Book Reviews

Tales from Peaceland: The Nuts and Bolts of International Intervention

Cambridge University Press, 2014

The editors of Anthropoliteia would like to welcome this review of Séverine Auteserre’s Peaceland: Conflict Resolution and the Everyday Politics of International Intervention. (Cambridge University Press, 2014) by Stephanie Hobbis.  The review addresses two key issues in anthropology: need-centricity and the importance of local knowledge.

International interventions are an increasingly ‘normal’ component of the international governance toolbox. Interveners’ motivations differ (from Afghanistan to South Sudan to Solomon Islands) but they frequently share comparable immediate goals: bringing ‘peace’ (often translated as ‘law and order’ following the Western liberal example) to areas that have experienced extended periods of protracted conflict. To this end a new professional class has emerged. As police-builders, policy advisers, auditors or human rights advocates its members spend around six months to two years in a conflict zone before moving on to another with similar thematic requirements. This skill-focused mobility, so Séverine Autesserre, has created a distinct transnational community whose members inhabit their own “metaphorical world” (6) that stands apart from the contexts (and locales) interventions take place in: Peaceland.

While critiques of international interventions abound, especially of their liberal orientations and their often limited concern for local particularities and knowledges, Peaceland itself has received only scant attention. Its nuts and bolts, “the interveners… their customs, rituals, cultures, structures, beliefs, and behaviours” (6) are regularly overlooked. Autesserre’s volume starts filling this gap through a multi-sited ethnography of Peaceland with a focus on the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) and a more short-term ethnographic (as researcher) and professional (as intervener) engagement with eight additional intervention zones (Afghanistan, Burundi, Cyprus, Israel and the Palestinian Territories, Kosovo, Nicaragua, South Sudan, Timor-Leste).

She moves beyond the limitations of ideological considerations (are interventions (too) liberal?) and subsequent discussions that address the potential dangers of (over-)romanticizing the local. Also she does not focus on the pros and cons of external involvement in conflicts (despite her at times harsh critique she maintains that international interventions make significant contributions to ‘peace’ that local actors alone would be unlikely to achieve); and she does not simply chastise those living in Peaceland (herself and her husband included). Instead Autesserre offers an honest and sobering analysis of the everyday, local, international, private and professional challenges that interveners face, and the routine answers they have developed in response. She looks at the structures that “shape people’s beliefs and behaviors” (40) but also at interveners’ engagements with these structures and the impact their choices have on the persistence of significant power asymmetries between interveners (skill-based/ thematic knowledge) and locals (context-based knowledge).

At the core of her argumentation lies a critique of how thematic professionalism and the accompanying careerism – “you need to change missions otherwise it creates problems for your career” (81) – often prevent a more engaged involvement with context-dependent particularities and especially so with the experiences of local populations and their perceptions of the intervening force. In evaluations of their ‘job performance’ interveners are, above all (and at times only), accountable to their employers: the external agencies that participate in the intervention, be it the United Nations, a foreign government or non-governmental organization. As a result interveners narratives and behaviours are outwards-focused in their strategy implementation and reporting (mission-design- rather than needs-centric), outcome assessments (quantifiable, short-term) and networking (career-conscious). The (actual) needs of local populations are pushed to the sidelines and so are everyday interactions between interveners and locals, both on professional and personal levels.

In this context-deprived environment Autesserre finds interveners’ engagement with conflict to be inefficient, ineffective and at times even counterproductive. Reliant on dominant narratives interveners have, for example, treated ongoing violence in the DRC as primarily derived from resource conflicts while sexual abuse has been identified as its worst effect and state-building as its only solution. Yet, on the ground minerals (and their exploitation) are only considered to be one of many sources of violence; a focus on sexual violence is said to have diverted resources from victims of other forms of violence while triggering a spike in sexual abuse as rebel leaders recognized its value as (international) bargaining tool; and a state-centric perspective is viewed as inhibiting more creative (grassroots) responses to a conflict that has also been sustained by a predatory state.

