The conflict shoreline, colonialism and climate change


When Eyal Weizman was in Vancouver last March – joining us for Gaston Gordillo‘s  workshop on Space, materiality and violence at the Peter Wall Institute for Advanced Studies – he delivered a public lecture on The Conflict Shoreline: Colonialism as Climate Change.

It’s now available as an extended essay (96 pp) from Steidl in association with Cabinet Books:

The village of al-‘Araqib has been destroyed and rebuilt more than seventy times in the “battle over the Negev,” an ongoing Israeli state campaign to uproot the Bedouins from the northern threshold of the desert. Unlike other frontiers fought over during the Israel–Palestine conflict, however, this threshold is not demarcated by fences and walls but advances and recedes in response to cultivation, colonization, displacement, urbanization, and climate change.

The fate of al-‘Araqib, like that of other Bedouin villages along the desert’s threshold, its “aridity line,” is bound up with deep environmental changes. But whereas even the most committed environmentalists today conceive of climate change as an accidental and unintentional side effect of modernity, Israeli architect and theorist Eyal Weizman argues that from the point of view of colonial history, climate change has never been simply collateral damage. It has always been a stated goal; “making the desert bloom” is, in effect, “changing the climate.”

In examining this history, Weizman outlines attempts—from the Ottoman era through the period of European colonization to the present—to scientifically define, measure, and map the threshold of the desert. Such efforts have been important because imperial and, later, national governments—whose laws have never recognized property rights in the desert—aimed to push back this threshold as they tried to expand the limits of arable land and bring the nomads under state control. In the Negev, the displacement of the weather and the displacement of the Bedouins have gone hand in hand. But while the desert edge, and the Bedouins, have been driven further and further south, global climate change today acts as a major counterforce. Predictably, the Bedouins are caught in the middle.

Brilliantly researched and argued, Weizman’s text—part detective story, part history lesson, and part scientific analysis—explores the changing threshold of the Negev through the extraordinary contemporary photographs of American artist Fazal Sheikh, as well as an array of documents, maps, and images, including historical aerial imagery, remote sensing data, state plans, court testimonies, and nineteenth-century travelers’ accounts. Together, these disparate forms of evidence establish the “conflict shoreline” as a border along which climate change and political contestation are deeply, perilously entangled.

You can find some of the background, and the relation to Eyal’s Forensic Architecture project, in an interview earlier this year:

I’m mostly trying to establish forensic architecture as a critical field of practice and as an agency that produce and disseminate evidence about war crimes in urban context. Recent forensic investigations in Guatemala and in the Israeli Negev involved the intersection of violence and environmental transformations, even climate change. For trials and truth commissions, we analyze the extent to which environmental transformation intersect with conflict.

The imaging of this previously invisible types of violence—‘environmental violence’ such as land degradation, the destruction of fields and forests (in the tropics), pollution and water diversion, and also long term processes of desertification—we use as new type of evidence of processes dispersed across time and space. There are other conflicts that unfold in relation to climatic and environmental transformations and in particular in relation to environmental scarcity.

Conflict has reciprocal interaction with environment transformation: environmental change could aggravate conflict, while conflict tends to generate further environmental damage. This has been apparent in Darfur, Sudan where the conflict was aggravated by increased competition over arable due to local land erosion and desertification. War and insurgency have occurred along Sahel—Arabic for ‘shoreline’—on the southern threshold of the Sahara Desert, which is only ebbing as million of hectares of former arable land turn to desert. In past decades, conflicts have broken out in most countries from East to West Africa, along this shoreline: Eritrea, Ethiopia, Somalia, Sudan, Chad, Niger, Mali, Mauritania, and Senegal. In 2011 in the city of Daraa, farmers’ protests, borne out of an extended cycle of droughts, marked the beginning of the Syrian civil war. Similar processes took place in the eastern outskirts of Damascus, Homs, al-Raqqah and along the threshold of the great Syrian and Northern Iraqi Deserts. These transformations impact upon cities, themselves a set of entangled natural/man-made environments. The conflict and hardships along desertification bands compel dispossessed farmers to embark upon increasingly perilous paths of migrations, leading to fast urbanization at the growing outskirts of the cities and slams.

I’m trying to understand these processes across desert thresholds. There has been a very long colonial debate about what is the line beyond which the desert begins. Most commonly it was defined as 200 mm rain per annum. Cartographers were trying to draw it, as it represented, to a certain extent, the limit of imperial control. From this line on, most policing was done through bombing of tribal areas from the air. Since the beginning, the emergence of the use of air power in policing in the post World War I period—aerial control, aerial government—took form in places that were perceived, at the time, as lying beyond the thresholds or edges of the law. The British policing of Iraq, the French in Syria, and Algeria, the Italians in Libya are examples where control would hover in air.

Up to now I was writing about borders that were physical and manmade: walls in the West Bank or Gaza and the siege around it—most notably in Hollow Land (2007). Now I started to write about borders that are made by the interaction of people and the environment—like the desert line—which is not less violent and brutal. The colonial history of Palestine has been an attempt to push the line of the desert south, trying to make it green or bloom—this is in Ben Gurion’s terms—but the origins of this statement are earlier and making the desert green and pushing the line of the desert was also Mussolini’s stated aim. On the other hand, climate change is now pushing that line north.

Following not geopolitical but meteorological borders, helps me cut across a big epistemological problem that confines the writing in international relations or geopolitics within the borders organize your writing. Braudel is an inspiration but, for him, the environment of the Mediterranean is basically cyclically fixed. The problem with geographical determinism is that it takes nature as a given, cyclical, milieu which then affects politics—but I think we are now in a period where politics affects nature in the same way in which nature affects politics. The climate is changing in the same speed as human history.


The conflict shoreline was originally commissioned in response to Fazal Sheikh’s Desert Bloom series (part of his remarkable Erasure trilogy: see image stream above, and also here).

Truth Commission

It has also been submitted as evidence for Zochrot‘s project on transitional justice, the Truth Commission on the responsibility of Israeli society for the events of 1948–1960 in the South.

Transitional justice mechanisms address the needs of communities and countries in conflict to cope with systematic abuses and structural injustices in order to facilitate reconciliation. Communities in conflict, both victims and victimizers, have developed a variety of innovative approaches to addressing the needs that result from ongoing conflicts. Hitherto, practices informed by the transitional justice paradigm have been used mainly to accompany and heal societies and communities in political transitions such as from totalitarian to democratic rule, or from an apartheid regime as in South Africa to an egalitarian democratic regime. Usually, these practices have been applied after a violent conflict had ended in a peace agreement, as in the former Yugoslavia, or in an armistice, as in Cyprus or Northern Ireland.

