The Military Present

I’m later to this than I should be, but over at the American Anthropologist there is a very interesting series of four podcasts conducted by Emily Sogn.and Vasiliki Touhouliotis on what they call ‘the military present’:

In the first episode, we spoke to Joe Masco (here) about the historical formation of an affective politics that creates an ethos of continuous, yet increasingly incoherent militarization justifying itself as a response to a monopoly of perceived threats. Next, we spoke to Madiha Tahir (here) about the ways in which new weapons technologies, particularly drones, have reshaped social landscapes in places like the Waziristan region of Pakistan where threats both in the air and on the ground have become an ever present fact of everyday life….

In our [third] episode we spoke with was Wazhmah Osman (here) about the embodied effects of nearly four decades of continuous war in Afghanistan. we talked about how the deployment of new military strategies and the use of new supposedly more precise weapons obscures the deep yet everyday cumulative damage that is caused by ongoing war. [The interview focuses on the US deployment of the  the Massive Ordnance Air Blast (MOAB) in Afghanistan in April of 2017].

And in the final episode – which is how I stumbled upon the series, as I’m in the final stages of prepping my Antipode lecture on “Trauma Geographies” – they talk with my good friend Omar Dewachi (here)

about war as a form of governance asking how war orders and creates the terms by which different forms of injury caused by war can be recognized and acted upon. We were prompted to frame a conversation around this topic as a response to what we see as a troubling absence of public discussion of the deaths and illnesses that are caused by war, but which get obscured as such by the language of by products, secondary effects, or collateral damage.

Unless I’ve missed something, the conversation with Omar is the only one of the series to have a transcript, but you can listen to all of them online.

Other Wars Imagined

In early October I’m giving a keynote at a conference in Leipzig on Imaginations and Processes of Spatialization under the Global Condition.  There’s an interesting interview with the organiser Steffi Marung here, and you can find the full programme (in English) and more details here.

I’ve been trying to work out what I might do, and this is what I’ve come up with; it’s still a draft, and the presentation is very much in development, so I’d welcome any comments or suggestions.  I see this as part of a comprehensive re-working of my essay on “The everywhere war” – which desperately needs it (it was written to order and in very short order).

Other Wars Imagined: visuality, spatiality and corpography

When Samuel Hynes wrote his classic account of A War Imagined he identified two ways in which the First World War transformed English (and by implication European) culture. First the emergence of a new visual field disclosed military violence in selective but none the less shocking ways: the half-tone block allowed photographs to be printed in newspapers, and cinema provided an even more vivid rendering of industrialised violence. Second the new dislocation of time and space was epitomised in what Hynes called ‘the death of landscape’ – the ‘annihilation of Nature’ and the monstrous appearance of ‘anti-landscape’ – and the substitution of abstract, ‘de-rationalized and de-familiarized’ spaces of pulverized geometries. This presentation explores the implications of Hynes’s views for the imaginative geographies of later modern war. Less concerned with representation – with images as mirrors of military violence – I focus on performative effects and, in the company of Judith Butler, consider the ways in which imaginative geographies enter into the very conduct of war. The visual technologies are different, so I pay close attention to the digital production of targets and to counter-geographies that fill these spaces with ordinary men, women and children. The formation of this counter-public sphere is contested – propaganda has never been more aggressive in its deformations – and so I also examine the implications of a ‘post-truth regime’ for critical thought and action. But the spaces of military and paramilitary violence are different too – no longer abstract and linear – and I suggest some of the ways in which an embodied corpography can subvert the cartographic imaginaries of previous modern wars. This critical manoeuvre also has vital implications for international humanitarian law and the constitution of war zones as what, not following Giorgio Agamben, I treat as spaces of exception. Throughout I draw on examples from my research on Afghanistan, Gaza, Iraq and Syria.

If you don’t know Hynes’ book, first published in 1990 – it helped me think through some of the ideas I sketched in “The natures of war” – here is a review by P.N. Furbank from the LRB.

‘Sweet target, sweet child’

My keynote (‘Sweet target, sweet child: Aerial violence and the imaginaries of remote warfare’) at the conference on Drone Imaginaries and Society at the University of Southern Denmark in June is now available online here.