In such simplified understandings of conflicts Autesserre further suggests that interveners’ risk perceptions become exaggerated as well. To manage perceived security threats interveners ‘bunkerize’ (219) in their professional operations (translate: isolate from local communities and rarely move outside of urban centers) and create separate social (personal) spaces that are fueled by often significant income disparities between themselves and locals. To draw from my own experiences in Solomon Islands: Who but externally paid personnel can (regularly) afford to dine at a restaurant that offers a meal for the same (or a higher) price than the annual primary school fees for a child (at least in rural areas)?; and how can adequate responses be developed if interveners have little to no exposure to a primarily rural population that is dispersed across hundreds of islands that interveners can, following their self-imposed security measures, never visit?

Autesserre does, however, believe that not all hope is lost. Peaceland can be transformed, boundaries torn down and in turn the effectiveness of interventions significantly improved: (1) acknowledge the existence of Peaceland (and the habits and structures it maintains); (2) increase the value of context-based knowledge, not by rejecting thematic skill-sets but by creating a better balance between the two (this also means planning for the long- rather than the short-term); (3) identify new ways to encourage participation of local communities and partners in peace-building operations, also by recruiting local experts rather than external advisers unless the position is likely to attract ‘corrupt’ practices (curiously she does not use this word); and (4) tear down professional (security) and social barriers between expatriates and locals, for example, by removing of bans that prohibit interveners from socializing with locals after work (this is currently often as a threat to interveners’ proclaimed neutrality).

The question that remains unaddressed is how to build the trust between interveners and locals that allows for these suggestions to be implemented in practice. Autesserre herself acknowledges that she feels more insecure when she is part of an intervention force than when she is at the same location, during a comparable situation, as researcher or visitor – and even though she is aware of this disconnect. She also highlights the core problem many interveners face: how do you identify local partners that are not in more powerful positions (and therefore more likely to engage with interveners) because they benefited from, or even participated in, the conflict that pre-dated (or continues during) the intervention? On the other side, how can local communities develop more equal relationships with interveners when their presence is often seen as a reflection of local ineptitude (lack of capacity/ skills to solve the conflict), by locals and interveners alike?

Answers to these questions may push too far beyond the scope of Autesserre’s Peaceland, which is, after all, focused on uncovering the challenges posed to effective intervention; yet, without a better understanding of the complex relationships and the emotional insecurities they foster I remain sceptical about how realistic her suggestions are. For instance, at first sight there seems to be validity in the proposition to allow spouses and children to accompany interveners (if the security situation allows it) to increase their commitment to the host country and their involvement with it (e.g. through children’s school friends). Solomon Islands fits this (security) requirement (at least the capital city, Honiara) and many inhabitants of Peaceland have been joined by their families over years. However, especially family members from outside Peaceland appear less willing to adjust to the lower status of living that engagement with local populations requires, and in turn even more expat-dominated restaurants and even shopping areas have been built. In Solomon Islands Peaceland seems, today, to be even more secluded, and the more visible the differences between expatriate and local lives have become, the more resentful are locals about the presence of interveners in general.

This critique notwithstanding (and really it is only meant as food for thought) Peaceland should be a wake-up call to anyone who lives in this world (even if it is only bi-curiously, as many anthropologists are). Possibly the most shocking conclusion from Peaceland is how novel Autesserre’ approach and argumentation are in the context of existing discourses on international interventions. It appears that in between the many frequently political science-based critiques of (liberal) intervention policies and anthropological responses elaborating on local experiences with interventions, the everyday lives of interveners have been lost. Perhaps this is not as surprising after all. With a limited ethnographic toolbox many political scientists (Autesserre left aside) may shy away from such analysis and with an at times excessive focus on the local, anthropologists often distance themselves from the expatriates inhabiting their field sites (advice I was given myself as I headed to Solomon Islands for my research on local participation in and perceptions of intervention-based state-building). Autesserre’s courage for wandering outside her discipline’s comfort-zone (though ethnographic approaches seems to be on the rise) is noteworthy, and perhaps it is time for more anthropologists to do the same to develop a more comprehensive understanding of intervener’s relations with local populations, and the role of everyday habits and rituals therein.