Many activists around the world have demonstrated time and again that silencing and ignoring the past prevent conflict resolution and the attainment of true reconciliation. Therefore, even in situations of seemingly intractable conflicts, several initiatives by civil society organizations, trade union or social religious organizations similar to state-sponsored mechanisms of transitional justice have sprung around the world. For the past 40 years, these initiatives have acted without government backing to bring resolve violent conflicts.

The Truth Commission established by Zochrot now joins these initiatives. The first of its kind in Israel/Palestine, the Commission is unique in that … it is active while the conflict is still ongoing, and against the background of the regime’s evasion of responsibility to the events of the Nakba, which began in 1948 and is still ongoing [the Nakba or ‘catastrophe’ refers to the forced eviction and dispossession of the Palestinian people set in motion by the war of 1948]. The Truth Commission for Exposing Israeli Society’s Responsibility for the Events of 1948-1960 in the South which started its deliberations in late October 2014…

The Commission seeks to expose the events of the Nakba during those years – events that have profound implications for the ongoing Nakba experienced by the Palestinian Bedouins to this day. The Commission examines testimonies by Palestinian displaced persons and refugees, as well as Jews who lived in the south and Jewish fighters who took part in displacement and expulsion operations in the area. In addition, the Commission peruses relevant archive materials. The Commission’s report will be designed to encourage the Jewish society in Israel to accept responsibility for past injustices in the south, with reference to the ongoing Nakba, and for redressing them.

You can also read Tom Pessah‘s report for +972 here.

Art in another age of mechanical destruction

Paglen (Untitled, Predators, Indian Springs)

Anthony Downey‘s beautifully illustrated and generously hyperlinked essay on The legacy of the war on terror for Tate Etc (34) (2015) is here.

For centuries artists have both responded to and reflected on political actions and events that shape society. Now they have risen to the challenge of questioning the moral ambiguity and culpability of governments waging the war on terror, whose methods may, according to this writer, have done more to weaken democracy than any terrorist.

The essay considers the art works of Trevor Paglen (see his Untitled, Predators, Indian Springs, above) Christoph Büchel and Gianni Motti, Ayreen Anastas and Rene Gabri, Gregor Schneider, (see his Passageway No 1 from White Torture below), Wafaa Bilal, Coco Fusco, Hasan Elahi and Gerhard Richter.


If you know Anthony’s previous work (for example his essay on ‘Exemplary subjects: Camps and the politics of representation’), or his Art and Politics now (2014), you will not be surprised to find that – as the image above suggests – there’s much in this essay about Guantanamo — but also much more besides.

Here is the Introduction:

In the months after the attacks on the World Trade Centre on 11 September 2001 a significant number of artists and cultural practitioners compared the events, in all their visual impact and operatic pitching of good against evil, with a work of art. These comments were dismissed at the time as reactionary and in bad taste, but they did reveal an imminent desire to develop a degree of distance – be it aesthetic or otherwise – from the emotive, ‘spectacular’ and brutal realities that unfolded on that fateful day. In the months and years that followed, under the political logic of a so-called war on terror, we saw yet another unprecedented attack, this time on the legal systems protecting basic civil rights. The war on terror segued, in short order, into an assault on human rights. For some, terrorism has become the single biggest challenge facing democratically elected governments worldwide. For others, it is the political reaction to it that has done more to weaken democracy than any act of terror.

Executed as it was in the name of justice, the war on terror has resulted in a nominal state of emergency being declared across North America and Europe. Since 2001 we have witnessed the repeated suspension of due legal process, the revocation of constitutional law, the institutionalisation of torture, the withdrawal of civil rights, the deployment of mass surveillance, the routine collection of information on innocent citizens and arbitrary detention without trial for countless people worldwide.

Contemporary artists, in examining the ambiguity of this state of affairs, often create narratives and forms of speculative visual rhetoric that expose the anxieties surrounding these acts.

Wall Exchange: Forensic Architecture


“When war happens in the city, people die in buildings, the majority in their homes; when the dust settles ruins become evidence with which we could reconstruct controversial events.”
Eyal Weizman

I’m delighted to announce that my good friend Eyal Weizman will deliver the next Wall Exchange on Forensic Architecture at the Vogue Theatre in downtown Vancouver on 15 October 2015:

Can architecture provide new tool of political analysis and intervention? This question is central to the work of Eyal Weizman, Israeli architect and scholar. Since 2010 he has been directing Forensic Architecture, an innovative forensic agency that investigates the sites of contemporary conflicts and monitors the crimes of states. His teams examine buildings, ruins, maps, satellite imagery and increasingly an emergent type of testimony — images and clips taken by citizens and uploaded online. His talk will unpack new modes of exposing the logic behind state violence from the frontier regions of Pakistan, through the forests of south America to the Israel-Palestine conflict.

I’ve noted the work of Forensic Architecture many times – see here and here, for example, and our Acting Director Gastón Gordillo‘s excellent review essay on Forensis [introduction available here; full version appeared in Environment & Planning D: Society and Space 33 (2) (2015) 382 – 388 and is available here] – so if you are (or can be) in Vancouver in the fall, do come along.

Like all Wall Exchanges, the lecture is sponsored by UBC’s Peter Wall Institute for Advanced Studies and is free and open to the public – though you do need to book in advance.  Full details and a link to book will be available on the PWIAS website from 8 September onwards.

War Material

SARGENT Two soldiers at Arras

I’m thrilled to say that the (very!) long-form version of The Natures of War, the 1st Neil Smith Lecture which I gave at the University of St Andrews in November 2013, is now online (‘Early View’) at Antipode, all 54 pages of it.

Here is the abstract:

“Nature” is more than a resource bank whose riches can trigger armed conflict and finance its depredations; it is also a medium through which military and paramilitary violence is conducted. The militarisation of nature is part of a dialectic in which earthy, vibrant matter shapes the contours of conflict and leaves its marks on the bodies of soldiers who are both vectors and victims of military violence. Three case studies identify some of the central bio-physical formations that became entangled with armed conflict in the twentieth century: the mud of the Western Front in the First World War, the deserts of North Africa in the Second World War, and the rainforests of Vietnam. Taken together, these reveal vital connections between the materiality and corporeality of modern war and their continued relevance to its contemporary transformations.

