Violence and Policing


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

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

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

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

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

Death and the Contemporary

The latest (double) issue of New Formations (89/90: 2017) is devoted to ‘Death and the Contemporary’, and it includes two essays likely to be of particular interest to readers of this blog.

First, François Debrix, ‘Horror beyond Death: Geopolitics and the pulverisation of the human‘:

From territorial conquests or wars of attrition to the concentration camps or policies of control of displaced populations, the biopolitical capture of human life in configurations of geopolitical power has often involved the putting to death of populations. While, following Foucault’s work, we can argue that late modern political power has been concerned with the management of people’s lives or with the ‘health’ of a population, this capacity to ‘make live and let die’ (as Foucault put it) is never separate from a modality of force premised upon a right to put to death. Thus, the distinction between biopolitics and what has been called thanatopolitics or necropolitics can no longer be guaranteed. The goal of this essay is to push further the biopolitical/ necropolitical argument by showing that, in key contemporary instances of geopolitical violence and destruction, the life and/or death of populations and individual bodies is not a primary concern. What is of concern, rather, is what I have called the pulverization of the human. I consider this targeting of the human, or of humanity itself, to be a matter of horror. Horror’s aim, when it enters the domain of geopolitical destruction, appears to be to put bodies to death. But, more crucially, its aim is to render human bodies, beyond the fact of life and death, unrecognizable, unidentifiable, and sometimes undistinguishable from non-human matter. Horror does not care to recompose human life or humanity. This essay briefly details the argument about horror and horror’s ‘objectives’ beyond death. It also takes issue with recent theories that have argued that traces of human life can be recovered from contemporary instances of geopolitical violence and destruction. Finally, this essay offers two contemporary illustrations of horror’s targeting of the human by examining the role and place of horror in suicide bombings and in drone attacks.

Second, Andrea Brady, ‘Drone poetics‘:

‘Drone Poetics’ considers the challenge to the theory and practice of the lyric of the development of drone warfare. It argues that modernist writing has historically been influenced by aerial technology; drones also affect notions of perception, distance and intimacy, and the self-policing subject, with consequences for contemporary lyric. Indeed, drone artworks and poems proliferate; and while these take critical perspectives on drone operations, they have not reckoned with the phenomenological implications of execution from the air. I draw out six of these: the objectification of the target, the domination of visuality, psychic and operational splitting, the ‘everywhere war’, the intimacy of keyhole observations, and the mythic or psychoanalytic representation of desire and fear. These six tropes indicate the necessity for a radical revision of our thinking about the practice of writing committed poetry in the drone age.