Distinction and the ethics of violence

In another lifetime, or so it seems, I wrote a short essay on ‘The death of the civilian’ (DOWNLOADS tab), and I seem to have spent much of the intervening years developing those early ideas.  So I’m thrilled to see an important new paper from Nicola Perugini and Neve Gordon, ‘Distinction and the Ethics of Violence: on the legal construction of liminal subjects and spaces’, available online now at Antipode:

This paper interrogates the relationship among visibility, distinction, international humanitarian law and ethics in contemporary theatres of violence. After introducing the notions of “civilianization of armed conflict” and “battlespaces”, we briefly discuss the evisceration of one of international humanitarian law’s axiomatic figures: the civilian. We show how liberal militaries have created an apparatus of distinction that expands that which is perceptible by subjecting big data to algorithmic analysis, combining the traditional humanist lens with a post-humanist one. The apparatus functions before, during, and after the fray not only as an operational technology that directs the fighting or as a discursive mechanism responsible for producing the legal and ethical interpretation of hostilities, but also as a force that produces liminal subjects. Focusing on two legal figures—“enemies killed in action” and “human shields”—we show how the apparatus helps justify killing civilians and targeting civilian spaces during war.

Their two case studies focus on US drone attacks in Pakistan and the use of human shields in Gaza (the image below, taken from the article, shows the Israeli Defence Force’s ‘Laboratory of Discrimination’ (sic)).

You can watch a video where Nicola and Neve discuss their ideas on the Antipode website here, which also provides a less formal gloss:

[Their paper] examines how militaries actually make distinctions in the battlefield, given that today most fighting takes place in urban settings where distinguishing between combatant and civilian is becoming increasingly difficult.

Their paper shows how liberal militaries are utilizing new technologies that aim to expand that which is perceptible within the fray. Combining the more traditional forms of making distinctions such as binoculars and cameras with cutting edge hi-tech, militaries subject big data to algorithmic analysis aimed at identifying certain behavioral patterns. The technologies of distinction function before, during, and after the fray not only in order to direct the fighting and to help produce the legal and ethical interpretation of hostilities, but also as a mechanism that identifies and at times creates new legal figures.

Focusing on two legal figures—“enemies killed in action” and “human shields”—Nicola and Neve show how technologies of distinction help justify killing civilians and targeting civilian spaces during war. Ultimately, they maintain that distinction, which is meant to guarantee the protection of civilians in the midst of armed conflict, actually helps hollow the notion of civilian through the production of new liminal legal figures that can be legitimately killed.

For more on the intersections between international law, military protocols and the (in)visibility of the civilian, I also recommend the insightful work of Christiane Wilke (see ‘Seeing Civilians (or not)’ here).

The Roundabout Revolutions


In ‘Tahrir: politics, publics and performances of space’ (DOWNLOADS tab) I tried to sketch out a preliminary analysis of Tahrir Square as a spatial instantiation of the Arab uprisings – it was, in part, also an attempt to work with Judith Butler‘s ideas about performative spaces in “Bodies in Alliance”. Now Eyal Weizman‘s latest extended essay puts all this in a wider context but a similar spatial frame: The roundabout revolutions from Sternberg Press.

One common feature of the wave of recent revolutions and revolts around the world is not political but rather architectural: many erupted on inner-city roundabouts. In thinking about the relation between protest and urban form, Eyal Weizman starts with the May 1980 uprising in Gwangju, South Korea, the first of the “roundabout revolutions,” and traces its lineage to the Arab Spring and its hellish aftermath.

Rereading the history of the roundabout through the vortices of history that traverse it, the book follows the development of the roundabout in Europe and North America in the early twentieth century, to its subsequent export to the colonial world in the context of attempts to discipline and police the “chaotic” non-Western city. How did an urban apparatus put in the service of authoritarian power became the locus of its undoing?