You can still find the original, non-Harvard style version under the DOWNLOADS tab – and I’m truly grateful to Andy Kent for relieving me of the task of converting my original MS into the Harvard system.

The image above, incidentally, is John Singer Sargent‘s Two soldiers at Arras (1917), and is a perfect illustration of this passsage from the essay:

In the face of these horrors, some soldiers came to regard themselves as having become as “un-natural” as the militarised, industrialised natures in which they were embedded. The Tommy “will soon be like nothing on earth”, wrote one officer on the Somme in January 1916. “If only we could be clothed in rubber all over and fed through a tube I think some real progress in our equipment might have been made”. He was only half-joking. The next phase in the emergence of this cyborg warrior can be seen in the tank battles that raged across the deserts of North Africa during the Second World War. But, as I must now show, even in the midst of this more fully mechanised warfare, bio-physical entanglements remained immensely powerful—and the human body intensely vulnerable.

I then do the same for Vietnam.

My plan is to rework this version: to incorporate as many of the images I used in the Vietnam extracts I posted online here and here (together with others from the Western Front and the Western Desert), to add a fourth case study of Afghanistan, and to include the revised version in a new book of essays that I’m calling War material.

The plan looks like this (in each case the original essays, apart from the intro, are available under the DOWNLOADS tab too; I’m re-working those versions, planing away any overlaps, and adding more images):

Chapter 1: War material

Chapter 2: Gabriel’s map

Chapter 3: The Natures of War

Chapter 4: Doors into Nowhere

Chapter 5: Lines of Descent

These are all more or less ready to go, apart from the introduction, but I’m debating whether to add a sixth chapter, called ‘Wounds of war’, which would parallel ‘The Natures of War’ in many ways and chart the changing geographies of casualty evacuation from war zones, 1914-2014.

Each of the essays in the book, even in their present form, has something to say about the way in which the conduct of modern war has – and has not – changed over the last hundred years, but the title also tilts at those who seem to think that everything we need to know about modern military violence was uncannily anticipated by Michel Foucault in his (I too think brilliant) Paris lectures in the 1970s so that this absolves them of the need for any research or even reading into the materialities of war (a strangely non-Foucauldian assumption, given his own frequent immersion in the archive and his densely empirical way of working).

I’d be grateful for any comments or suggestions.

“This ain’t Jamaica”

The Tender SoldierA follow-up to my post on the demise of the US military’s Human Terrain System: an interesting report from Vanessa Gezari in the New York Times.  She’s the author of The Tender Soldier, a first-hand account of the Human Terrain System, and she starts her Times essay by recalling her own experience accompanying a US patrol in Afghanistan in 2010:

Cultural training and deep, nuanced understanding of Afghan politics and history were in short supply in the Army; without them, good intelligence was hard to come by, and effective policy making was nearly impossible. Human Terrain Teams, as Human Terrain System units were known, were supposed to include people with social-science backgrounds, language skills and an understanding of Afghan or Iraqi culture, as well as veterans and reservists who would help bind the civilians to their assigned military units.

On that winter day in Zormat, however, just how far the Human Terrain System had fallen short of expectations was clear. Neither of the social scientists on the patrol that morning had spent time in Afghanistan before being deployed there. While one was reasonably qualified, the other was a pleasant 43-year-old woman who grew up in Indiana and Tennessee, and whose highest academic credential was an advanced degree in organizational management she received online. She had confided to me that she didn’t feel comfortable carrying a gun she was still learning how to use. Before arriving in Afghanistan, she had traveled outside the United States only once, to Jamaica — “and this ain’t Jamaica,” she told me…

The shortcomings I saw in Zormat were hardly the extent of the Human Terrain System’s problems. The project suffered from an array of staffing and management issues, coupled with internal disagreements over whether it was meant to gather intelligence, hand out protein bars and peppermints, advise commanders on tribal conflicts or all three — a lack of clear purpose that eventually proved crippling. It outraged anthropologists, who argued that gathering information about indigenous people while embedded in a military unit in active combat posed an intractable ethical conflict. Once the subject of dozens of glowing news stories, the program had fallen so far off reporters’ radar by last fall that the Army was able to quietly pull the plug without a whisper in the mainstream media.

DEITCHMAN jpegShe suggests that the military could – and should – have learned from its previous attempts to enlist social scientists in Vietnam, Central America and elsewhere, and points to Seymour Deitchman‘s  The Best-Laid Schemes: A tale of social science research and bureaucracy (1976), which is available as an open access download from the US Marine Corps University Press here.

Deitchman worked for the Pentagon as a counterinsurgency advisor (among many other roles), and his account was a highly personal, take-no-prisoners affair.

Part of the problem, he insisted, was the language of the social sciences:

DEITCHMAN p. 138 jpeg

There’s much more in a similar vein, and not surprisingly, Deitchman’s conclusion about the military effectiveness of social science was a jaundiced one.

The community of social science is likely to urge and has urged that increased government support of research on the great social problems of the day. With due recognition for the government’s need to collect data to help it plan and evaluate the social programs it is expected to undertake, I have reached the conclusion, nevertheless, that the opposite of the social scientists’ recommendation is in order. The research is needed, without question. Some of it, especially in the evaluation area, is necessary and feasible for government to sponsor. Beyond this, its support should be subject to the economic and political laws of the intellectual marketplace. And the government should do less, not more, to influence the workings of that marketplace. It should support less, not more, research into the workings of society.

You couldn’t make it up (or perhaps they did).   But this isn’t Vanessa’s view.  ‘The need for cultural understanding isn’t going away,’ she insists:

The rise of drones and sociocultural modeling, which uses data to simulate and sometimes predict human responses to conflict and crisis, have given some in the defense establishment the idea that we can do all our fighting safely, from a distance. But we’ve had this idea before, in the decades following Vietnam, and the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan should have reminded us of its falsity.

Oikological warfare

OWENS Counterinsurgency

A new book from the ever-innnovative Patricia Owens, Economy of Force: counterinsurgency and the historical rise of the Social (Cambridge University Press, 2015).