Stephanie Hobbis is a PhD candidate in Social and Cultural Analysis at Concordia University (Montreal) and in Social Anthropology and Ethnology at École des hautes études en sciences sociales (EHESS, Paris). Her doctoral research looks at state-, peace-, and nation-building in contemporary, post-colonial, post-intervention, and post-conflict Solomon Islands with a focus on urban-rural comparison.
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DragNet

DragNet: March 23 – April 5, 2015

chicago gangs

“What would it take for today’s gang members to bring peace to the neighborhood?” writes Laurence Ralph in his post for Anthropoliteia last month. Ralph recounts the story of his friendship with an elderly member of one of Chicago’s most notorious gangs, The Divine Knights. But the story reveals the little known history of the gang, as well as a strikingly “tender” side of the group previously known only among local community members.

To record, or not to record; that is the question! Last month, we shared Carlos Miller’s post for Photography is Not a Crime. According to legislators in Texas, members of the general public should not be allowed to film or record officers by law. But a policy being proposed by a political duo in Colorado begs to differ. Joe Salazar and Daneya Esgar have teamed up to co-sponsor a bill that would award up to $15,000 (plus attorney fees) to citizens who have cameras or recording devices confiscated by officers without a warrant. You can read a copy of the proposed bill here and decide for yourself.

The small town of Madison, Wisconsin is putting a whole new spin on the meaning of “officer next door” in an attempt to foster peaceful interactions between police and local community members. Melissa Block hosts this episode of All Thing Considered for NPR and details how officers and neighborhood residents have reacted to the police department literally moving in next store to high crime areas. The key to the community initiative’s success apparently lies in its exposure of officers and citizens to one another in everyday contexts- both good and bad.

If you, like me, have been amazed to discover how very impossible it is to obtain even the slightest estimates about lethal use of force by police for any given year, you’ve got to read Tom McCarthy’s post for The Guardian ASAP. Finally, we learn why there are no reliable estimates about police-related homicides: it was too difficult, so “we just gave up”. (Yeah, I’m not buying it either!) Although the Bureau of Justice Statistics arguably places a number on all kinds of similar measures, they’re reporting difficulties assessing lethal use of force nation-wide. Among other stumbling blocks are incomplete or never-filed reports (from departments such as NYPD) and inconsistent reporting. Now it’s time to play the waiting game to see if Obama’s newly created Policing Task Force will follow through with his request for “more” (or any?) data…

“What would it take for today’s gang members to bring peace to the neighborhood?” writes Laurence Ralph in his post for Anthropoliteia last month. Not that we need to remind you, but the newest Tip of the Cap feature is up and hungry for your feedback. Ralph recounts the story of his friendship with an elderly member of one of Chicago’s most notorious gangs, The Divine Knights. But the story reveals the little known history of the gang, as well as a strikingly “tender” side of the group previously known only among local community members. Laurence Ralph is an Assistant Professor of African and African American Studies as well as Anthropology at Harvard University. If you leave the post wanting more, be sure to check out his book, “Renegade Dreams: Living Through Injury in Gangland Chicago“.

To end on a fun note (and just because I’m feeling random), treat yourself to browsing through Radio Free Europe Radio Liberty’s eclectic collection of bizarre Soviet Police posters from back in the day. Among my own personal favorites are, “concerned looking smoking guy” and “Gee! My facial angle looks great in this lighting!“. If you’re also the kind of person that likes a healthy amount of “crazy crap” on your walls, you’ll thank me for including a link that can hook you up with your next police-inspired addition.

Did I miss something? No worries- it does happen on occasion. If you have any suggestions for DragNet, or if you want to call attention to a specific blog or article, send an email to anthropoliteia@gmail.com with the words “DragNet” in the subject header and I’ll get on it!

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In the Journals

In the Journals – March 2015

police-helicopter

Welcome back to In the Journals, a monthly review of some of the more recent academic research on security, crime, policing and the law. As the new season dawns on us and we hopefully have some free time in spring break, hopefully you’ll have time to peruse some of these new publications.