Today, as the tide of revolt that characterized the Arab Spring seems to ebb, when nations and societies disintegrate by brutal civil wars and military oppression, the series of revolutions might seem like Dante’s circles of hell. To counter this counter-revolution, Weizman proposes that the immanent power of the people at the roundabouts will need to find its corollary in sustained work at round tables—the ongoing formation of political movements able to enact political change.

The sixth volume of the Critical Spatial Practice series stems from Eyal Weizman’s contribution to the Gwangju Folly II in 2013, an exhibition curated by Nikolaus Hirsch with Philipp Misselwitz and Eui Young Chun for the Gwangju Biennale. Weizman and the architect Samaneh Moafi constructed a folly composed of seven roundabouts and a round table in front of the Gwangju train station, one of the central points in the events of May 1980.

There’s a review by Pranav Kohli over at Warscapes here:

Weizman’s description is reminiscent of Michel Foucault’s theorization of power. Foucault theorized power not as something that is hierarchically exercised but as a force that circuitously flows and passes through individuals, networks and organizations. Weizman recognizes the emerging character of power as a circle, describing the concentric arrangements of crowds as a “political collective in becoming.” These concentric crowd circles can be seen as a diagram of the fields of power emanating from the roundabout, with the roundabout itself becoming a beacon of a newfound people’s power.

Weizman’s analysis has a special focus on the Arab Spring and in a later section he returns to this idea of an interconnected collective while describing the protestors at Tahrir Square. They are linked not only by physical space and communication technologies but also by “an “Internet of things”—a form of connectivity that entangles organizations, individuals, material objects, and urban spaces such as roundabouts together: sites and websites, proximity and distance, remote solidarity and physical corporality” …

Weizman locates the true reason for the revolutionary turn in the roundabout’s history, within the spatial peculiarities of the roundabout itself. The roundabout’s attraction lies in the fact that it is an expansive public space that serves an integral function in the city’s infrastructure. In this sense, the roundabout can be seen as one of the last remaining public spaces where large crowds can gather in the congested modern city…. Weizman doesn’t regard the occupation of the roundabout as the moment when the public reclaimed public ownership of the republic. In his view, it was when the protestors at Tahrir Square began cleaning up the square, shortly after Mubarak’s deposition, that they truly assumed public ownership of the roundabout, and thereby the republic.

Butler and bodies in alliance


I’ve been inspired by Judith Butler‘s work in all sorts of ways – most recently by her discussions of performance, performativity and bodies in spaces that helped me make sense of the events that unfolded in Tahrir Square (see here and here).  I now have news of a new book from Judith that addresses these themes in more detail: Notes Toward a Performative Theory of Assembly, due from Harvard in November.

Judith Butler elucidates the dynamics of public assembly under prevailing economic and political conditions, analyzing what they signify and how. Understanding assemblies as plural forms of performative action, Butler extends her theory of performativity to argue that precarity—the destruction of the conditions of livability—has been a galvanizing force and theme in today’s highly visible protests.

Butler broadens the theory of performativity beyond speech acts to include the concerted actions of the body. Assemblies of physical bodies have an expressive dimension that cannot be reduced to speech, for the very fact of people gathering “says” something without always relying on speech. Drawing on Hannah Arendt’s view of action, yet revising her claims about the role of the body in politics, Butler asserts that embodied ways of coming together, including forms of long-distance solidarity, imply a new understanding of the public space of appearance essential to politics.

Butler links assembly with precarity by pointing out that a body suffering under conditions of precarity still persists and resists, and that mobilization brings out this dual dimension of corporeal life. Just as assemblies make visible and audible the bodies that require basic freedoms of movement and association, so do they expose coercive practices in prison, the dismantling of social democracy, and the continuing demand for establishing subjugated lives as mattering, as equally worthy of life. By enacting a form of radical solidarity in opposition to political and economic forces, a new sense of “the people” emerges, interdependent, grievable, precarious, and persistent.