There’s an excellent interview with Patricia at e-IR here, which includes her own summary of the book:

The book retrieves the older, but surprisingly neglected, language of household governance, oikonomia, to show how the techniques and domestic ideologies of household administration are highly portable and play a remarkably central role in international and imperial relations. In contrast to the ahistorical and anachronistic adoption of social language across IR, I think there is an important story to be told of when, where, and why the social realm first emerged as the domain through which human life could be intervened in and transformed. Economy of Force tells this story in terms of modern transformations in and violent crises of household forms of rule. In two late-colonial British emergencies in Malaya (1948-1960) and Kenya (1952-1960), US counterinsurgency in Vietnam (1954-1975), and US-led campaigns in Afghanistan (2001-2014) and Iraq (2003-2011), so-called ‘armed social work’ policies were the continuation of oikonomia – not politics – by other means. Though never wholly succeeding, counterinsurgents drew on and innovated different forms of household governance to create units of rule in which local populations were domesticated. Military strategists conceived population control as sociological warfare because the social realm itself and distinctly social forms of thought are modern forms of oikonomikos, the art and science of household rule.

The argument has big implications for international theory, as well as the history and theory of counterinsurgency. Rather than objective theories of modern society and their interrelations, various forms of liberalism, political realism, social constructivism, and Marxism need to be situated within the history of the rise and violent transformation of the social realm. They are fragments of competing paradigms of social regulation. Ironically, the dominance of distinctly social forms of thought has obscured the household ontology of the modern social realm. Each of the major traditions is explicitly based on, or implicitly accepts, the erroneous notion that modern capitalism destroyed large-scale forms of household rule. So the book not only offers a new history and theory of counterinsurgency. It offers a new history of the rise of the social realm and political history and theory of household governance.

Research for the book was supported by a yearlong fellowship at the Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study at Harvard University. There’ll be a symposium on Economy of Force at Disorder of Things later in 2015.

Here’s the Contents list:

1. Introduction: oikonomia in the use of force
2. The really real? A history of ‘social’ and ‘society’
3. Out of the confines of the household?
4. The colonial limits of society
5. ‘More than concentration camps’: the battle for hearths in two late-colonial emergencies
6. Society itself is at war: new model pacification in Vietnam
7. Oikonomia by other means: counterinsurgency in Afghanistan and Iraq
8. Conclusion: ‘it’s the oikos, stupid’.

Among the many pre-publication plaudits, here’s Didier Fassin‘s:

“Through a combination of historical perspective on the colonial world and contemporary inquiry into the imperial enterprise, Economy of Force invites us to rethink the laws of warfare and politics of counterinsurgency by paying attention to the pacification of local populations understood as a form of domestication. It thus unveils the genealogy of the blurred line between military and humanitarian interventions.”

You can get a taste of Patricia’s argument (particularly if you shrink from CUP’s extortionate pricing, even for the e-edition) in her ‘Human security and the rise of the social’, Review of International Studies 38 (2012) 547-567 and ‘From Bismarck to Petraeus:the question of the social and the social question in counterinsurgency’, European journal of international relations 19 (1) (2013) 139-161.

I’ve just heard from Patricia, who tells me that CUP will publish Economy of Force next year in paperback (which ought to make it much more accessible); she’s also made available the proofs of the Introduction on her page here.

Bearing witness

ICCG Ramallah 2015

Lisa Tilley provides some sobering reflections on the recent International Conference of Critical Geography at Ramallah here:

The settler colonial condition can be fully understood only by those who live it. But the rest of us can at least bear witness in the place (Palestine) where it is most legible….

Yet in spite of the overtly political and defiant tone, the organisers had agonised over the decision to hold the event in the West Bank because doing so effectively excluded most Arab and Muslim scholars from other parts of the world, as well as Israeli allies who are prohibited from entering Palestinian urban areas, lest Israeli-Palestinian solidarities bloom. Some registered participants were turned away by border forces after being interrogated upon arrival at Tel Aviv, others, especially those with links to Arab or predominantly Muslim countries were subject to invasive interrogation and humiliation either on arrival or on departure.

Yet even these denials, sacrifices, indignities, and border dramas, much as they caused individual pain, actually served in their own way to fortify the overall political message of the conference by becoming part of the anti-normalcy performance of the event itself. Beyond this, physically being in the ‘critical’ geographies of the West Bank was politically and intellectually productive in a way that would be impossible to recreate in another time and place…

Palestine always stays on our lips, confronts our concepts and categories, even rendering worthless some of our carefully spun arguments. The real lessons took place in fertile valleys, poisoned by settler toxins, alongside the walls in which blast holes remain, at the sites of shootings and repressed Selma-style marches, witnessed by nobody…

There were moments when we all simply turned our faces away and wept. But the tears of three hundred critical geographers falling on Palestinian soil will not bring down walls or shatter a violent racist project. “We do not need pity” was stated from the start by Palestinian scholars. So instead the task is to bear witness to Palestine, to say that we know Palestine, that we know it exists, that it has existed, and will continue to exist. Palestinians continue the process of writing back, we can only echo what they say and join in the task of writing/speaking/thinking back in order to bring into being a global Palestine.

More (tweets) here.  I so wish I could have been there.

Travelling through words

How-We-Write-cover-EAt Stuart Elden‘s suggestion, I’ve been invited to join a collaborative project initiated and edited by Suzanne Akbari called ‘How we write‘: it’s an interdisciplinary collection of short essays each of which describes how we write (and emphatically not how you ought to write…).

It will be published in remarkably short order by Punctum Books as a free downloadable volume; the contributors are Suzanne Conklin Akbari, Michael Collins, Alexandra Gillespie, Alice Hutton Sharp, Asa Simon Mittman, Jeffrey Jerome Cohen, Maura Nolan, Rick Godden, Bruce Holsinger, Stuart Elden and Steve Mentz.

There’s certainly not one way of writing, and as I roughed out my contribution I realised through talking with friends that even in my own field(s) the variety of writing practices is enormous and seemingly endless.  Trevor Barnes told me over lunch yesterday that he had once thought everyone wrote like him.  It turns out that we have much in common – we both find writing difficult, and neither of us writes every day – and we are worlds away from a close colleague who writes in bed from 6 to 10 a.m., longhand on a yellow legal pad, everything tumbling out perfectly formed…

So here is what I came up with (with some links added):

Travelling through words

 The way I write – by which I mean both the practices I follow and (please God) the style of my writing – has changed over the years: though, as I tell all my students, that doesn’t mean it’s become any easier.