In February 2010 a US air strike on three vehicles in Uruzgan province, Afghanistan in support of US and allied ground forces caused multiple civilian casualties. The attack was the direct result of surveillancecarried out by a Predator drone, and a US Army investigation into the incident criticised the flightcrew for persistently misinterpreting the full-motion video feeds from the remotely operated aircraft.This has become the signature strike for critics of remote warfare, yet they have all relied solely on a transcript of communications between US Special Forces in the vicinity, the drone crew at Creech AirForce Base in Nevada, and the helicopter pilots who executed the strike. But an examination of the interviews carried out by the investigation team reveals a more complicated – and in some respects even more disturbing – picture. This presentation uses those transcripts to brings other actors into the frame, pursues the narrative beyond the strike itself, and raises a series of questions about civilian casualties. During the post-strike examination of the site the casualties were rendered as (still) suspicious bodies and, as they were evacuated to military hospitals, as inventories of injuries. Drawing on Sonia Kennebeck’s documentary film ”National Bird” I also track the dead as they are returned to their villages and the survivors as they struggle with rehabilitation: both provide vivid illustrations of the embodied nature of nominally remote warfare and of the violent bioconvergence that lies on the otherside of the screen.

Death machines

New from Elke Schwarz, Death machines: the ethics of violent technologies (Manchester UP):

As innovations in military technologies race toward ever-greater levels of automation and autonomy, debates over the ethics of violent technologies tread water. Death Machines reframes these debates, arguing that the way we conceive of the ethics of contemporary warfare is itself imbued with a set of bio-technological rationalities that work as limits. The task for critical thought must therefore be to unpack, engage, and challenge these limits. Drawing on the work of Hannah Arendt, the book offers a close reading of the technology-biopolitics-complex that informs and produces contemporary subjectivities, highlighting the perilous implications this has for how we think about the ethics of political violence, both now and in the future.

Contents:

Introduction: The conditioned human
1. Biopolitics and the technological subject
2. Biopolitical technologies in Arendt and Foucault
3. Anti-political (post)modernity
4. Procedural violence
5. Ethics as technics
6. All hail our robot overlords
7. Prescription drones
Conclusion: For an ethics beyond technics

In Permanent Crisis?

News of the next International Conference of Critical Geography: In Permanent Crisis?  Uneven development, everywhere war and radical praxis:

The 8th ICCG will be hosted from the 19th to the 23d of April 2019, in Athens, Greece, one of many loci of the ongoing and multiplying crises of the neoliberal 21st century, including the “debt crisis,” the “neo-fascist crisis”, the “refugee crisis,” and a place that could be regarded as a kind of “laboratory” for observing how uneven development and everywhere war articulate different actors, scales and operations.

The 8th ICCG in Athens seeks to elaborate on the structural relations, materialities and cultures of uneven development and everywhere war, which bring about the condition of permanent crisis we find ourselves in the world over. Building on the previous ICCG 2015 conference, we regard “permanent crisis” as a regime that needs to be radically challenged in both political and theoretical terms, in our everyday lives as well as in the host of global, national and local institutions that reproduce it. We therefore want to invoke again the notion of praxis as the realisation of collective thinking and acting that is required in order to remake, to change the world.

Conference sub-themes:

1. Austerity Urbanism and Social Reproduction

2. War, Security, Humanitarianism

3. Urban Conflicts

4. Migration and global mobility

5. Rise of neo-fascism, nationalism and authoritarianism

6. New geographies of colonialism

7. Socioenvironmental conflicts

8. Geographies of gender and sexuality

Several of these intersect with the themes I cover here, but this is the expanded version of (2) – the most immediately relevant – and you can find details of the others here.

Cities turned into battlefields, massive slaughter of civilians, military technologies in the service of architecture and spatial planning, army forces performing police operations and police forces in military raids, militarization of and killings at the borders, ‘fourth-generation’ wars and war games, war technologies and war infrastructure turned into consumer goods: the infiltration of ‘ordinary’ social life by war seems today to be more prominent than ever. The sad convergence between war and peace becomes all the more evident, for example in the systematization of the humanitarian treatment of war victims, and in the continuing securitization of issues as diverse as migration, environmental risks and radical politics. From this perspective, it is important to theorize not only the social and geographic implications of this or that war but also everywhere war (a term borrowed from Derek Gregory) as a destructive and at the same time constitutive force for people, places and cities. On the other hand, since ‘everywhere is always somewhere’, specific warscapes as well as grey zones of war uncertainty, their violence, their terror and their normalization need to be closely examined. We welcome contributions that would investigate the spatiality of contemporary warfare and the uneven geographic implications of contemporary war(s) at various scales from the global to the local.

Key dates:

  • 30 September 2018: Abstracts submission Deadline
  • 30 November 2018: Notification of acceptance Deadline
  • 01 December 2018: Registration opens
  • 31 January 2019: Registration deadline

(I’ve taken the image that heads this post from Ai Weiwei‘s Law of the Journey, conceived while he was undertaking research on refugee camps in Lesbos: see here).