butler_overviewThe book is based on Judith’s three Mary Flexner Lectures, ‘Bodies in Alliance‘, delivered at Bryn Mawr College in 2011:

‘Gender politics and the right to appear’

‘Bodies in alliance and the politics of the street’

‘Towards an ethics of co-habitation’

Staging the landscapes of war – with noises off

NEVINSON The harvest of battle

I’ve been tracing commentaries on Kurt Lewin‘s classic essay on what we might call the topological phenomenology of the battlefield, published in 1917 as ‘Kriegslandschaft‘ (‘landscape of war’ or, loosely, ‘warscape’), which was based on his experience on the Western Front in the First World War. I’ve been particularly interested in his account of the way in which an ordinary landscape is transformed by war.

William Boyd captured what I have in mind in The new confessions:

‘Take an idealized image of the English countryside – I always think of the Cotswolds in this connection… You know exactly the sort of view it provides. A road, some hedgerowed lanes, a patchwork of fields, a couple of small villages… The eye sweeps over these benign and neutral features unquestioningly.

‘Now, place two armies on either side of this valley. Have them dig in and construct a trench system. Everything in between is suddenly invested with new sinister potential: that neat farm, the obliging drainage ditch, the village at the crossroads become key factor sin strategy and survival. Imagine running across those intervening fields in an attempt to capture positions on that gentle slope opposite… Which way will you go? What cover will you seek? … Try it the next time you are on a country stroll and see how the most tranquil scene can become instinct with violence. It only requires a change in point of view.’

lewin_kurtI’ve discussed this passage before, but what interested Lewin was the way in which the landscape changed for the soldier as he approached the front, moving from a ‘landscape of peace’ to a ‘landscape of war’ – what he described as the production of a ‘directive landscape’.  You can find an English translation here, but it’s behind a paywall I can’t scale: Art In Translation, 1 (2)( 2009) 199-209.  (If anybody has a ladder, please let me know).

En route, I stumbled on a fascinating PhD thesis by Greer Crawley, Strategic Scenography: staging the landscape of war (University of Vienna, 2011). I’ve discussed various conceptions of the ‘theatre of war’ several times before (see for example here, here and here), but Greer provides a much fuller and richer account.  Here is the abstract:

This dissertation is concerned with the construction of ‘theatres of war’ in the target landscapes of 20th century military conflict in Europe and America. In this study of the scenography of war, I examine the notion of the staged landscape and the adoption of theatrical language and methodologies by the military. This is a multi-disciplinary perspective informed by a wide range of literature concerning perception, the aerial view, camouflage and the terrain model. It draws on much original material including declassified military documents and archival photographs. The emphasis is on the visualisation of landscape and the scenographic strategies used to create, visualise and rehearse narratives of disguise and exposure. Landscape representation was constructed through the study of aerial photographs and imaginative projection. The perceptual shifts in scale and stereoscopic effects created new optical and spatial ‘truths’. Central to this analysis is the place of the model as strategic spectacle, as stage for rehearsal and re-enactment through performance and play. This research forms the context for an exploration of the extension and translation of similar scenographic strategies in contemporary visual art practice. Five case studies demonstrate how the artist as scenographer is representing the political and cultural landscape.

2011-02-25_0648070 (dragged)

And the Contents (the summaries are Greer’s own):

Chapter 1: Scenographic strategies

Theatre of War/Strategic Fantasy/Staging the Landscape

This chapter identifies the scenographic strategies that produce the performance landscape for the rehearsal and re-enactment of the Theatre of War. The aim is to define what is meant by strategic scenography and to establish the basic theoretical foundations upon which to build my argument.

Chapter 2: The Aerial Perspective

Aerial Theatre/The Stereoscopic View

This chapter focuses on the aerial view and the methodology of the stereoscope. This analysis of the relationship between scenography and topography from an aerial perspective expands on theories of aerial perception and stereoscopy. Drawing on the experiences of the reconnaissance pilots and photo interpreters during wartime, it attempts to understand the scopic conditions under which they visualised the landscape.

