Dossiers

Policing and “Safety in Numbers” in a Post-Panoptic Age

The editors of Anthropoliteia are pleased to welcome a special commentary from our own Kristin Castner.

Let’s face it: Americans are living in an age of extreme surveillance.  The government is listening to our phone calls, capable of controlling our computer cameras remotely and (perhaps) reading our Facebook messages.

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Commentary & Forums

Some thoughts on the London “riots”: Foucault’s genealogy of neoliberalism and “police as a public service”

I have to say I resisted writing this post.  I have a visceral distaste for academic discursive hermeneutics performed from afar–this is partly why I’m an ethnographer, after all– and, that’s even more the case when trying to write au courant journalistically

However, despite having absolutely no ethnographic expertise among British police and only a concerned collaborator’s familiarity with the issues on the ground there, I’m going to just get over it–tempered still, hopefully, by a degree of humility and a recognition of our responsibility to ignorance.  The reason I’ve made this decision is to emphasize an ethnographic fact that I think is important for this blog: so much of what makes police a salient issue in broader terms are in fact riots and, conversely, so many riots, uprisings and rebellions are in fact about police.

All that was a way of putting a large preliminary asterisk on certain observations I’ve made following the news coverage via my own personal extended network of interwebs (BBC, CNN, NPR, Jeff Martin’s twitter feed…).  I’ve noticed a narrative dynamic emerging that I find a bit frustrating: on the one hand, news coverage presents the familiar “these are criminals/hoodlums without a politics,” with all its logical absurdities (is criminality innate and apolitical? If so, if these are innate tendencies and not the result of social conditions, how has London and then other cities in the UK suddenly–within the last several days– sprouted so many of this type? What would be the litmus test for whether determining this is a political act, by the way?).

On the other hand, often in an effort to show “the other side” or to emphasize some diversity of opinion on the events, news coverage includes another narrative which risks being equally tired and absurd, the “this is an expression of political-economic disenfranchisement” argument (with it’s equally non-falsifiable claims–what, again, are the criteria for deciding that this is political, and when where these events put to that criteria? what factors and/or data were considered? what would apolitical events look like? If at least one of these criteria should be statements of such from the protesters themselves, it does not seem to meet the definition…)

Even within stories framed in such a manner, however, I’ve noticed an interesting set of dissonances; some contradictions that, if properly attended to, don’t quite fit the dominant framing:

  • Generational conflict.  The “this is political” camp insists that the events are the result of the UK’s disinvestiture in social programs while experiencing wideing gaps in real wealth, but within that analysis there’s a type of inter-generational awkwardness, especially between what I think of as the Stuart Hall generation, associated with the Tottenham riots of the early 1980′s, and the present generation of protesters.  What’s interesting is to watch the older leftists struggle with understanding and/or translating the events; I’m thinking of some of the interviews with the MP from Tottenham and others, such as Darcus Howe, who seem to be attempting to work out some space for understanding them within a framework of social dis-investiture in the absence of an actually articulated voice of such a grievance.  The terms, or even the very language, seems to have moved somehow in the last 30 years.
  • Policing is a social program.  On the other hand, the “these are hoodlums” camp–set up as critics of the protesters (and thus anti-anti-dis-investiture)–emphasizes the affected business people and residents, often pointing to their calls for more police presence and in fact outrage at the lack of protection.  The contradiction here, of course, is that policing is a social program financed through government.  If anything, this is the voice criticizing dis-investiture.  What to make of that?

I think a less contradictory framing is possible if we make use of Foucault’s geneaology of liberalism (which I’ve written a bit on before), itself formulated during a crisis-point in global capitalism, which identifies neoliberal efforts to “reduce government” as one strategy, within a longer history of liberal political thought, which attempts to find external principles of limitation on government.  Part of why Foucault spends so much time on this is that it offers a prescient insight into so much of the nature of policing, security & surveillance today: namely that it springs from the same concern and theory of government.  Although often misread, I think, Foucault’s point is that the policing techniques of surveillance (much used in Britain) which skeev many of us out are not efforts to achieve a tightly controlled police state, but the opposite: it’s a strategy of governance which, for many reasons, sees such totalitarian aspirations as ineffectual and unnatural.  In this sense, security strategies of surveillance are attempts to provide a “policed” state (in the older sense of “happy, well -ordered and thriving”) with minimal police (in the sense of a specialized political organ claiming the monopoly of legitimate violence) interventon; police without policing.