Deathscapes: mapping race and violence in settler states

A preview of a remarkable website from the Deathscapes Project directed by Suvendrini Pererand Joseph Pugliese:

With the ultimate aim of ending deaths in custody, the Deathscapes project maps the sites and distributions of custodial deaths in locations such as police cells, prisons and immigration detention centres, working across the settler states of Australia, the US and Canada, as well as the UK/EU as historical sites of origin for these settler colonial states.

It presents new understandings of the practices and technologies, both global and domestic, that enable state violence against racialized groups in settler states. Within the violent frame of the settler colonial state, centred on Indigenous deaths as a form of ongoing clearing of the land, the deaths of other racialized bodies within the nation and at its borders–including Black, migrant and refugee deaths–reaffirm the assertion of settler sovereignty.

To focus on Indigenous deaths and other racialized deaths is not to collapse the differences between racialized groups, or to ignore the presence of other racialized populations in these states, but to address some of the shared strategies, policies, practices and rationales of state violence deployed in the management of these separate categories.

We situate deaths in custody within the shared contexts and interrelated practices of the settler state as they are embedded within contemporary global structures. By working across the major Anglophone settler states, as well as the United Kingdom and European Union, the project seeks to move away from the nation as the primary analytical unit to consider forms of governance and social relations that are transnationally linked.

The project adopts a transnational and cross-disciplinary approach to racialized state violence, mapping racialized deaths in custody in all their visual, analytical and geographical dimensions.

Deathscapes seeks to ‘humanise what has been dehumanised’ by incorporating the aesthetic as part of the infrastructure of the site. The artworks on the site offer testimony of what otherwise would remain unsaid and unrepresented; they offer graphic examples of acts of protest and resistance; they instantiate agency in contexts in which it is often so brutally denied; they amplify, through their visual languages, the key analytical and political concerns articulated in the various case studies of racialised deaths. More on the aesthetics of the site can be accessed here. Notes on teaching with the Deathscapes site can be accessed here.

And you can follow the project on twitter here.

From trauma to resilience

In the middle of preparing my Antipode lecture on Trauma Geographies for later this month, I received news of this upcoming conference and call for papers via Critical Military Studies:

Militaries and militarisation: the turn to resilience, 13-14 December 2018

Danish Institute for International Studies, Copenhagen, Denmark

Co-organizers: Robin May Schott (DIIS) and Joanna Bourke (Birkbeck)

The concept of resilience has become a buzzword of our times. What happens when this concept becomes militarized? Cynthia Enloe defines militarization as “the step-by-step process by which something becomes controlled by, dependent on, or derives its value from the military as an institution or militaristic criteria” (Maneuvers, 291). Militarization takes place both at the level of the physical world, from Campbell’s Star Wars soups to popular clothing, and at the conceptual level, as in understandings of violence, values and subjectivity.

Currently there is a shift taking place in the U.S. Army and other militaries in the understanding of personal responses to violence. Instead of understanding the impact of violence primarily in terms of trauma, there is a new interest in resilience or robustness.
The implications of this military turn to resilience are potentially immense: this conference will bring together scholars from different disciplines to address this new phenomenon.
We will explore the implications of the turn to resilience both for military institutions and in terms of broader social issues.

These developments affect how we understand, for
instance:
• Victims of violence in war and peace
• The mobilization of values, such as sacrifice and loyalty
• The role of emotions in violence, including shame
• The governance of intimate life
• Masculinities and femininities
• Social institutions, such as health care
• Privacy rights and big data
• Conceptualizations of war and security (including challenges to the dichotomy
between international and domestic/social security)
• Technological enhancements and human enhancements

We hope to bring together researchers from a broad range of backgrounds in the humanities and social sciences, including those with military backgrounds, who work with these issues. The conference will contribute to dialogue across disciplines, as these
issues cannot be siloed within individual disciplines.

Keynote speakers

Joanna Bourke (on militaries and militiarization)
Paul Higate (gendered culture of militiarized masculinities)
Alison Howell (resilience, war, and social security)
Peter Leese (war, trauma studies, cultural history)
Ruth Leys (trauma, war, intellectual history)

Please submit abstracts (250 words) for 20-minute presentations by 3 September to Rebecca Solovej at anrs@diis.dk

A few small travel scholarships for Ph.D students will be available: please include a travel budget and brief statement of the relevance of this conference for your work.

Participation is free of charge and DIIS will provide lunch both days. The organizers invite all presenters to join the opening dinner at the first night of the conference. Information
on local hotels will be provided when participation is confirmed. Notification will be provided by 1 October.