Chapter 3: Strategies of Perception

Camouflage Strategies/Fake Nature/The Scenic Effects

This is a key chapter which looks at the work of Kurt Lewin’s important contribution to an understanding of the perception of landscape. The second section deals specifically with the camouflage strategies adopted by the camoufleurs when staging their illusions in the First and Second World Wars. It provides a historical overview of the main camouflage strategies and then focus on particular scenic elements, e.g. scenery, lighting, props, sound, costume.

Chapter 4: The Territory of the Model

Maps, Models and Games/ The Model as Spectacle/The Terrain Model

This chapter begins with an examination of the methodologies of the map, model and games; the role of mimesis and performativity and the representation of the terrain. What follows is a consideration of the model as a strategic spectacle and its use to represent political ideologies, commercial and military interests and utopian visions. Within an historical context, it examines how the application of new technologies and scopic regimes has expanded the scenographic possibilities of the terrain model.

Chapter 5: Artists’ Manoeuvres

Wafa Hourani and Michael Ashkin − Nomos/Gerry Judah − The Crusader/Mariele Neudecker – Seduction Chaff/Katrin Sigurdardottir – Mappings/Hans Op de Beeck – St Nazaire

This chapter is an exploration of the deployment of scenographic strategies in contemporary artistic practice. Through five case studies it examines how the artist as scenographer has adopted theatrical practices and the methodologies of the model, camera and film as means of representing the political and cultural landscape.

Greer is currently a lecturer in Scenography at Royal Holloway, University of London and in BA and MA Spatial Design at Buckinghamshire New University.  You can download her thesis here – it’s a feast of delights, with marvellous illustrations and a perceptive text.

MoratSoundsAs you can see, Greer’s work focuses on the visual, and I’m equally interested in the role of the other senses in apprehending and navigating the battlefield – hence my continuing interest in corpography (see here and here).  So I was also pleased to find a newly translated discussion of the soundscape of the Western Front: Axel Volmar,  ‘”In storms of steel”: the soundscape of World War I’, in Daniel Marat (ed), Sounds of modern history: auditory cultures in 19th and 20th century Europe (Oxford: Berghahn, 2014) pp. 227-255; a surprising amount of the text can be accessed via Google Books, but you can also download the draft version via academia.edu.  More on Axel’s work (and other downloads, in both German and English) here.

And this too takes us back to Lewin:

‘…new arrivals to the front had not only had to leave behind their home and daily life, but also the practices of perception and orientation to which they were accustomed. With entry into the danger zone of battle, the auditory perception of peacetime yields to a, in many respects, radicalized psychological experience—a shift that the Gestalt psychologist, Kurt Lewin, attempted to articulate with the term “warscape”: for the psychological subject, objects lost most of their peacetime characteristics during wartime because they were henceforth evaluated from a perspective of extreme pragmatism and exclusively in terms of their fitness for war….

‘In place of day-to-day auditory perception, which tended to be passive and unconscious, active listening techniques came to the fore: practices of sound analysis, which might be described as an “auscultation” of the acoustic warscape—the method physicians use to listen to their patients by the help of a stethoscope. In these processes, the question was no longer how the noises as such were structured (i.e. what they sounded like), but rather what they meant, and what consequences they would bring with them for the listeners in the trenches. The training of the ear was based on radically increased attentiveness.

The subject thrust to the front thus comprised the focal point of an auditory space in which locating and diagnostic listening practices became vital to survival.’

For more on sound analysis, see my discussion of sound-ranging on the Western Front here, and the discussion in ‘Gabriel’s Map’ (DOWNLOADS tab).

