Precarious journeys

Much of last week was taken up with working out a new project for the next round of the Social Science and Humanities Research Council’s Insight Grant programme.  A ‘Notification of Intent’ to apply is required (I’m deliberately not saying ‘needed’) before you can actually apply in October – but since the NOI requires a plain-language summary and a figure for the total budget most of the planning has to be done months before the application.  I could fill a whole blog – and other non-digital receptacles – about the sense in all that; suffice to say I hit the button ten seconds (sic) before the electronic shutters came down.

The application is for a project called Medical-Military Machines and the Casualties of War: Genealogies and Geographies of Care.


One of the central claims made by protagonists of later modern war is that its conduct is accurate and proportionate, legal and ethical, thereby raising the bar for ‘just’ or, as James Der Derian has it, ‘virtuous’ war (and as most readers will know, he would insist on those scare-quotes).  It has done so, its advocates argue, by limiting casualties through new modes of intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance, new weapons systems, and new modes of accountability.  I explore these issues in my ongoing SSHRC project, Killing Space (DOWNLOADS tab)not least through my continuing study of drones (much more to come!) and this project maps its other, vitally important dimension – a sort of ‘Caring Space’ – in order to provide an indispensable substantive test for these claims.

The project concerns the provision of medical care for those wounded by military and paramilitary violence, casualties who are often overlooked in vexed but vital debates over ‘body counts’ and what constitutes (following Judith Butler) a grievable life.  I’m not going to ignore those matters, far from it, but my main concern will be on the survivors of military violence.  As I’ll explain in a moment, I want to analyse both combatant and civilian casualties, and so confound the simplistic politics in which the right is supposed to care about the one and the left about the other.

The project will involve both genealogy and geography.  I’m using ‘genealogy’ in something like the Foucauldian sense, but all I’ll say here is that historical depth is plainly essential to specify what is (and is not) novel about the ways in which advanced militaries wage war.  So the project will involve four case studies focusing on the United States and its allies.  The first three are the Western Front in World War I, North Africa in World War II, and South Vietnam (1963-1975) .  In this traverse from ‘total war’ to James Gibson’s ‘techno-war’ I’m planning to leverage my work on ‘The natures of war’.  While researching that presentation and long-form essay – which will eventually appear in War Material – I found  a treasure-trove of sources that I want to explore in much more depth and detail for this new project.  The fourth case study will involve the cluster of wars in the Greater Middle East post 9/11, and while much of this has been familiar ground for me ever since I started writing The colonial present, there are many new issues to address – including the deliberate targeting of hospitals and medical doctors by some factions and what Omar Dewachti calls the ‘therapeutic geographies’ involved in the transnational movement of war casualties from (say) Iraq, Libya and Syria to hospitals in Lebanon, Jordan and India.

The project has three components that address different geographies of casualty care.


MAYHEW Wounded(1) Modern military medicine has sought to provide immediate care for troops injured in combat as close to the site of the injury as possible by deploying medical personnel and equipment in forward positions, and establishing evacuation routes for more seriously injured patients to higher-order medical facilities in the rear.  These systems have been transformed by technical advances designed to increase the time-space compression of treatment: the more widespread use of motorized ambulances in the Western Desert, for example, and helicopters for medical evacuation (‘dust-off’) in Vietnam and later conflicts. I plan to reconstruct these networks and their transnational extensions and to calibrate the changing transit times, and then to turn these skeletal geometries into human geographies through diaries, letters and, as we near the present, interviews, that I hope will bring into view the multiple people involved in these precarious, fleshy, and profoundly intimate journeys.  My inspiration for this is a series of thought-provoking essays in the Journal of the Royal Army Medical Corps (really), which provide a way in to the geometries and networks, and (very different) Emily Mayhew‘s Wounded: from Battlefield to Blighty, 1914-1918, due out next month, which uses the idea of a ‘journey’ in what could develop into a sort of phenomenology of care; I’ll say some more about some of this in a later post.

AEF Evacuation system WWI

The other two components follow from a remark made by Michel Foucault in ‘The Eye of Power’.  There he suggested that ‘doctors, along with the military, were the first managers of collective space’, but he assigned them to different spaces (‘campaigns’ versus ‘habitations’). Instead I want to explore what happens when military and medicine are called upon to imagine and manage the same space and install what, following the example of Mark Harrison, I’m calling a ‘medical-military machine’ in a war-zone.  So I’ll be following two tracks that are usually kept separate – civilian and combatant casualties (and here I want to extend the ongoing debates over their distinction from an abstract legal to a substantive therapeutic terrain) – and tracing the junctions where they intersect, in order to establish two other, complementary and sometimes countervailing geographies of care.


