Many readers will know Emily Gilbert‘s stunning work on the financialization of the battlespace through consolation payments made by the US and their allies to victims of military violence (‘solatia’).  If you’re not among them, see her ‘The gift of war: cash, counterinsurgency and “collateral damage“‘ in Security Dialogue 46 (2015) 403-21; also her essay on ‘Tracing military compensation’ available here.

In a similar vein (I imagine) is a forthcoming book by journalist and novelist Nick McDonell: Solatia: an account of civilian casualties in America’s wars:

Since 2003, America’s wars in Iraq and Afghanistan have killed hundreds of thousands of civilians — by some counts, more than a million — and the number continues to grow. Of the many questions arising from these deaths — for which no one assumes responsibility, and which have been presented, historically, as unavoidable — perhaps the most fundamental question, for Americans, is this: if all men are created equal, why are we willing to kill foreign civilians?

Solatia (the term for money the U.S. pays to the families of civilian dead), sets out to answer that question. In all its wars, the United States both condemns and causes civilian casualties. But what exactly constitutes a civilian casualty? Why do they occur? What do our officials know of those reasons? How do they decide how many people they are willing to kill “by accident” — in a night raid, or drone strike, or invasion? And who, exactly, gets to decide?

Solatia is a globe-trotting, decade-spanning exploration into one of the most fundamental issues of our time. Following an array of officials, combatants, and civilians trying to survive — spies and senators, police chiefs and accountants caught in air strikes, orphaned street kids and widowed mothers, Iranian milita leaders, Taliban spokesmen and Marine special forces operators — Solatia confronts the U.S.’ darkest history abroad, illuminates its ongoing battles, and offers an original view of what it means to be a citizen of America at war.

It’s due in March from Penguin/Random House.

Buses and tanks on the street

At a wonderful conference earlier this year in Roskilde I heard a stunning presentation about cross-cultural encounters and everyday racism on board Bus 5A in Copenhagen:

‘With more than 65,000 passengers a day, bus 5A is the busiest route in Copenhagen and the Nordic countries. Day and night, the bus cuts through the streets and connects different parts of the city. Bus 5A is iconic and loved, but also hated among bus drivers who have named it ‘the suicidal’ route and in everyday language refer to it as ‘Slamsugeren’ (suction vehicle) because it transports all kinds of people and connects many different places in the city. The bus starts in the suburb (Husum) and connects the multicultural part of Copenhagen (Nørrebro) with the more gentri ed inner city and the outskirts of Copenhagen, ending at the airport.’

The paper, by Lasse Koefoed, Mathilde Dissing Christensen and Kirsten Simonsen – which has been published in Mobilities (and from where I’ve borrowed these quotations) – describes a series of tactics pursued by passengers (and drivers) on the bus; for example:

‘… the dominant picture of the bus more often involves what we could call ‘the little racism’. A Pakistani immigrant describes this to us with a strong use of body language. He looks askance and moves a bit away from an imagined person next to him, wrinkles up his nose and says,‘Ashh’, in this way performing distanciation. Another respondent confirms this impression by telling: ‘You can feel it on the Danes, in particular when it is crowded’. She has difficulties finding words but talks about discomfort and anger. She is aware that she cannot rule herself out from the feeling:

I can see that I actually do it a bit myself. When a group of young immigrants enters the bus, then I strengthen my hold on my backpack or my bag. (Charlotte, passenger)

She recognises that it must be an unpleasant experience for the young men and feels a bit guilty, but she ‘tries to do it a little discreet[ly]’. What is at stake here is a sensing of an affective space, the more passive side of emotional experience, where emotions such as fear, discomfort, anger and disgust are circulating in the intense atmosphere of the crowded bus. This affective space is also at work as a background when young boys, asked about visions for the future, develop a utopia of a bus without racism.’

It’s a stimulating and provocative read, and it’s been on my mind for months since.  But it’s given a startling immediacy today by the new that Amnesty International has plastered a tank on the side of a Copenhagen bus.  Adweek reports:

The wrap makes a city bus look like a tank prowling the streets. “This is everyday life in Aleppo,” says the headline on the side, referring to the Syrian city devastated by the country’s civil war….

The idea is to remind people that while the Islamic State has left Aleppo [that’s a sentence that requires a good deal of qualification: to attribute the horrors of the siege of Aleppo to IS is not so much shorthand as sleight of hand], the Syrian war continues. The ad is also designed to raise awareness of refugees’ right to security from war and persecution.

“Everyone has the right to safety—also refugees,” says Claus Juul, legal consultant for Amnesty International. “It can be difficult to imagine what it is like to be human in a city, where one daily fears for one’s own and loved ones lives. Therefore, we have brought the everyday life of Aleppo to Copenhagen’s summer cityscape, so we, Danes, have the opportunity to face Syria’s brutal conflict.”

You need to see the short animation here or here to get the effect.

Fortunately the route is the 26 not the 5A…

Violence and Policing


News from Madiha Tahir of an upcoming special issue of the ever-interesting Public Culture; if you are interested in contributing, note that the deadline for abstracts/proposals is 1 August.

What is policing? What are its sites and modes of the operation? In Althusser’s famous example, it is the policeman’s hailing that transforms the individual into a subject. For Rancière, the police, understood as the naturalization of the social order, is the opposite of politics. As a label, policing has been deployed for a range from practices: from policing as a liberal ideal form of consent-based maintenance of law and order to policing as the maintenance of a certain “distribution of the sensible” to policing as a practice of empire (e.g. British aerial policing or the U.S. as global policeman). Public Culture seeks a series of essays on the police and policing as concept, practice, discourse and institution.

In 2003, Public Culture published what has become a seminal piece: Necropolitics by Achille Mbembe in an issue called Violence and Redemption. Authors may think about putting these two concepts in conversation (though this is certainly not a requirement): e.g. if politics is the work of death in spaces subjected to a continual state of emergency as Mbembe has argued, how does policing conceptualize or account for (or not) the work of death across multiple, variously inflected spaces from Florida to Afghanistan?

We seek essays that will provide accounts of and extract lessons from a range of sites that allow us to better understand the relationship between policing and violence: this might mean accounts from municipal police departments from New York to Palestine, or of movements like Black Lives Matter or No Dakota Access Pipeline and their engagements and resistance to the notion of ‘the police’ and policing. Approaches need not be attached to place alone. We seek insights from the construction of the ideas of dis/order and their material policing: the regulation of borders and mobilities for example, or the relation of policing to consent, or the policing of language as im/proper. Finally, we also seek (re)conceptualizations of the notion of the police and policing and engagements with them as aspects of disciplinary regimes or control societies, or as the negation of politics, and so on. As this indicates, we hope for an expansive range of empirical sites as well as theoretical articulations that attempt conceptual and comparative border-crossings.

Send abstracts of 200-300 words to by August 1st. Editors will review abstracts, comment, and solicit full papers for review.