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 academia.edu page here.

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