(2) There is an important sense in which modern war has always been ‘war amongst the people’: this is not a late twentieth-century preoccupation.  Images of ‘No Man’s Land’ on the Western Front distract attention from the injuries suffered by civilian populations who continued to inhabit houses and work farms behind the front lines, for example, while ground and air offensives in South Vietnam produced hundreds of thousands of civilian casualties.  So a second question is this: in what ways and in what places have militaries assumed medical responsibility for civilian casualties before and beyond the parameters of the Medical Civic Action Programs of contemporary counterinsurgency?

Secours Quaker

REDFIELD Life in Crisis MSF(3) Conversely, the military has not been the only agency making medical interventions in war-zones, and this is not a late twentieth century development either.  Civilian hospitals are increasingly important in today’s urban wars (where they often become targets too), but I want to pay particular attention to the work of international agencies.  I plan to analyse two voluntary organisations, the Friends’ Ambulance Unit and the American Field Service in the two world wars, and (I hope) two contemporary NGOs, the most obvious candidates being the International Committee of the Red Cross and Médecins sans Frontières.  I’m not assuming any direct filiations, and I’ll no doubt find all sorts of differences between them (particularly between the earlier and the later ones), but I’m particularly interested in the tensions between what at the moment I see as a common, more or less cosmopolitan engagement and the imperative to provide place-specific casualty care (and the logistics of doing so).   So a third question revolves around the rise of a ‘militarized humanism’ and the emergence of what Didier Fassin calls  ‘humanitarian reason’ as, perhaps, a form of governmentality.

This really is just a bare-bones summary, and since I have another two months to flesh it out I’d really welcome any advice, suggestions or criticisms.  As I’ve described the project here you can see, I hope, that my case-studies and the questions I think they’ll enable me to address arise at the intersections of medical and military geography but also involve political, cultural and legal geographies.  And, as ever, those geographies all have a stubbornly little g: this really isn’t a disciplinary project.

Theory of the drone 2: Hunting

This is the second in a series of posts on Grégoire Chamayou‘s Théorie du drone.

3: Theoretical principles of man-hunting

Chamayou opens his discussion with a revealing vignette.  In 2005 Texas entrepreneur John Lockwood developed a website,, which promised a ‘real-time on-line hunting and shooting experience’.  The cyber-hunter was after deer and other game kept for the purpose on a 300-acre ranch near San Antonio.


You might think that a more relevant example would be Wafaa Bilal’s Domestic Tension described in his Shoot an Iraqi: art, life and resistance under the gun:

‘For one month, Bilal lived alone in a prison cell-sized room in the line of fire of a remote-controlled paintball gun and a camera that connected him to internet viewers around the world. Visitors to the gallery and a virtual audience that grew by the thousands could shoot at him 24 hours a day.’

Wafaa Bilal, Domestic Tension

There is a wonderful discussion of the project and its wider implications for experimental geopolitics by Alan Ingram [‘Experimental geopolitics: Wafaa Bilal’s Domestic Tension‘] in the Geographical Journal 1788 (2) (2012) 123-133.  He explains that Bilal conceived Domestic Tension as a commentary on ‘remote control warfare’ after his brother had been killed in a strike by a US helicopter gunship called in by commanders watching a video feed from a Predator in the skies over Kufa.

But Lockwood’s venture is even more revealing, particularly when juxtaposed with Domestic Tension, because it involved real-time killing (of captive deer, antelope and other animals) and after a public outcry it was eventually banned.  A full report from the Washington Post is here. Even the National Rifle Association was up in – er – arms: its spokesperson declared,  ‘We believe that hunting should be outdoors and that sitting in front of a computer three states away doesn’t qualify as hunting.’  Chamayou’s translation of one police officer’s condemnation – “It’s not hunting.  It’s killing’ – becomes ‘It’s not hunting.  It’s murder’, which artfully raises the stakes, but you get the point, which is about the hue and cry that attended killing animals on line while ‘man-hunting by remote control’ attracted considerably less public attention: then, anyway.

Live Shot

To be fair, there were critics like Dale Jamieson who saw Live Shot as symptomatic of a wider issue:

“If you look at this as being kind of a continuum or slippery slope,” said Jamieson, “you have people who enjoy the act of killing and destruction in video games, you have people who enjoy killing animals over the Internet…. But of course the next step in this is that people start killing people over the Internet. That’s the worry.”

California state Senator Debra Brown was equally forthright in her condemnation:

“What happens if this technology gets expanded to other uses?” she said. “It’s actually pretty scary. What’s the line between real life and a video game? It has all the video game feel: It’s remote, it’s disconnected from the reality of it, the hunter doesn’t have to deal with any blood or wounding or tracking.”