I wrote my PhD thesis (on the woollen industry in Yorkshire between 1780 and 1840) in three weeks. Really. Starting at 7 a.m., with thirty minutes off for lunch (including a walk to the corner shop for a newspaper, trailed by our deeply suspicious cat all the way there and all the way back), an hour off for dinner and the quick pleasure of a novel, knocking off at midnight. Every day for twenty-one days. When I finished I promised myself I’d never work like that again. Years later, while I was writing The Colonial Present, I became wholly absorbed in the attempt to keep up with a cascade of real-time events in multiple places. My training as an historical geographer hadn’t prepared me for that – I’d always envied the ability of colleagues writing about contemporary issues to make sense of a world that was changing around them as they wrote – and there were times when I yearned for the less frenetic pace of archival work. But I wasn’t writing to a deadline – though as the project swelled beyond an analysis of the US-led invasion of Afghanistan to include Israel’s renewed assault on occupied Palestine and then the US-led invasion of Iraq, I decided I must finish before Bush invaded France.

Deadlines are the problem: I’ve always had the greatest difficulty writing to meet them because I can never be sure where my words will take me. Lecturing is something else entirely. There’s something infinitely more pressing about facing a live audience the next morning, and since I don’t perform from a prepared script I don’t have to fine-tool my prose or curb my flights of fancy, and I like the sense of freedom that gives me. Anyone writing in those pre-digital days could also rely on a raft of excuses to stay afloat in the face of turbulent editors – not least clinging to the flotsam of “I posted the manuscript last week.” But a PhD thesis combined the worst of both worlds: appealing to a mail-storm was out of the question, and my Cambridge examiners were live and all too close at hand. The problem was that I had made little real progress and instead had devoted myself to acting (a live audience again). Every Wednesday evening I would walk home after rehearsals promising myself a fresh start the following morning. But who starts on a Thursday? So we agreed, me and I, to wait until Monday. Monday evening found me walking home after rehearsals renewing my vows. But it was the 29th of the month, and who starts anything then? So we both agreed to wait until the 1st of the month. And when that arrived, it was a Thursday. You could keep this up forever, or at least I could. In this case, the back story was that I had been married for just three months when my mother-in-law asked my wife to accompany her on an extended visit to her family in Colombia, and I realized that this was an opportunity for uninterrupted, distraction-free writing.

Those two adjectives tell the real story: how I welcomed those interruptions and distractions! There always seemed to be good reasons to defer putting pen to paper (or, more accurately in those days, fingers to the keys of my electric typewriter). As you will have gathered I was, and remain, a past master at procrastination. I know that many writers have an iron will and obediently follow a strict self-discipline. Perhaps the most extreme, though probably apocryphal, example is Victor Hugo, who supposedly instructed his manservant to confiscate all his clothes so that he couldn’t leave the house while he was working on a novel. But that’s not me (I don’t have a manservant).

Or at any rate, it’s not me until I immerse myself in the writing. And that’s always been my first problem: starting. Over the years I’ve learned to know and trust myself. So I know I can write in the morning, sometimes in the evening but never in the afternoon – so I’ve stopped trying. And if the words aren’t there on Monday morning, there is no point in spending the day staring at the screen and hesitantly pecking at the keys, because I know very well that the next morning I will come in, read the print-out and tear the whole thing up. Better to find other things to do – especially if I can convince myself that they are getting me into the right space to start the next day. The converse is also true. If the words are leaking out of my fingertips dismally early on a Sunday morning, then out they must come (and, in case you are wondering, I’m still married to my wife – who learned all this long before I did). The irony is that once the text is moving, I’ve always wondered why it took me so long to get started.

I invariably wonder about that because I actually enjoy the process once it’s under way, though each time I also wonder whether I’ll be able to pull it off again. Whenever I sit at my desk, or increasingly these days my laptop, there’s almost always a flicker of doubt: will the words come this time? I imagine (another conceit, I know) that it’s something like the moment just before the diver launches himself into space. I pause, waiting to break the still surface of the screen.

I have my own swimming-pool library, of course. I’ll have read and read and then read some more, and I’ll have organized my notes, quotations, comments, thoughts and ideas into a long working – I was going to say draft, but it’s more of a storyboard. In the past, the storyboard would have been the product of reading and thinking, by which I mean it was a verbal-textual product-in-formation. Reading is a creative process, to be sure, though it’s usually an internal one as you work with the text to understand what the author is arguing (and why they could possibly be arguing that) while at the same time making it your own: not just putting it into your own words but working out what you make of it, where it’s taking you (and whether you want to go there), and installing it into your own library (where it may well magically move from one shelf to another). So I’ve got endless notes – Kindle Highlights now saves me hours of transcription, and I work through them, highlighting key passages in bold, adding comments and organizing them into digital files – and I’ll have extracted what I need, and cut-and-pasted everything into a rough map that still doesn’t commit me to any single route.

I know that it’s also a long way from the text I’m going to write; I open that up as a separate document, control my fear at its blankness by formatting the page, giving the document a title (I actually can’t write without a title), saving it, and then – well, wait or write.

I don’t read (or write) with a single purpose; on the way all sorts of other ideas flicker into being, rarely fully formed, that might end up in the essay I’m working on at the moment but might just as well end up as the spur for something else altogether. My sources are all over the place, and ideas are as likely to emerge from fiction as they are from anywhere else. Years ago I read William Boyd’s An Ice-Cream War, and one passage – “Gabriel thought maps should be banned. They gave the world an order and reasonableness it didn’t possess” – stayed with me, like a burr clinging to my jeans. I used it as an epigraph in one of the chapters in Geographical Imaginations, but years later I surprised myself by returning not only to that passage but also to the incident it described, and unfolding it into a completely new essay on cartographic vision and what I called “corpography” in the First World War (in which another novel, Tom McCarthy’s C, also occupies a central place: I can’t think of a more beautiful combination of skilled research and superb writing). I called the essay “Gabriel’s Map” [DOWNLOADS tab] – of course – but, more figuratively for my present purposes, working on it confirmed that there’s something deeply deceptive about mapping, a false sense of security that has to be supplemented by lively interruptions activated through the body.

So I also like to be free of the text – springing away from the board, if you like (and I do like) – so that for me there’s always been another moment in creative work that is an intensely physical, even corporeal process, thinking that is best conducted on the move, sometimes in front of a class but often out walking, alive to the world around me until it disappears (or I do) into my own fabricated world. I’ve always had the sensation of feeling myself think: of ideas moving around, words forming in my mouth, whole phrases springing to my lips (the real trick is to remember them!). I often talk to myself, even say passages out loud, because the rhythm and cadence of the prose matters to me, and I know it does to some readers too. I remember Roger Lee, when he was editor of the Transactions of the Institute of British Geographers, writing to tell me that he had just spent a summer’s afternoon wandering around his garden reading aloud parts of my manuscript on the Egyptian journeys of Florence Nightingale and Gustave Flaubert. It was a characteristically thoughtful and wonderfully appreciative remark, and I’ve never forgotten it. In some measure, I think, I always have Roger and his garden in my mind’s eye as I try to coax more words into the world.