Seeing Machines

VIRILIO Vision machineIn a series of posts on photography Trevor Paglen provides some ideas that intersect with my own work on Militarized Vision and ‘seeing like a military’.  First, riffing off Paul Virilio, Trevor develops the idea of photography as a ‘seeing machine‘:

‘Seeing machines is an expansive definition of photography. It is intended to encompass the myriad ways that not only humans use technology to “see” the world, but the ways machines see the world for other machines. Seeing machines includes familiar photographic devices and categories like viewfinder cameras and photosensitive films and papers, but quickly moves far beyond that. It embraces everything from iPhones to airport security backscatter-imaging devices, from electro-optical reconnaissance satellites in low-earth orbit, to QR code readers at supermarket checkouts, from border checkpoint facial-recognition surveillance cameras to privatized networks of Automated License Plate Recognition systems, and from military wide-area-airborne-surveillance systems, to the roving cameras on board legions of Google’s Street View” cars.

What’s more, the idea of seeing machines I’m sketching out here isn’t confined to the imaging devices and systems I’ve described in broad strokes. The definition extends to include the images (or data) produced by such imaging systems, the digital metadata associated with those images, as well as additional systems for storage, archiving, search and interpretation (either human or algorithmic). Finally, and crucially, seeing machines encompasses not only imaging systems, search, and storage capacities, it encompasses something a bit more abstract, namely the “styles” or “practices” of seeing that different imaging systems enable (i.e. the difference between what a view camera and an automated license-plate reading camera “want” to do and how they see the world differently).  Crucially, the definition of photography I’m proposing here encompasses imaging devices (“cameras” broadly understood), the data (“images” being one possible manifestation of that data) they produce, and the seeing-practices with which they are enmeshed.’

In a subsequent post on Geographies of Photography Trevor then links these seeing-practices to what he calls the production of space (and what I now prefer to think of as performances of space), and uses the example of the Reaper to illustrate what he has in mind:

What exactly is a Reaper drone? In essence, it’s a camera attached to a remote-controlled airplane. Sometimes it carries missiles. What’s particular about a Reaper drone (and other drones in its larger family, including the Predator and the Sentinel) is that airplane, pilot, navigator, analysts, and commander don’t have to be in the same place. The aircraft might be flying a combat mission in Yemen by a pilot based in Nevada, overseen by a manager in Virginia, and supported by intelligence officers in Tampa (geographer Derek Gregory has written about what he calls “Drone Geographies.”) The drone creates its own “relative” geographies, folding several noncontiguous spaces around the globe into a single, distributed, “battlefield.” The folding of space-time that the Reaper drone system enables is a contemporary version of what Marx famously called the “annihilation of space with time,” i.e. the ability to capitalize on the speed of new transportation and communications technologies to bring disparate spaces “closer” together, relatively speaking.

I think that’s more or less right: these new, networked political technologies of vision have been instrumental in the production of a non-linear and discontinuous battlespace, threaded by wormholes that connect one site to another.  But, as I’ll try to show when I eventually get to my post on Uruzgan, the process is far from seamless, the folds are more fragile than most of us realise, and the discontinuities and ruptures are as important as the connections for the administration of military violence.

Another brick in the wall

When I was writing the Israel/Palestine chapters in The Colonial Present the vast, wretched landscape of occupation and repression was numbingly new to me (though it shouldn’t have been). I found little help from mainstream geography, with some honourable exceptions, and I vividly remember my first visit to the West Bank with Steve Graham, Eyal Weizman and others.  You would think I would have been prepared: I’d certainly read everything I could lay my hands on.


But nothing prepares you for the enormity of the occupation, its monstrous violence and everyday humiliations, and the sight of the wall snaking across the landscape – what Ariella Azoulay and Adi Ophir call ‘the Monster’s Tail’ – remains one of the most appalling impositions I have ever seen.  Neither was I ready for the iron-clad violence of the Qalandiyya checkpoint, whose enclosures, grills and bars that would not have been out of place in an abbatoir could barely contain the brooding militarised violence of those who constructed it: but of course they weren’t supposed to.