In this sense, the policing strategies so heavily relied upon by Britain over the last several years are both part and parcel of a political rationality that also focused on finding more “economical” forms of government.  The same rationality which leads to a dis-investiture of the social programs targeted by “austerity measures.”  The two sides of the framing in the popular news-framing, then, are certainly not contradictory, nor is the one an effect of the other: they are two sides of the very same political rationality; one that more and more seems diseased.  What will be the alternative? I’m not sure, but finding a useful answer, I think, depends on understanding the political logic in which we find ourselves.

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Blotter

L’anthropoliteia In the News (12-février-2012)

That’s right, since I haven’t done one of these in a while, since my stock of saved links has become overwhelming and since a string of news events this week has got my mojo running, I’ve decided to do a Franco-centric version of Anthropoliteia In the News… so here goes:

Pyjama-Gate

A teenage girl was held in police custody for anywhere, from 7 and a half to 11 hours, after being involved in a fight outside her school in the 20th arrondissement of Paris.  Police took her from her home without letting her change out of her pajamas, leading to the media explosion of what I’m calling “pyjama-gate”.

[rant button on]

As could probably be expected from these sort of media affairs, there has been a proliferation of punditry and position taking only tenusously connecting to reality or real political seriousness.  It looks like if there’s any real movement that results from this, it will involve re-examining the use of “garde a vue” detention practices by police officers.

On the other hand,  the obsessive repetition of the detail of the girl’s pajamas in the story seems completely non-random in a country that is going through a parallel obsession over of the burka/veil/hijab/head scarf/any-”ostentatious”-religious-sign.  If I were to try to bring the quickly accumulating scholarship on the veil controversy to bear on this issue, I would say that this is the flip side, or at least another angle on, the contradictions of French republican democracy as played out upon female bodies.

… so color me Joan W. Scott, with an important addendum: in the framing of the voice *against* state intervention, the state is imagined as police.  In the framing *for* state intervention, state as “protector of women” and “guarantor of secular equality” there are many governmental institutions imagined and invoked (school, post-office, bus drivers, banks) but almost never the police.  There’s an important point to be explored there…

[rant button off]

Survey on ethnic and racial composition of French police

As I’ve discussed over at my personal blog, a survey was published suggesting that almost 10% of French police are “issued from immigration” (itself a tricky term in need of significant unpacking). This was big news because, on the one hand, these kind state-run surveys of race & ethnicity are extremely rare and politically contentious in France; and, on the other, not many people thought the numbers would be even that high.

“Welcome to Le Jungle (again), now leave (again)”

First there was the Red Cross center at Sangatte, which housed immigrants looking to make their way from France to the UK.  Then, in 2002 this center was closed down, causing the quasi-organic  growth of a much-criticized quasi-detention center/refugee camp known as “Le Jungle”.  Then,  last September, this was also closed down and bulldozed over.  From this rubble, an organization known as No Border took over a wharehouse where it housed about 100 refugees from Afghanistan.  That is, until now.  The BBC reports that French police created a security perimeter and eventually moved in to expel the remaining activists and refugees.

The spokesman for Sarkozy’s UMP party defended the move by denouncing “the manipulation of migrants by anti-globalization associations…. [who] feed on human misery in order to defend their extreme ideology,” echoing vice-president of the Front nationale Marie Le Pen’s criticism of No Border as “facilitating illegal immigration through illegal and violent actions”.  For his part, former Socialist Prime Minister Laurent Fabius suggested that while France couldn’t naturalize everyone, those who couldn’t be accepted should be treated in a “more European” manner.