Even writing is a corporeal process. I can’t think with my laptop on my lap – it has to be on a table or a desk – and I need a chair that I can push back or pull up; I need space to get up, scoot to a book-case, stand and gaze out of the window; and I write best in bare feet (seriously: perhaps that’s where the diving metaphor comes from). I usually write three or four pages without much editing. This is never the whole argument or story, just the first three or four pages, and – like those crime novelists whose work I most admire – I’m never sure where I’m going next. (How I despair of those who tell me they have finished their research so that all – all! – they have to do is “write it up,” as though writing is not part of the creative research process: if what you’ve written is merely a record of what you’ve done or thought, then perhaps you should work in a laboratory). Three or four hot pages uncurl from the printer, and then I take myself off – sometimes to my office at the university, sometimes to a coffee shop – where I go over what I’ve written. It’s much better editing hard copy than trying to do so on the screen, and for some reason I have to use a black roller-ball; pencil doesn’t work, and blue ink is a disaster. By the time I’ve re-written the draft, expanded sentences that I now see are shorthand for something that needs much more explication, and added notes to myself about work that needs to be done to fill out gaps, I’ve also got a sense of where the writing is taking me next.

photo-3So it’s back to the keyboard – and back to the beginning of the manuscript. I rework my original pages, and by the time I’ve finished (scribbling on my original storyboard and annotating the map while I’m writing the essay, adding footnotes which will sometimes make it into the finished version but are just as likely to be notes to myself, and pushing further out into the unknown) those three or four pages will have grown to six or seven. I use footnotes constantly, sometimes as commentary, often as placeholders for paragraphs to be drafted in the next round of revisions, and always as a holding pen for references. I never use the Harvard reference system while I’m composing – to me, the arch-enemy of good writing [see Gregory D (1990)] – and the final labour of transforming (deforming) my prose into the obstacle course of brackets, names and dates required by most journals is the most depressing part of the whole business. Once my six or seven pages are on the screen the cycle starts again: back to the beginning, editing, annotating, moving some of those footnotes into the text (which is often the best place for them) and composing another three or four pages, slowly pushing on.

It’s a discontinuous process, but I’m always writing from the beginning towards the end, although I never know in advance where that will be. It isn’t seamless, and sometimes everything comes to a juddering halt. These days I use my blog as (among other things) a sort of five-finger exercise, practicing ideas for long-form essays and getting the words to flow across the screen, but some days that’s not enough. In fact, I can look back at virtually all of my published work and remember how the gaping white space between this paragraph and that marks a week, sometimes (far) longer, when nothing was working. That’s almost always been because I didn’t know enough or because I’d tried to dodge a difficulty. So I eventually admit to myself that I need to read and think some more, to go back and undo the preceding paragraphs, even – the horror of it! – to delete whole passages (that’s easily the hardest part, but I’ve learned to save those deletions in case they can be given a new lease of life somewhere else), and often to re-order or even re-think the narrative. This also usually involves going off to find new source materials, reading more essays and more books, so that the whole journey opens up again.

photo-6En route, my desk becomes steadily more cluttered with piles of books, previous print-outs, pages from articles and far too many black roller-ball pens. There’s no trail of breadcrumbs to take me back to the beginning, but there are several coffee mugs in different stages of decomposition which mark the stages of my increasing immersion in the text. Friends and family know when I’m not working on something: my desk is tidy. But once I’m in that space (the zone?) I never, ever stop the research and switch to writing.

I’ve described all this as working with a storyboard, largely because I think of what I do now as telling stories. This means two things. First, I think it’s a mistake to front-load theory into any essay; unless what you are about is textual exegesis – I did a lot of that in the past, but if I do it now it’s en passant – that act will needlessly limit the story you tell. You may think that’s a good thing – after all, you can’t say everything and you need to keep what you write within bounds – but I’ve come to think of writing as a journey that takes me (and, crucially, my readers) to unexpected places. Front-loading theory is the intellectual equivalent of a conjurer coming on stage and showing the audience how a trick is done before they do it. There’s a reason they don’t do that. I realize that this is a device which helps a lot of writers magic words onto the page, but it gives the impression that theory is something to be ‘applied,’ that it provides a template, whereas I try to treat it as a medium in which I work – and one that will be changed by the substantive materials I use. (In much the same way, my ‘map’ is constantly changed as I travel with it: it’s not the map but the mapping that matters). I also think that the best sort of theory is carried in solution: if you know your Michel Foucault or Judith Butler, say, you will recognize their hand in what I write, but if you don’t you are not disqualified from grasping what I’m saying. It follows, too, that theory in my writing is always impure and hybrid; I borrow from multiple sources, since I still haven’t found anyone who asks all the interesting questions or provides all the satisfying answers, and I’m usually aware of the tensions and contradictions between them. But ultimately the story is the thing.

Second, writing is no longer a purely verbal-textual process for me because I now work from a visual storyboard. Everything I’ve written for the past five or six years (apart from this essay, ironically) has emerged out of presentations that I’ve tried to design to make as visually arresting as possible. I’ve found a real pleasure in image research – which often takes me to sources I would never have found any other way, and opens up avenues of inquiry I’d never have glimpsed otherwise – but it’s also a way of ‘slow thinking’: of trying to work out how best to show what I mean, and even of figuring out what I mean. One of Allan Pred’s favourite Benjamin quotations was “I have nothing to say, only to show,” and at long last I’m discovering the power of that resonant phrase. So as I search for images, and juggle text boxes and fonts, I’m thinking about how this will look and in consequence what it will say…instead of lines of text marching across the screen, words appearing from I never know quite where, everything slows down and, again, I feel myself think. I’ve found this even more immersive than pure writing, a process of creation that constantly draws me in and draws me back and pushes me on. It’s also interactive: it’s much easier to re-jig a presentation, which I do every time depending on the previous audience’s reaction and the Q&A, than it is to re-work a text (and reading a paper to an audience is in most cases one of the least effective ways of communicating anything of substance to anyone). I should probably add that I prefer Keynote to PowerPoint, I never use pre-set templates and there’s not a bullet-point in sight. Since I don’t have a script to accompany the presentation, the only disadvantage is that once I’ve performed the thing enough times for me to be more or less satisfied with the argument, at least for the moment, I then have to convert a cascade of images and quotations into a text…. Sometimes, to be honest, that means I don’t; I’ve done the fun part, and I shrink from the labor of conversion. Sometimes I do – in which case the whole process starts all over again, using the presentation as the basis for the storyboard and adding more notes, ideas and sources to track down.