Since then, much of this has become all too familiar – which is part of the problem – but there are now many more geographers doing vitally important work on occupied Palestine.  Visualizing Palestine has recently added this new infographic about the wall to its excellent portfolio:

VP Where Law stands on the Wall

The focus adds yet another dimension to contemporary discussions about international law and what Michael Smith calls ‘geo-legalities’.  I’m keenly interested in those arguments, but today I’m led down this path by a new essay –part prose, part photography – composed by China Miéville for the Palestinian Literature Festival and performed by him at Nablus.

MIEVILLE Beyond equal rightsMiéville is best known as a novelist (and one with an intriguing geographical sensibility at that), but he’s no stranger to international law either: his Between Equal Rights: a Marxist theory of international law (2006) has been widely acclaimed. Yet this morning I’m seized by his photo-literary apprehension of the familiar unreality of the landscape of occupation:

Yes, we know the holy land is now a land of holes, and lines, a freakshow of topography gone utterly and hideously mad, that the war against Palestinians is also a war against everyday life, against human space, a war waged with all expected hardware, with violent weaponized absurdism, with tons and tons of concrete and girders.  This is truism, and/but true.

His experience of crossing the line reminds me of my own, though he captures its Kafka-esque horror far more vividly:

And in its wedge of shadow the long stupid zigzag of the checkpoint between Bethlehem and Jerusalem is indicated with a sign, there on the Bethlehem side. Entrance, it says, white on green, and points to the cattle run. Inside are all the ranks of places to wait, the revolving grinder doors, green lights that may or may not mean a thing, the conveyor belts and metal detectors and soldiers and more doors, more metal striae, more gates.

Finally, for those who emerge on the city side, who come out in the sun and go on, there is a sign they, you, we have seen before. White on green, pointing back the way just come.

Entrance, it says. Just like its counterpart on the other side of a line of division, a non-place.

No exit is marked.

The arrows both point in. Straight towards each other. The logic of the worst dream. They beckon. They are for those who will always be outside, and they point the way to go. Enter to discover you’ve gone the only way, exactly the wrong way.

Entrance: a serious injunction. A demand. Their pointing is the pull of a black hole. Their directions meet at a horizon. Was it ever a gateway between? A checkpoint become its own end.

This is the plan. The arrows point force at each other like the walls of a trash compactor. Obey them and people will slowly approach each other and edge closer and closer from each side and meet at last, head on like women and men walking into their own reflections, but mashed instead into each other, crushed into a mass.

Entrance, entrance. These directions are peremptory, their signwriters voracious, insisting on obedience everywhere, impatient for the whole of Palestine to take its turn, the turn demanded, until every woman and man and child is waiting on one side or the other in long long lines, snaking across their land like the wall, shuffling into Israel’s eternal and undivided capital, CheckPointVille, at which all compasses point, towards which winds go, and there at the end of the metal run the huge, docile, cow-like crowds will in this fond, politicidal, necrocidal, psyche-cidal fantasy, meet and keep taking tiny steps forward held up by the narrowness of the walls until they press into each others’ substance and their skins breach and their bones mix and they fall into gravity one with the next. Palestine as plasma. Amorphous. Amoebal. Condensed. Women and men at point zero. Shrunken by weight, eaten and not digested. An infinite mass, in an infinitely small space.

If you can bear to read more about this ‘non-place’, as Mieville calls it, try Helga Tawil-Souri, ‘Qalandia checkpoint as space and nonplace’, Space and culture 14 (1) (2011) 4-26; Irus Braverman, ‘Civilized borders: a study of Israel’s new crossing administration’, Antipode 43 (2) (2011) 264-95; Hagar Kotef and Merav Amir, ‘Between imaginary lines: violence and its justifications at the military checkpoints in occupied Palestine’, Theory, culture and society 28 (1) (2011) 55-50; and Merav Amir, ‘The making of a void sovereignty: political implications of the military checkpoints in the West Bank’. Environment and Planning D: Society & Space 31 (2013) 227-44.