Chamayou doesn’t track these responses, which surely sharpen his point, but he doesn’t really need to: I haven’t been able to find any critics who drew attention to the remote killings of people that were already taking place under the unblinking eye of US Predators in Pakistan and Yemen. (Incidentally, this chapter is illustrated by an image of a Predator firing a Hellfire missile; the photograph is all over the web – for example here – but, as James Bridle has shown, this now canonical image is in fact a Photo-shopped fake, ‘a computer-generated rendering of a drone … flying over an abstracted landscape’).

For Chamayou those targeted killings are the effects of an apparatus that he describes as militarized man-hunting.  He invokes George W. Bush’s line (in a speech at the FBI in February 2003) about the ‘war on terror’ being a ‘different kind of war’ that ‘requires us to be on an international manhunt’ to argue that that within a decade what seemed to most commentators at the time to be just a folksy Texan cowboy phrase had been converted into a state doctrine of non-conventional violence that combines elements of military and police operations  without fully corresponding to either.

He suggests that US Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld was already playing with the possibilities of what Eyal Weizman has called thanatotactics. Rumsfeld was convinced that ‘Israeli techniques for dealing with Palestinian resistance could be simply scaled up.’  If the IDF had turned Gaza into a laboratory for targeted killing from the air, however, how could this be done by the Pentagon on the global scale?  And – for some Pentagon insiders at least – how could this be done without having a new Phoenix program rise from the flames of what one adviser was already calling ‘preventive manhunting’?

CRAWFORD ManhuntingThis is where those ‘theoretical principles’ start to emerge.  Some of the most difficult issues concern the provision of a legal armature, as I’ll discuss in a later post (and it is these that interest me the most), but what Chamayou has more directly in mind here is the formulation of a military (rather than policing: the difference, as we’ll see, is crucial) doctrine to guide these operations.  He suggests that its most developed form drew upon the work of a private-sector consultant, George Crawford, who published Manhunting: reversing the polarity of warfare in 2008 and a subsequent report for the Joint Special Operations University, Manhunting: counter-network organization for irregular warfare  in 2009.

CRAWFORD Manhunting 2

Crawford’s report included a ‘chronology of American manhunting operations’, and out of that remarkably long history Chamayou fastens on the Pancho Villa Expedition in 1916.  This was a massive (and spectacularly unsuccessful) ground operation across the US/Mexico border, in which thousands of US troops under the command of General Pershing penetrated deep into Mexico in an effort to capture the Mexican revolutionary leader Pancho Villa (who had conducted a series of cross-border raids into New Mexico).

Chamayou doesn’t mention it, perhaps because it would complicate the clean lines of his narrative, but the expedition included air support from the eight planes of the 1st Aero Squadron (below) in what was to become ‘the first combat engagement of American Army pilots and airplanes’ (more here and here).  Their principal function, as with the use of military aircraft on the Western Front, was reconnaissance, but if this was a distant forerunner of US aerial surveillance of the southern border it was a dismal failure.  According to Pershing:

“[T]he aeroplanes have been of no material benefit so far, either in scouting or as a means of communication.  They have not at all met my expectations.  The further south Villa goes into the mountains the more difficult will be their tasks, and I have no doubt we shall soon be compelled to abandon them for either scouting the enemy or keeping in touch with the advance columns.”


But the entire expedition was a failure, and the crucial lesson, spelled out by Crawford and repeated by Chamayou, was the imperative to reverse the polarity: instead of deploying large numbers of ‘boots on the ground’ – what Crawford ridiculed as using an elephant gun to swat ‘the terrorist mosquito’ – operations against non-state actors should be conducted by small teams networked into a targeted killing operation.  This changes the terms of war not so much because the conflict is asymmetric, or even because it’s not about territorial gain, but rather because war is transformed from the classical paradigm of a duel into something quite other: ‘a hunter who advances, and a prey who flees or hides’.

The (tactical) rules of the game are quite different; the hunter must engage to win, while the fugitive must evade to win.  Crawford:

Firepower becomes less significant in terms of mass, while the precision and discretion with which firepower is employed takes on tremendous significance, especially during influence operations. Why drop a bomb when effects operations or a knife might do? Maneuver adopts new concept and form. In manhunting, friendly forces seek to engage the enemy. Like a lone insurgent, the enemy seeks to avoid the allied force, biding time until he has an opportunity to strike at vulnerable, unprotected, or noncombat assets.

The first task is thus not to immobilise but to identify and locate the enemy, which implies an apparatus of detection.  ‘Man-hunting’ thus becomes, in Crawford’s eyes at any rate, an intelligence-based operation directed towards identifying pivotal nodes (which is to say key leaders or ‘High Value Targets’) in the virtual and physical spaces of social networks.  Here Chamayou cites John Dodson‘s attempt – one of countless others – to provide a statistical methodology for ‘man-hunting’:

‘Nexus Topography is an extension of the common practice of Social Network Analysis (SNA) used to develop profiles of [High Value Targets]. Currently, SNA examines the links in a social group, whereas, Nexus Topography is a template that can be used to construct a map of relationships in different social environments. Nexus Topography maps social forums or environments, which bind individuals together (this can be extended to include Dark Networks and Small Worlds).