There’s also another, more traditional sense of interactivity involved in my work, because there comes a time when writing has to join up with reading: communication is, after all, a collaborative not a competitive process. So I’ve always relied on good friends (colleagues and graduate students alike) who are willing to read my far too long drafts and tell me exactly what they disagree with, what they don’t get, and what is wrong with them; they almost always suggest other things to think about and other sources to track down. Referees are often a different kettle of fish, particularly if you haven’t referred to them (which is what some of them seem to think “refereeing” means). But here too there is an opportunity for dialogue – there’s no point in acceding to every criticism and suggestion if you’re not persuaded by them, and I’ve learned most from those editors who have identified the points which they think are particularly sharp while leaving me to make up my own mind so long as I can justify it.

In this sense, writing – like reading – can be a never-ending process. In much the same way that you can’t read the same book twice, because you are no longer the same person that read it first time round, you read your own work differently when you see it through someone else’s eyes. And that’s one of the best things about the whole process. There are times when writing is a solitary and remarkably lonely affair. There’s a passage at the very end of E.P. Thompson’s Whigs and Hunters – one of my political and intellectual heroes ever since I worked on my PhD – where he describes himself sitting in his study, the clock ticking towards midnight, the desk covered with notes, photocopies and drafts. I identify with that; but there is also that wonderful moment when you are released back into the world that lies outside the text – with your text in your hands and in your reader’s. There’s no greater reward.

UPDATE:  Two things.  My daughter Jaimie reminds me that I missed out a key confession: I type with just two fingers.  I’ve never learned to touch type, but I do type fast — so much so that in the Dark Ages of the typewriter I frequently caused the levers to jam…  And How we write is now available to download for free from Punctum Books, though if you do so PLEASE consider making a donation to the press who have produced a beautiful book in an amazingly short space of time.

Militarized Cities

My good friend Léopold Lambert‘s Funambulist blog and his associated podcast (Archipelago) have been joined by a new print and digital magazine with the same title.

Its subtitle, “Politics of Space and Bodies”, expresses it ambition to bridge the world of design (architecture, urbanism, industrial and fashion design) with the world of the humanities (philosophy, anthropology, history, geography, etc.) through critical articles written by long-time collaborators as well as new ones.

Many aspects of The Funambulist’s editorial mediums remain free and in open access (books, blog, and podcast) and readers who enjoy the forms and contents of the platform are invited to consider purchasing or subscribing to the magazine as a form of support for this form of production of knowledge.

The inaugural September issue on Militarized Cities is available on pre-sale.  It includes:

by Léopold Lambert
by Mona Fawaz, Mona Harb & Ahmad Gharbieh
by Sadia Shirazi
by Mohamed Elshahed
by Demilit (Javier Arbona, Bryan Finoki & Nick Sowers)
by Nora Akawi
by Philippe Theophanidis
46 | STUDENTS: REVISING HISTORIES [building truth]
by James Martin
by Zulaikha Ayub
by Maeve Elder & Ylan Vo

Subscription details for both the print and digital editions are here; the project as a whole can be accessed via The Funambulist‘s Home page here.

Bodies of violence


I’m finally working my way through Lauren Wilcox‘s impressive Bodies of Violence (see my earlier notice here), both to develop my ideas about corpography in general (see here, here and here) and to think through her arguments about drones in particular (in the penultimate chapter, ‘Body counts: the politics of embodiment in precision warfare’).

More on both later, but in the meantime there’s an extremely interesting symposium on the book over at The Disorder of Things that went on for most of last month.  I’ll paste some extracts below to give a flavour of the discussion, which is well worth reading in its entirety.

Lauren Wilcox on ‘Bodies of Violence: Theorizing embodied subjects in International Relations’.

[W]hile war is actually inflicted on bodies, or bodies are explicitly protected, there is a lack of attention to the embodied dynamics of war and security…. I focus on Judith Butler’s work, in conversation with other theorists such as Julia Kristeva, Donna Haraway and Katherine Hayles. I argue, as have others, that there is continuity between her works on “Gender” from Gender Trouble and Bodies that Matter and her more explicitly ethical and political works such as Precarious Life and Frames of War. A central feature of Butler’s concept of bodily precarity is that our bodies are formed in and through violence….
My book makes three interrelated arguments:

First, contemporary practices of violence necessitate a different conception of the subject as embodied. Understanding the dynamics of violence means that our conceptual frameworks cannot remain ‘disembodied’. My work builds on feminist and biopolitical perspectives that make the question of embodiment central to interrogating power and violence.

Second, taking the embodied subject seriously entails conceptualizing the subject as ontologically precarious, whose body is not given by nature but formed through politics and who is not naturally bounded or separated from others. Feminist theory in particular offers keen insights for thinking about our bodies as both produced by politics as well as productive of [politics].

Third, theorizing the embodied subject in this way requires violence to be considered not only destructive, but also productive in its ability to re-make subjects and our political worlds.

Antoine Bousquet on ‘Secular bodies of pain and the posthuman martial corps

[I]t increasingly appears that the attribution of rights is made to hinge on the recognition of their putative holder’s ability to feel pain, even where this might breach the species barrier or concern liminal states of human existence. As such, any future proponents of robot rights may well have to demonstrate less the sentient character of such machines than their sensitivity to pain (of course, it may well turn out that one entails the other). In relation to Bodies of Violence, if we are indeed to take the liberal conception of pain as purely negative as limiting (and we should perhaps not be too hastily dismissive of the moral and societal progresses that can be attributed to it), how does the recognition of ‘vulnerable bodies’ advocated by Wilcox depart from such an understanding? Is it simply a call for dismantling the asymmetries that render the pain of certain subjects less acknowledgeable than others or does it propose to actually restore a ‘positivity’ to suffering within a post-Christian worldview?…