Quick Hits

  • TF1 News reports that, in the 2010 report of the Cour de Comptes, a sort of  budgetary and auditing office of the French government, the Police Nationale are criticized for its extravagant use of funds, especially around the use of unmarked police vehicles.  In addition to the sheer increase in number of the vehicles (1,469 in September 2008 versus 1,218 in January 2003), the court alleges that these vehicles are often “luxurious” and “over-equipped… to an unjustifiable degree” while at the same time they’re driven overly recklessly (each vehicle being involved in an accident on average every 15 months) and being requisitioned for the personal use not only of police officers, but former Presidents and Prime Ministers (read between the political lines here) as well.
  • On the other hand, the municipal police in Toulouse have been trying out the use of Segway vehicles, or “gyropodes” as they’re called in French.  This gave  Ladepeche.fr the opportunity to publish some killer stats, which include:
    • the total costs of these vehicles amounts to about 5 euros a day, calculating the electricity cost at about 2.50 euros per 1000 kilometers
    • policemen using the vehicle cover 9x the area, deploy 4x faster and have 15x the contact with the population (don’t ask me how the calculate that last one, especially because whatever that contact means it includes interacting with someone standing 20cm about the ground)
  • Even though they don’t directly refer to this specific 20cm, in an interview with Le Monde criminologists Sebastian Roché and Jacques de Maillard (who make frequent appearances in my own dissertation, both as solo acts and as a tag team) decry the increasing distance in France between police and the people they’re supposed to be policing.  The idea behind the police de proximité was not only a move towards preventative policing, but towards a less centralized and hierarchical structure within the police itself.
  • Finally, Claude Bartolone, deputy of the Socialist Party (PS), accused Minister of the Interior Brice Hortefeux of trying to create a  “police without policemen” through his use of video surveillance… Which,  those of us who have read too much Foucault, would say is of course kind of exactly the point

As always, if you have any news you’d like added, let me know in the comments section or contact me

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Commentary & Forums

Jonathan Simon’s provocative thoughts on the UC Strike

Over at Governing through Crime, UC Professor Jonathan Simon has some provocative words for those participating in the current 3-day UC strike:

….We ought to be united in mobilization to save higher education in California. But in choosing to make the fight a convenient and ideologically satisfying (but for the most part phony) story about privatization, down-sizing, and pernicious, corporate minded university leadership, UC’s unions and their student and faculty allies are missing a historic opportunity to engage our fellow citizens in a critical dialog about our state’s future.

That future has been mortgaged to expensive dysfunctional prisons and a bipartisan law-enforcement establishment that is committed to mass incarceration at any price. But across three decades in which that project of exiling tens of thousands of largely poor and minority Californians to a prison archipelago of mammoth proportions (which yet remains grotesquely overcrowded) has been constructed, the supporters of higher education in this state have remained silent, assuming that the incarceration of people who don’t go to college anyway is not our problem. Now the chickens have come home to roost.

via Governing through Crime: Strike Against Prisons not Education.

I think Simon is dead on here, and offers a framing that explains some of the ambivalence I’ve had about the political mobilization that’s been developing.

Most of that ambivalence, I think, revolves around my hesitation at some of the explanatory narratives that have been used as organizational and motivational tools by unions and protesters… what Simon calls the”convenient and ideologically satisfying (but for the most part phony) story about privatization, down-sizing, and pernicious, corporate minded university leadership”.

Part of what I’ve been trying to point out, both vis-a-vis the strike and in my work on French policing, is that–as both Max Weber and Walter Benjamin have shown–all politics is necessarily about violence.  This includes, especially includes, such mundane acts of governance as budgetary allocations.  As everyone from Michel Foucault to Nikolas Rose have also tried to show, these decisions are literally choices between life and death.  This is one aspect of what scholars are referring to when they talk about the biopolitical.

On the other hand, Californians are not completely comfortable with this violence and, for good reasons which I’ve also tried to explore, have tried to devise ways to limit it as much as possible.

What Jonathan’s work in Governing through Crime has shown, however, is that one of the few remaining–maybe the only remaining–domain in which the violence of governance seems legitimate to American voters is in the domain of crime control and punishment.  It therefore has become the trope through which all American governance is filtered.

What we’re left with is, on the one hand, a massively inflated, impractical and unjust incarceration system and–importantly–on the the other hand, no way of conceiving any other legitimate form of governance.

This is not a question of corporate greed versus educational egalitarianism, or even good guys versus bad guys (as much as I’d like to hate on Mark Yudof along with everyone else), but of finding a way–literally–of justifying the very real kinds of violence involved in supporting education; of including higher education into the political calculus of life and death.