Network analysis, in multiple forms, is a staple of geo-spatial intelligence and contemporary counterinsurgency and counter-terrorism.  But how far Crawford’s specific proposals directly informed US military operations is another question, and one Chamayou doesn’t address.  I suspect their influence was at best indirect.  Even so, pursuing their logic enables Chamayou to conclude that militarized man-hunting is not about responding to specific attacks but instead providing ‘pre-emptive security’ against emergent threats.  On this new terrain ‘war’ becomes a vast campaign of extra-judicial killing, for which (as he says) the ‘Predator’ and the ‘Reaper’ live up to their names.  Hence the next chapter,which traces the next set of principles:

4: Surveillance and annihilation

FOUCAULT Surveillir et punirThe English translation doesn’t capture Chamayou’s substitution, which is a play on the French title of Michel Foucault‘s Discipline and punish: Surveillir et punir.

The reference to Foucault is entirely apposite.  Chamayou’s central point here is that, within the apparatus of militarized man-hunting, ‘detection’ is above all a visual modality (and much of Foucault’s work involved a sustained interrogation of the gaze). Chamayou argues that drones promise something like a ‘God’s eye view’; their protagonists claim that their near real-time, full-motion and increasingly high-definition video feeds have revolutionised the capacity to provide a constant view of the enemy.

This is all familiar ground, to me at any rate, and in this chapter Chamayou draws on my own work (and others’) to tease out six core principles.  I discuss all of them in ‘From a view to a kill’ and ‘Lines of descent’ [DOWNLOADS tab], so here I will simply list them in summary form:

1: Persistent stare or permanent watch – Predators and Reapers have long ‘dwell-times’ and in principle permit protracted surveillance;

2: Totalisation of perspectives or synoptic view – ‘wide-area surveillance’  promises to be able to ‘quilt’ multiple images together;

3: Complete archive – the question of data retrieval and analysis is immensely difficult, which is why the US Air Force has consistently worried about ‘swimming in sensors, drowning in data’, and why specialist image analysts have experimented with TV/video archival and retrieval techniques;

4: Data fusion from multiple sensors;

5: ‘Pattern of life’ analysis;

6: Detection of anomalies and pre-emption.

The classical names given to these new political technologies of vision – like Gorgon Stare and Argus (in Greek mythology the hundred-eyed giant, which in DARPA-speak becomes Autonomous Real-time Ground Ubiquitous Surveillance) – confirm the premium placed on visibility or even hypervisibility.

Gorgon Stare

But Chamayou argues that this political technology is far more ‘economical’ than Bentham’s Panopticon, which Foucault uses so powerfully to figure modern surveillance, because it requires neither spatial partitions nor architectural demarcations. It is what Zygmunt Bauman might call a ‘liquid’ technology, since it needs only airspace to function (though the current interest in A2/AD (‘anti-access/areal denial’) is a sharp reminder that at present – and even for the foreseeable future – Predators and Reapers can only hunt in uncontested air space).

And even more unlike the Panopticon, this political technology is not directed towards enclosure or confinement.  Just as the Gorgon’s stare petrified its enemies to death, turning them into stone, so this too is a deadly gaze. Video feeds trigger missile launches: ‘No longer surveillir et punir but surveiller et anéantir’ (annihilation) (p. 67).

(Incidentally, how far the US will continue to fund some of these systems is unclear: recent reports suggest that the Pentagon is scaling back its funding for the Gorgon Stare, but the Air Force is still promoting the ARGUS-IS as its next-generation sensor technology).

Living Under DronesThe shadows cast by these capacities are far longer than the supposedly ‘precision strikes’ they facilitate: they impose a new landscape of threat and dread. Here Chamayou invokes the Stanford/NYU report Living under drones (2012) to conclude that the presence of Predators and Reapers terrifies whole populations who live under them (see also my commentary here).  Above and beyond the deaths and physical injuries they inflict, and the rubble, the rage and the bereavements they produce, Chamayou concludes that drones also produce ‘a psychic enclosure whose boundaries are no longer defined by bars, barriers or walls but by the invisible circles described overhead by the ceaseless gyrations of these flying sentinels’ (literally, ‘watch-towers’).

As Chamayou’s patient excavation of these various principles proceeds, it becomes clear that the ‘doctrine’ that is coming in to view is much more than doctrine as the military understands the term.  For the Pentagon, doctrine consists of those ‘fundamental principles by which the military forces or elements thereof guide their actions in support of national objectives. It is authoritative but requires judgment in application.’  The appeal to its authoritative status is significant, of course, and speaks directly to (or rather from) from the military chain of command.

