. These critiques are most evident in the theme of imprisonment that threads throughout the novel.

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