[A]s our knowledge of the human as an object of scientific study grows, our conception of the human as a unitary and stable entity becomes increasingly untenable, incrementally dissipating into a much broader continuum of being to be brought under the ambit of control. But where does such an expanded framing of human life leave the ‘normative model of the body’ as ‘an adult, young, healthy, male, cisgendered, and non-racially marked body’ (p.51) from which all minoritarian deviations are to be variously silenced, regulated and policed? Does the technicist efficiency-driven mobilisation of human life not corrode those normative hierarchies that do not contribute to or might even impede such a process? As Wilcox notes, the traditional investment of masculinist values in the military institution is unsettled when ‘the precision bomber or drone operator is seen as a “de-gendered” or “post-gendered” subject, in which it does not matter whether the pilot or operator is a male or female’ (p.135). Indeed, there seems to be no inherent reason why any number of deviations from the normative body would be an obstacle to their integration into the assemblage of military drones, to stay with that example. One can even conceive of cases where they could be beneficial – might not certain ‘disabilities’ offer particularly propitious terrain for the successful grafting of cybernetic prosthetics? In this context, corporeal plasticity and ontological porosity seem less like the adversaries of posthuman martiality than its necessary enablers.

Kevin McSorley on ‘Violence, norms and embodiment

[W]hat sense there might be any particular limits to the explanatory value of the key sensitising theoretical framework of embodied performativity and ‘normative violence’ that is deployed across all the numerous case studies considered here. Notwithstanding the supplementary engagement in certain chapters with further vocabularies of e.g. abjection or the posthuman to problematize bodily boundaries, the social embodiment of violent norms is really the major theoretical underpinning of all of the analyses undertaken in each of the five different case studies selected for interpretation. My sense was that Bodies of Violence was primarily concerned with establishing broad proof of concept that such theoretical deployment could work rather than engaging with detailed questions about the potential limits of its conceptual purchase and differences in explanatory value across the five varied case studies. The analyses undertaken propose if anything a near-universal analytic utility for the conceptual framework deployed in that there is a consistent interpretation that underlying normative violences operate within each of the different case studies. Additional comparative analysis, that specifically highlighted and attempted to think through where and why the interpretative framework might be especially productive, or indeed where and why it might feel less resonant and begin to break down, may potentially be insightful for further theoretical elaboration….

[W]hat might happen if the many embodied subjects theorised were able to more consistently speak back to theory, if their feelings and desires were more enfleshed in the analysis[?] Would the stability of this conceptual grid of intelligibility remain intact and unmoved if such encounters and dialogues were able to be staged, if the complex emotions and meaning-worlds of those socially embodied subjects actively negotiating normative violences could have a more audible place in the analysis?

Alison Howell on ‘Bodies, and Violence: Thinking with and beyond feminist IR

Can a theory rooted in a singular concept of ‘the body’ take full account of difference? Can it register the diverse ways in which different bodies become subject to and constituted through power and violence, or management and governance?

Wilcox does amply illustrate that there is no such unitary thing as ‘the body’… [but] there are long-standing traditions of theorizing embodiment and de-naturalizing ‘the body’ in anti-racist, postcolonial, and disability scholarship. These critical traditions should not be subsumed under the category of feminist scholarship, though they do certainly engage with feminist theory, often critically. They make unique contributions to theorizing embodiment, often through intersectional analyses.

Bodies of Violence does take up many texts from these traditions, but, for instance makes use of Margrit Shildrick’s and Jasbir Puar’s earlier work on the body, without also contemplating each of their more recent work on disability and debility…. A second line of inquiry a renewed focus on embodiment potentially suggests might center around the as-yet unmet potential for studying the role of medicine in IR. The sine qua non of medicine is, after all, the body, and if embodiment is important in the study of IR, then we should also be studying that system of knowledge and practice that has taken for itself authoritative dominion over bodies and that does the kind of productive work in relation to embodiment that Wilcox is interested in illuminating.  As with disability studies, there is a significant literature, in this case emanating out of medical anthropology, medical sociology, bio-ethics and history of medicine….

But what of the book’s other titular concept: violence?  Bodies of Violence suggests that to study embodiment is also to study violence. Yet violence is a concept and not merely a bare fact: ‘violence’ is a way of making sense and grouping together a number of practices….

Butler’s work has been central to de-essentializing both sex and gender, thus undermining radical feminist theories of violence that ascribe peacefulness to women and violence to men.Yet Butler’s work is less useful as a tool for excavating the particularly racist and Eurocentric forms that radical feminist thought on violence has taken. Instead, we might look towards Audre Lorde’s debates with Mary Daly, and to the succeeding traditions of anti-racist feminist thought.

Pablo K [Paul Kirby] on ‘Bodies, what matter?

Thinking about the value of bodies draws us into a contemplation of human life and its treatment. Which is why the mere act of recognising bodies can seem tantamount to calling for the preservation and celebration of life. Drawing attention to bodies to highlight an equality of concern due to those who have otherwise been rendered invisible is itself to engage in materialisation, making those bodies matter in a different way. It is a way to turn bodies (which are, on the whole, visible to us) into persons (entities with value and meaning which we may not recognise). And yet the body – precisely because it is inescapable and ubiquitous – is also evasive, and the form of its mattering elusive.

For Judith Butler, ‘mattering’ is the conjoined process of materialisation (suggestive of the way bodies are produced or come into being) and meaning (how bodies are recognised and invested with worth). The stress in contemporaneous and subsequent work on material-isation (on matter-ing) is thus intended to signal a break with ideas of matter as simply there, as idle or inert, and therefore as a kind of brute fact which is inescapable or consistent in its ahistorical role. Thus we are pushed to examine not the characteristics of matter, but the historical process of mattering; not the innate sex that simply bears gender constructions, but the moments which seemed to establish bodies (or body parts) as prior to the sign system which names them. The point is well taken, and has consequences for a theory of embodiment…

And so what is needed is a deeper excavation of the form, degree and value of mattering.

For the so-called new materialists, such a theory means attributing a certain agency to bodily substance (genetics, morphology, neural pathways, flesh itself). As Karen Barad has insisted:

any robust theory of the materialization of bodies would necessarily take account of how the body’s materiality – for example its anatomy and physiology – and other material forces actively matter to the process of materialization.

This is importantly different to saying that political regimes interpret and work bodies in distinct ways. In Bodies of Violence, despite the emphasis on how bodies produce politics, it is mainly politics that produces bodies. Or better, politics that intervenes on and shapes bodies.

Lauren Wilcox, ‘Theorizing embodiment and making bodies “matter“‘