CHAMAYOU ManhuntsBut what Chamayou is after in what elsewhere he calls ‘the manhunt doctrine‘ is something that transcends the military (this form of ‘man-hunting’ deliberately blurs the distinctions between conventional military and police operations to produce what Chamayou calls ‘hybrid operations, monstrous offspring [enfants terribles] of the police and the military, of war and peace’) and seeks to expose the political technologies, the discursive systems and the scopic regimes from which it derives its wider authority and through which it exercises its powers.

In doing so it follows directly from his previous work, Les chasses à l’homme (in English, Manhunts), which promises a philosophical history – or, as I said in my previous post, a genealogy.  But Théorie du drone is more than the next chapter, because it has much to say about the transformation of ‘techno-war’ into something radically different, a modality of later modern war that is focused more than ever on the identification, pursuit and elimination of individuals.

To be continued.

The Situation(ist) Room

Guy Debord and Alice Becker-Ho playing Le jeu de la guerre

Guy Debord and Alice Becker-Ho playing Le jeu de la guerre

DEBORD Game of warA footnote to my previous discussion of war and simulation. In the 1950s French Situationist Guy Debord devised his own version of Kriegspiel, Le jeu de la guerre, supposedly inspired by Clausewitz. It took decades for a version to become widely available; the English edition, Game of war (Atlas, 2007), was translated by Donald Nicholson-Smith, who also translated Lefebvre’s La production de l’espace.  Debord claimed that ‘“With reservations, we may say that this game accurately portrays all the factors at work in real war.”  Not a mistake Clausewitz would have made…

Downloadable version here.  More from Nathan Heller at the wonderful bookforum here and from Alexander Galloway at cabinet here or culture machine here.

Debord’s project was, of course, about more than war in the conventional, limited sense, as the film below makes clear (‘the board is a psycho-geographic space’; ‘the rules of the game are a lecture in class warfare’): there is an interesting contrapuntal reading to be made with Foucault’s Society must be defended

Genealogies of law and violence

A day or two ago I tried to show why I think it important to recover the history of bombing in order to stage an effective critique of its contemporary use.  But Dan Clayton has written to provide a compelling and more general reason to recover the historical arc of contemporary military violence, with this quotation from Michel Foucault‘s (1971) essay on ‘Nietzsche, Genealogy, History’:

“Humanity does not gradually progress from combat to combat until it arrives at universal reciprocity, where the rule of law finally replaces warfare; humanity installs each of its violences in a system of rules and thus proceeds from domination to domination.”

This essay can now be read in conjunction with Foucault’s recently published lectures on La volonté de savoir.  As Stuart Elden explains:

‘Despite Foucault’s oft-cited interest in Nietzsche, only a couple of pieces on him were ever published. The most sustained is the ‘Nietzsche, Genealogy, History’ piece published in 1971. Here [in the Lectures] Foucault develops different themes, especially concerning the history of truth, though there are moments where related issues emerge. Foucault uses Nietzsche to trace the invention of knowledge, and the later invention of truth, suggesting that for Nietzsche truth relates to the will “under the form of constraint and domination… not liberty but violence” (p. 206). He suggests that, following Nietzsche, and “against the warm softness of a phenomenon, we must develop the murderous tenacity of knowledge” (p. 198). His reading is influenced by works across Nietzsche’s career, especially early manuscripts on truth and The Birth of Tragedy, rather than just On the Genealogy of Morality.’

There’s a really helpful long review essay on the lectures by Michael Berhrent in Foucault Studies 13 (2012) 157-178 here (scroll down).

Scholars, spies and strategic knowledges

I’ve been reading anthropologist/historian Nicholas Dirks on ‘Scholars, spies and global studies’ here.  He’s acutely aware of the origins of ‘area studies’ in the Second World War – and Trevor Barnes‘s brilliant work with Matt Farish has done much to deepen our knowledge of geography’s enlistments too: see here and scroll down to 2006 for their already classic paper – and notes that

“The first great center of area studies in the United States was not located in any university, but in Washington,” McGeorge Bundy, onetime dean of the Faculty of Arts and Sciences at Harvard University and then president of the Ford Foundation, observed in 1964. The [Office of Strategic Services], he said, was “a remarkable institution, half cops-and-robbers and half faculty meeting.”

Invoking the spirit of another stellar anthropologist, Clifford Geertz, Dirks makes it clear that he doesn’t want to go back there:

‘The point now is to recognize the essential distinctiveness — of ourselves and others. That distinctiveness can only be appreciated in global frames and with insistent humanist attention…  I mean here to insist on a radically new way of identifying the core values and aims of humanist education that puts traditional questions on a global stage, along with the studies of social and policy scientists.’