Continue reading

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Tip of the Cap

Un-silencing the Gang: A Past Retold in the Present that Shapes Possible Futures

We would like to welcome Laurence Ralph in this latest edition of our feature, Tip of the Cap.
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I got my start in gang research from working with non-profits. There, I met a sixty-eight year-old gang member named Mr. Otis. At first it surprised me that someone so old would adamantly affiliate with one of Chicago’s most notorious gangs, the Divine Knights. But I soon learned that the idea of “the gang” as a group of violent criminals meant something very different to Mr. Otis. For him, the gang was an organization that could actually improve the community, if given the chance. And he wanted to curate a gang exhibit to prove it. Continue reading
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Announcements, Call for papers

CFP: Making Races, Breaking Cases: A dialogue on science and society in the U.S. criminal justice context

(This call for papers is for a panel to be held at the annual meeting of the American Anthropological Association in Denver this November.)

How do police “make” race? How do people experience racial bias as an element in police power? This panel initiates discussion of these questions among anthropologists from across the four fields, in dialogue with scholars from other disciplines. We bring together forensic anthropologists, forensic scientists, political and legal anthropologists, and scholars of information technology to describe, discuss and reflect upon the institutional dynamics of race-making and racial bias in the United States criminal justice system. Papers will be given on (a) the interface of biological science and racial discourse in the production of police evidence; (b) the ways in which communities speak back to and engage with police archival records and evidence; (c) the place of race in legal theory and courtroom reality; d) latent bias in perceptions of race and racism and its potential impact on investigations. By merging critical theory with a diverse array of data—from technology to biology—we aspire to frame an integrated research agenda to address two major issues 1) the multidimensional sources from which the current state of racial biases in the criminal justice institute have stemmed/are sustained, and 2) the (in)visible ways in which those who are policed experience these biases.

We are looking for 1-2 additional people to join this conversation. If you would be interested in contributing a paper to this panel, please send a paper abstract ideas to hughesc@illinois.edu before April 7.

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DragNet

DragNet: March 9 – 22, 2015

Speaking of departments that have gotten a bad rap, Police Chief Alejandro Lares Valladares of the Tijuana police department recently equipped officers with body-worn cameras. He hopes the initiative will both improve police-citizen relations while holding each accountable for their actions.

Speaking of departments that have gotten a bad rap, Police Chief Alejandro Lares Valladares of the Tijuana police department recently equipped officers with body-worn cameras. He hopes the initiative will both improve police-citizen relations while holding each accountable for their actions.

You’d think members of a police department as big as NYPD would know somebody somewhere might be able to trace Wikipedia page edits to their network. We shared Kelly Weill’s post for The Capital, which exposes how a computer linked to NYPD allegedly altered information on Wikipedia pages about police use of force against Eric Garner, Sean Bell and Amadou Diallo. Also bleak is their revelation that additional edits have been linked to the same NYPD IP addresses for entries covering stop-and-frisk, NYPD scandals and local NYPD and political leaders.

Speaking of departments that have gotten a bad rap, Police Chief Alejandro Lares Valladares of the Tijuana police department recently equipped officers with body-worn cameras. He hopes the initiative will both improve police-citizen relations while holding each accountable for their actions. Carrie Kahn of NPR recounts why, despite a long history of corruption, Lares believes the cameras will also capture how “citizens try to criticize my police officers.” Will body-worn cameras finally even the playing field?

According to Peter Moskos, it’s not just NYPD or Tijuana officers who are guilty of corruption: it’s “The Whole Damn System!”. We shared his post for Cop in the Hood, which explains how the recently issued (and damning) DOJ report of Ferguson’s police department “is about a whole system of government using the criminal justice system to legally steal from its residents.” Do you agree with his conclusion that, “one could be blind to race and still be outraged?” Feel free to weigh-in in the Comments section.

We previously shared AAA President Monica Heller’s call to fellow anthropologists to contemplate and discuss the intersection of race and justice. The events in Ferguson, as well as the subsequent police shooting of Eric Garner, made this topic one of utmost importance to the general public and scholars alike. In the same vein, we shared Jennifer Curtis’ post for Political and Legal Anthropology earlier this month. Learn how you (and/or fellow colleagues) can join this crucial discussion by submitting your ideas and suggestions to Jeff Martin at jmart@illinois.edu. APLA will be hosting a coordinated discussion of race and justice in Denver, November 2015.