These are all behind paywalls, and if you can’t pass through those walls – and even if you can – I also recommend an open access essay by Helga Tawil-Souri, ‘Qalandia: an autopsy’, Jerusalem Quarterly 45 (2011) available here.  It’s a brilliant essay, and apart from what it has to tell us about the checkpoint (or ‘terminal’, as the Israelis prefer), like Miéville’s it also has much to teach us about the power of prose and the material politics of representation:

 Qalandia is dead because this time I find it impossible to photograph. I am paralyzed. Where do I stand? What do I document? Why am I even bothering? What am I supposed to do with a string of images? How will I put them back together to tell a story when there is no story to be told anymore? Photographing it, filming it, trying to write about it, only contradicts its very nature: a time-space of interruption, of suspension.  The checkpoint disjoints, tears the limbs off of my body; to want to tell its ‘story’ is a form of re-con-joining. I cannot. It has taken that right away from us.

Producing the public in Arab societies


More news from Paul Amar about the inaugural research program launched by the Arab Council of Social Sciences (headquartered in Beirut; more at Jadaliyya here) on ‘Producing the Public in Arab Societies: space, media, participation.’

Formulating new understandings of public life in societies within conditions of twenty- first century globalization is an urgent priority for the social sciences. The insecurity of global and national financial systems, the increased violence and securitization of social and political life and the new modes and practices of making collective and social/cultural claims require rethinking concepts such as the “public sphere,” “public culture,” “public institutions,” “public access (e.g. to information)” and “the public good.” In addition, calls within some disciplines for the importance of “public knowledge” (e.g. “public sociology” and “public anthropology”) means that the social sciences themselves are part, and not only observers and analyzers, of re- conceptualizing public life. Knowledge production in general is integral to the development and maintenance of a vibrant public sphere in which different opinions, identities and political positions can be explored without recourse to violence. At least this is the hope embedded in these reformulations.

In this context, the Arab Council of the Social Sciences (ACSS) is launching a research program entitled “Producing the Public in Arab Societies,” that will enable projects to examine political, social and cultural issues in relation to one another while focusing on specific topics. This multidisciplinary program will explore the new possibilities, spaces and means for political action and practice in different Arab societies that bring to light, and create, new publics. The political and social imaginaries that are being produced not only open up new futures but also reread histories and reconfigure relations between different groups and actors in society, including the relationship between the intelligentsia and the rest of society. The retaking and remaking of the state, the new modes of inclusion and exclusion and the role of diasporas are among the issues raised by this research program. All these processes have profound implications for the societies in question but also for the social sciences in general.

The Program will consist of three Working Groups, one focusing on space, another on media, and a third on participation. These three Working Groups will be relatively autonomous, but will engage in regular dialogue with each other, occasionally come together for joint meetings; and they may develop cross-cutting research collaborations or products. In addition, there may be opportunities for cross-regional collaboration with researchers in Asia, Africa and Latin America.

Paul will co-ordinate the working group on Space, Tarik Sabry the working group on media, and Sherene Seikaly the working group on participation.

Producing the public in Arab societies

Here is the summary prospectus for the Space working group:

“Producing the Public: Spaces of Struggle, Embodiments of Futurity” This Working Group will research public spaces and spatializing embodiments that reverse class, sectarian, and gender segregation, foster social equalization, revive previous intersectional public subjectivities, and/or create future utopias. Our research will explore the context and legacies of the “Arab Spring”-era events; but we will largely (but not exclusively) focus on countries identified more with war and counterrevolution rather than with the triumphant social uprisings of 2011. Thus we aim to bridge gaps between analyses of spaces of war and armed intervention (in Syria, Libya, Iraq, Bahrain, etc.), and embodiments of future hope, inclusion, and justice across the Arab region.