For a fuller treatment of the issues and ideas sketched in this brief essay, see his University Lecture, ‘Scholars and Spies: Worldly knowledge and the predicament of the university’, delivered at Columbia in February 2012 here [fast forward to 7:23]:

But, as I asked in a previous post on our martial Arts, what if that humanist tradition is already, constitutively compromised through its entanglement with military (and now we obviously need to add paramilitary) violence?  Too often, I think, we approach that relationship either in instrumental terms – in the case of my own field, a series of indictments of the ways in which, in Yves Lacoste‘s resonant phrase, la géographie, ça sert, d’abord, à faire la guerre; you can see a similar approach in opposition to the enlistment of anthropologists and others in US counterinsurgency operations and Human Terrain teams – or in philosophical terms (‘epistemological violence’, f,  example).

Both are important, to be sure, but for them to work in concert we also need a political genealogy of the conceptual armatures deployed in (and beyond) the humanities and social sciences, mapping the ways in which the construction of our key concepts circulates in and out of other concrete practices. That’s one of the reasons I’m so interested in Stuart Elden‘s retro-midwifery at ‘The Birth of Territory‘, though I’m drawn more to its adult (and no less bloody) adventures. Those entailments are not purely discretionary, a matter of preferring this concept over that, and without wanting to return to or even supplement Jürgen Habermas‘s delineation of ‘knowledge-constitutive interests’ I’m left wondering how the production of concepts is implicated in the operations of power, including military power, and how their performative potential (practical and rhetorical) is realized.  I’ve never seen the university as an Ivory Tower – and I’m not suggesting it’s a Missile Silo either – but, as I argued in Incendiary knowledges, we need to ‘world’ our ‘worldly knowledges’ and think carefully about the hyphen in power-knowledge.

Bruno Latour once playfully identified four deficiencies in actor-network theory – the three words actor, network and theory, plus the hyphen – which prompts Ilana Gershon to describe the hyphen as a ‘trickster placeholder’.   It’s an artful conceit, but I think we should take the ‘place’ in ‘placeholder’ seriously and think some more about the spaces in which and through which knowledge and military power are entangled.  David Livingstone provides some clues in Putting science in its place: geographies of scientific knowledge (Chicago, 2003), but military power remains in the wings of his account, while Gerard Toal‘s discussion of the battlefield as one of geography’s ‘venues’ in the SAGE Handbook of Geographical Knowledge, edited by Livingstone with John Agnew (Sage, 2011) is substantively closer to what I have in mind, but it’s more concerned with instrumental modalities than the apparatus through which, for example, the historical battlefield morphed into the contemporary battlespace.  That apparatus is at once conceptual and practical, and it is also – crucially – multi-sited, with circulations between (for example) districts in Afghanistan and Iraq, the Pentagon, and a host of military installations, defence industries and research institutions inside and outside the academy.  In other words, the installation of battlespace – a diffuse, non-linear and unbounded space of military and paramilitary operations – at once exemplifies and engenders the contemporary ‘global’ to which Dirks directs our attention.

It was of course Michel Foucault who reminded us of the circulation ‘between geographical and strategic discourses’ – only natural, he said, because ‘geography grew up in the shadow of the military’ – and in that same interview with the editors of Hérodote (including Lacoste) he suggested that:

‘Once knowledge can be analyzed in terms of region, domain, implantation, displacement, transposition, one is able to capture the processes by which knowledge functions as a form of power and disseminates the effects of power.  There is an administration of knowledge, a politics of knowledge, relations of power which pass via knowledge and which, if one tries to transcribe them, lead one to consider forms of domination designated by such notions as field, region or territory.’

Those notions are far more than ‘metaphors’, as he called them in the interview, or at any rate metaphors are rarely purely linguistic plays.  In the case of many of our spatial concepts, these are not only – as George Lakoff and Mark Johnson might say – ‘metaphors we live by’ – but also metaphors through which others are made to (or let) die.  The ‘human’ in human geography has come under increasing pressure in recent years, from both post-structuralism and post-humanism, and my own work on war is indebted to both of them; but my particular concern is the way in which the production and performance of particular spaces is an intrinsic and intimate part of a military violence that is all too human.

Incendiary knowledges

Yesterday in my course on Cities, space and power (see TEACHING) I was talking about Alexandria and urbanism in the post-Alexandrian world.  Part of the discussion centred on the Museum and Library (the Museion) as both a community of scholars that was at once religious and academic (Museion means “Home of the Muses”) and a material constellation of power-knowledge. The marvellous Andrew Erskine, in his essay on ‘Culture and power in early Ptolemaic Egypt‘, captures the political purpose behind the imperial project:

‘A Graeco-Macedonian surface was imposed on Egypt, but this surface lacked a unifying tradition – except for a common Greekness. Setting up the Museum and the Library is the setting up of a centre of Greek cultural and intellectual life in the city. It helps to fill the cultural vacuum that exists within the city. Adopting the practices of Aristotle’s school [which was also centred on a Museum], studying the texts of Homer, acquiring the official texts of the Greek tragedies all help to establish some sense of continuity with a Greek past.’ 