Whether your own interests lie within the field of anthropology, sociology or criminal justice, chances are that you’ve heard a little (or a lot!) about Emile Durkheim. In my favorite “open-access” voucher of the month, Berghahn Journals announced they will offer free access to some of Durkheim’s original works in honor of the 24th anniversary of the British Centre for Durkheimian Studies. You can enjoy reading his pieces in their original French, or English translated, versions.

Did I miss something? No worries- it does happen on occasion. If you have any suggestions for DragNet, or if you want to call attention to a specific blog or article, send an email to anthropoliteia@gmail.com with the words “DragNet” in the subject header and I’ll get on it!

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DragNet

DragNet: February 23 – March 8, 2015

Spencer Ackerman's post for The Guardian  investigates a US-based policing "black site" known simply as Homan Square. Once inside the walls of this Chicago warehouse, constitutional rights are said to go out the window.

Spencer Ackerman’s post for The Guardian investigates a US-based policing “black site” known simply as Homan Square. Once inside the walls of this Chicago warehouse, constitutional rights are said to go out the window.

It would appear that Ali Wajahat is not the only name in modern-day cop shows with a twist according to a post by Mike Hale of NYtimes.com. Comedian Colin Quinn’s series, creatively dubbed “Cop Show”, debuted in mid-February and is quickly accumulating nods of approval for its amusement factor. Look for cameos by big-wig comedians, such as Jerry Seinfeld and Jim Gaffigan, on this mock-u-mentary hit. You can catch up on the series- which is currently available for streaming- on LStudio.com.

In far less cheery news, we also shared Spencer Ackerman‘s post for The Guardian, which investigates a US-based policing “black site” known simply as Homan Square. Once inside the walls of this Chicago warehouse, constitutional rights are said to go out the window. Lawyers interviewed by Ackerman report that it has become standard practice to assume apprehended individuals who remain “unlocatable” through otherwise standard procedures have landed themselves within the Homan black box. Follow ongoing coverage of the investigation by The Guardian here. We also recommend Alexandra Starr of NPR’s post for Codeswitch we featured earlier this month.

A previous DragNet post asked, “When officers behave questionably, who you gonna call?” It appears Shea Serrano -staff writer for Grantland– has taken it upon himself to provide an answer to our quandary. His post, The Second Banana Cop Matrix: A Definitive Guide to Who You Should Call for Backup wins my non-existent prize for best satirical post of the month (plus, after reading Homan Square coverage we could all use some comic relief, right?). Worthy of note is his shout out to my own personal favorite police “side-kick” ever: the kid from Last Action Hero.

The President’s Task Force on 21st Century Policing released some recommendations for improving police-citizen relations this month, beginning with the regular measuring of “community trust”. Carrie Johnson‘s post for The Two-Way also recaps the Task Force’s stance on the ever-popular “body-worn camera solution“, with concerns about privacy packing a powerful punch. These recommendations came just days before the killing of Philadelphia Police Officer Robert Wilson, which is especially poignant given that Commissioner Charles Ramsey has a position on the Task Force. Also noteworthy is the fact that Wilson’s district is the site of PPD’s current body-worn camera pilot project.

Also on the topic of police-citizen violence, a DOJ investigation into patterns of police use of force in Ferguson, Missouri found “alleged sweeping patterns of discrimination” within the city’s police department. But the discrimination doesn’t end there. The report also found that blacks were “68% less likely than other races to have their cases dismissed by a municipal court judge”. My personal LEAST favorite statistic, you ask? Of 21,000 total Ferguson residents, 16,000 of them were found to have outstanding warrants (often for minor violations). Stay tuned to our twitter feed for ongoing coverage!

Did I miss something? No worries- it does happen on occasion. If you have any suggestions for DragNet, or if you want to call attention to a specific blog or article, send an email to anthropoliteia@gmail.com with the words “DragNet” in the subject header and I’ll get on it!

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