Very exciting work has been done in the last generation shedding critical light on regimes of power, cultures of fear, and technologies of planning that have transformed public spaces. This work has focused on deconstructing neoliberal policies and discourses, exposing the techniques and economies of war and occupation, and articulating the spatial dimensions of postcolonial moral, ethno-sectarian, and religious regimes. This generation of scholarship has asked: How have social classes have been polarized by new kinds of space and public morality; how have built forms and spatial performances exacerbated sectarian divisions or even “invented” them; how have regimes of public-space regulation instituted regimes of puristic or pietist morality; and how have shifting norms of public-versus-private space restricted gender identities and issues of sexuality to an ever-narrowing private sphere where consumer and patriarchal values dominate. However, this set of research innovations have tended to neglect the kinds of spatial practices, movements, public embodiments, and policy regimes that can reverse or generate spatial alternatives that counter these segregatory dynamics and territorialization practices. In this light, “Producing the Public: Spaces of Struggle, Embodiments of Futurity” aims to produce a new body of comparative case studies. This Working group will be oriented explicitly toward positive alternatives, even in the most fraught contexts, and will offer new analyses of spatial and historical relations of power, war, control, and subjectivation.

Paul is particularly keen to include scholars working on Libya, though anyone who meets the critera (below) is welcome to apply.   Questions about the Space working group to Paul at amar@global.ucsb.edu and about the program in general to grants@theacss.org.

Working group meetings start in September; those participating will receive full support for travel to and accommodations at all research workshops/group meetings, which will be held twice per year (usually held in the Arab Region or perhaps in Cyprus or Turkey), together with around $10,000 in research funds.  This is a marvellous and rare opportunity, and so not surprisingly the criteria are stringent:

1) Due to the specialized mandate of the ACSS itself, all applicants must be either (1) a current or former citizen of one of the member states of the League of Arab States; OR (2) of Arab origin or part-Arab descent (or of any other ethnic, national, sectarian or minority “identity” within any Arab League country). Applicants who meet the above criteria and are living in the Arab region are encouraged to apply. Those living outside the Arab region are also welcome to apply, but they should demonstrate that they spend a significant part of each year in the region, engaged substantively with publics in a particular site, and be fully committed to public movements, cultures, and organizations in the region.

2) Applicants for the “Space” Working Group must be either in the final stages of receiving their PhD (“ABD” or prospectus finished), or be a professor or lecturer in the first seven years after completing their PhD. Applicants should have a social science degree, or a degree in a field within the “humanistic social studies” such as history, cultural studies, legal studies, etc.

3) Applicants for the “Participation” Working Group can be practitioners, media workers, journalists, techies, and scholars engaged in participatory work that both critiques and engages social sciences in the Arab world. 

4) Applicants for the “Media” Working Group should have a degree in the ‘humanistic social sciences’. They will need to have published and conducted research in the Arab region, focusing on the relationships between media, culture and society. They will also be expected to think beyond disciplinary boundaries by engaging critically with scholars specializing in different fields of the humanities and the social sciences, including anthropology, media studies, cultural studies and philosophy. They must also be fluent in Arabic.

5) All applicants should be proficient in Arabic as well as English and/or French. Much of the readings and some of the conversations will be conducted in English, due to the overwhelming use of English in the relevant academic, political, and technical literatures. However ACSS encourages and permits writings and publications in Arabic, French or English. And each group will, of course, constantly engage public expressions, leaders, and research meetings in Arabic.


Incidentally, anyone who finds the idea of ‘producing’ the public an unfamiliar one should read Michael Warner‘s classic work, The letters of the Republic: publication and the public sphere in eighteenth-century America; you can also find a snappy essay by him, ‘Publics and counterpublics’, at Public culture (2002).  As this suggests, so many of the available models and substantive treatments of these issues traffic in the public spheres of Europe and the shadows of Habermas, and it will be exceptionally interesting to see what happens when the focus and language of the discussion travels beyond these too familiar waters and also addresses the formation of transnational public spheres.  And I’m also drawn to the way in which Paul’s working group will move the research frontier towards sites of war, counter-revolution and resistance.  Do contact him if you’re interested.