But more than this, like other versions of what Ernest Gellner once called an agro-literate polity, this was about exclusion as much as inclusion:

‘The more Greeks can indulge in their own culture, the more they can exclude non-Greeks, in other words Egyptians, the subjects whose land has been taken over. The assertion of Greek culture serves to enforce Egyptian subjection. So the presence in Alexandria of two institutions devoted to the preservation and study of Greek culture acts as a powerful symbol of Egyptian exclusion and subjection. Texts from other cultures could be kept in the library, but only once they had been translated, that is to say, Hellenized.’ 

And this was about more than Greek culture and identity, and the orbit of exclusion extended far beyond Ptolemaic Egypt.  When the Ptolemies sought to bring the knowledge of the known world under their own control they had a particular interest in strategic knowledges like engineering, medicine – and, of course, geography.  Their collecting was aggressive: they confiscated scrolls from travellers, seized others from ships in the Great Harbour, and failed to return scrolls borrowed from other repositories for transcription.  And when the king of Pergamon [modern: Bergama] proposed to build his own collection [left], they forbade the export of papyrus to forestall their rival (which, according to some historians, prompted a series of experiments that issued in the discovery of parchment (‘pergamena‘) as an alternative recording medium).

Fast-forwarding, this is still on my mind for two reasons.  The first is a marvellous essay on ‘Shadow Libraries by Lawrence Liang: if, like me, you still relish the physical space and sensibility of the conventional library, this is a must-read (even if you have to do it online).

What was special about the Library of Alexandria was the fact that until then the libraries of the ancient world were either private collections of an individual or government storehouses where legal and literary documents were kept for official reference. By imagining a space where the public could have access to all the knowledge of the world, the library also expressed a new idea of the human itself. While the library of Alexandria is rightfully celebrated, what is often forgotten in the mourning of its demise is another library—one that existed in the shadows of the grand library but whose whereabouts ensured that it survived Caesar’s papyrus destroying flames.

According to the Sicilian historian Diodorus Siculus, writing in the first century BC, Alexandria boasted a second library, the so-called daughter library, intended for the use of scholars not affiliated with the Museion. It was situated in the south-western neighborhood of Alexandria, close to the temple of Serapis, and was stocked with duplicate copies of the Museion library’s holdings. This shadow library survived the fire that destroyed the primary library of Alexandria but has since been eclipsed by the latter’s myth.

That ‘public’, as Erskine would surely insist, was in fact a carefully delineated and privileged public.  And if this was library as utopia then, like so many utopias, access was restricted.  Liang closes with some thoughts on the library, instead, as a heterotopia (like Stuart Elden, I continue to be astonished at the attention Michel Foucault’s ‘published unpublished’ essay continues to attract, though unlike him not in a good way):

If the utopian ideal of the library was to bring together everything that we know of the world then the length of its bookshelves was coterminous with the breadth of the world. But like its predecessors in Alexandria and Babel the project is destined to be incomplete haunted by what it necessarily leaves out and misses. The library as heterotopia reveals itself only through the interstices and lays bare the fiction of any possibility of a coherent ground on which a knowledge project can be built.

Again, this surely isn’t a purely epistemological dilemma: there is a politics of what is to count as knowledge, after all, and this – my second reason for thinking about these issues – has often intersected with political and military violence.  That ‘ground’ is vulnerable to more than philosophical reflection.  As Matthew Battles reminds us in his Library: an unquiet history (W.W. Norton, 2003),  ‘Libraries are as much about losing the truth as preseving it– satisfying the inner barbarians of princes, presidents and pretenders – as about discovering it.’

Much closer to us than the serial burnings of the Library at Alexandria is the ritualised burning of books organised by the National Socialist German Student’s Association in May and June 1933. From the US Holocaust Memorial Museum:

On April 6, 1933, the Nazi German Student Association’s Main Office for Press and Propaganda proclaimed a nationwide “Action against the Un-German Spirit,” to climax in a literary purge or “cleansing” (Säuberung) by fire. Local chapters were to supply the press with releases and commissioned articles, offer blacklists of “un-German” authors, sponsor well-known Nazi figures to speak at public gatherings, and negotiate for radio broadcast time. On April 8 the students’ association also drafted its twelve “theses”—a deliberate evocation of Martin Luther’s 95 Theses: declarations which described the fundamentals of a “pure” national language and culture. Placards publicized the theses, which attacked “Jewish intellectualism,” asserted the need to “purify” the German language and literature, and demanded that universities be centers of German nationalism….

In a symbolic act of ominous significance, on May 10, 1933, university students burned upwards of 25,000 volumes of “un-German” books, presaging an era of state censorship and control of culture. On the evening of May 10, in most university towns, right-wing students marched in torchlight parades “against the un-German spirit.” The scripted rituals called for high Nazi officials, professors, university rectors, and university student leaders to address the participants and spectators. At the meeting places, students threw the pillaged and “unwanted” books onto bonfires with great ceremony, band-playing, and so-called “fire oaths.”

Among the thousands of titles consigned to the flames was Erich Maria Remarque‘s All Quiet on the Western Front, ‘a betrayal of soldiers of the Great War’, and Ernest Hemingway‘s Farewell to Arms.  And, as the US Holocaust Memorial Museum notes,

Also among those works burned were the writings of beloved nineteenth-century German Jewish poet Heinrich Heine, who wrote in his 1820-1821 play Almansor the famous admonition, “Dort, wo man Bücher verbrennt, verbrennt man am Ende auch Menschen“: “Where they burn books, they will also ultimately burn people.”

I realise that most of this will be well-known to readers (sic), but my point here is not about the vulnerability of libraries, though both Rebecca Knuth‘s Libricide (Praeger, 2003) and Lucien Polastron‘s Books on Fire (Thames and Hudson, 2010) provide a depressingly rich catalogue of historical examples of their calculated destruction.  One of the most famous images of the Blitz in 1940 is surely this photograph taken after the London Library was hit in 1940 – given the inaccuracy of the bombing, it was surely not deliberately targeted – but it testifies as much to the durability of reading as to its fragility:

What I am starting to think about is the way in which the military is inserted/insinuated in the hyphen between ‘power’ and ‘knowledge’.  In Discipline and punish Foucault artfully reverse engineers this, and provides a seminal discussion of the army in the eighteenth century as an exemplary formation of disciplinary power.  But this isn’t quite what I mean, not least because of the co-presence of sovereign and disciplinary power in military formations, and Nina Taunton, also inspired by Foucault, provides a compelling discussion of the early modern military camp (which, in its later version, also makes a fleeting appearance in Discipline and punish) and Shakespeare’s Henry V here that sets the stage – literally so – for what I have in mind.

She focuses on what she calls an ‘epistemology of command’ and ‘a whole culture of watchfulness’ and in doing so, not incidentally, also enlarges our understanding of the ‘theatre of war‘ as a visual metaphoric.  (See also her ‘Unlawful presences: the politics of military space and the problem of women in Tamburlaine‘ in Andrew Gordon and Bernhard Klein (eds), Literature, mapping and the politics of space in early modern Britain, Cambridge University Press, 2001 and her own book, 1590s drama and militarism, Ashgate, 2001).

Clearly the epistemological principles underlying the set-out of the camp make for the ‘new knowledge’ of surveillance as a one-way process, adapted to the exigencies of observation of the enemy on the one hand and the anxiety on the other to impede the enemy’s observation of you. Exposure to enemy strength can be forestalled by reinforcing the power that resides in ocular knowledge. This is achieved by spatially organising the way it is constituted in the camp so that it functions in equal balance with the power inherent in another kind of knowledge – that to do with strategies of secrecy, of keeping the enemy in the dark about your manoeuvres whilst being fully apprised of his. This is exemplified in the organisation of the watch through spying and reconnaissance – major strategies of surveillance.

Taunton writes about the dangers of both ‘the enemy within’ and ‘the enemy without’ – no stranger to ISAF in Afghanistan – but we should be wary of superficial parallels, especially as our histories enter a digital though no less material world.  (For exactly this reason I’m leery of those who think that Foucault’s lectures in 1975-6 uncannily prefigured war thirty years later – as though the concrete particulars are somehow incidental, when Foucault’s own way of working was so densely empirical).

What haunts me at present is the modern constitution of ‘the enemy’ as a mobile object of military knowledge, at once watched and watching. The questions multiply far beyond the delineation of political technologies of vision and scopic regimes that have informed much of my work to date. What are the relays through which (particularly local) knowledges have been militarised?  What are the vulnerabilities – what Taunton describes as the ‘doubleness of discourses that articulate and represent powerlessness through the models of [power/knowledge] in surveillance that they describe’ – that have been written in to the prospect of military violence?  How have militaries responded to being watched by the enemy and by the media (assuming they distinguish between them)?  What are the relations between surveillance, spatiality and secrecy within modern military ‘cultures of watchfulness’?  And how have those cultures responded to the demands of military occupation?  More – I hope – later.