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Blotter

Anthropoliteia In the News 9/8/09

If you’ve  been so caught up in the story of the East Bay kidnapping uncovered by UC Berkeley police (for a cogent analysis, and some myth-busting regarding what parole can accomplish, see Jonathan Simon’s post over at Prawfsblog) that you haven’t had time for anything else, here’s another edition of Anthropoliteia In the News:

«Ceux qui sont fatigués, au revoir!»

Nicolas Sarkozy recently surprised a meeting of the departmental Cheifs of the Police Nationale and Gendarmerie, who thought they were merely meeting with Minister of the Interior Brice Hotrefeux, with an unannounced visit.  The reason for the suprise visit was the recent less-than-spectacular crime statistics, particularly in Loire.   These stats have been a bragging point for sarkozy over the last seven years.  The answer, according to sarkozy?  More work.  “Those of you who are tired, au revoir!”

But don’t be impolite about it.  The President of the Republic also reminded police officers to “respect the basic rules of courtesy” when dealing with youth, and not to immediately revert to using the (impolite and overly-familiar) “tu” form of address.

However…

Several French police unions have denounced as “overly aggressive” and “lying accusations” a televised report, and interview of Interior Minister Hortefeux, by M6 television reporter Mélissa Theuriau.

During a televised interview of Minister Hortefeux, Theuriau presented footage of a group of police officers forcing youth to the ground and suggested that such images “ridicule the police code of conduct.”

For his part Hortefeux suggested that the “presumption of innocence applies to police officers as well.”

In the space of security, police are the opposite of culture?

Or is the metric at play here that of “sublty” ?

Simon Reid-Henry has an interesting review of the new edited volume by geographers Alan Ingram and Klaus Dodds, Spaces of Security and Insecurity: Geographies of the War on Terror in Times Higher Education:

spacesofsecurityWhile some states are being broken up into ever less state-like parts, making intervention an easier task, others are busy hardening their borders through the securitisation of immigration and asylum legislation. This geographical unevenness in the manner and extent to which security is pursued through territorial proxy is sustained by cultural processes that normalise some definitions of security as they disavow others. This book is especially welcome for the way it picks apart this process. In doing so, it shows that if security has become perhaps the dominant paradigm of the War on Terror in Western states, it is based not only upon expanded police powers and identity cards but also on a raft of more subtle cultural practices that respond to and inform actual political events.

Police cars are not green

Over at Cop in the Hood, Peter Moskos doesn’t lament Ford’s decision to stop manufacturing Crown Vic’s, the industry-standard in American cop cars,  by 2011.   The whole affair does lead Moskos to inquire into the cost of operating such cars, and suggest that more green alternatives could be incentivized by offering cops who choose to patrol on foot $20-50 more per shift.

Mass Incarceration News

  • The California state Assembly watered down a bill intended to ease the state’s budget crisis by redusing the prison population. The stripped-down version of the bill will reduce the prison population by 17,000 inmates by next June instead of 27,000.  The saving will go from an estimated $300 million this year instead of the estimated $520 million.
  • Additionally, Jonathan Simon wonders whether more federal stimulus money for police officers will mean more people incarcerated (despite the state’s stated goal).  Simon’s answer? “Of course the law professor’s answer is “it depends.”  It depends on how those police officers view their job.”
  • Despite this, Simon suggests (or perhaps “hopes”) that mass incarceration might be the “new SUV,” meaning that it’s cultural profile could be in the process of “flipping”
  • Which is good news, because Chino prison just had one of the state’s biggest race riots in years.
  • Peter Moskos offers some pretty, if not exactly novel, graphs from the Justice Policy Institute of skyrocketing U.S. incarceration rates

[Insert requisite taser post]

Radley Balko at Reason Magazine offers an indictment of cop-based reality shows, especially TLC’s new Police Women of Broward County:

The most obvious criticism of these shows is their exploitation and general tackiness. Police work is reduced to clownish pranks, adrenalin-inducing raids, and telegenic lady cops edited to invoke S&M fantasies for the shlubs watching at home. No one expects much dignity from cable networks, but you’d think, for example, that the Broward County Sheriff’s Department might object to the sexualization of its female officers, or to a national ad campaign insinuating that they’re sporting itchy Taser fingers….

Cop reality shows glamorize all the wrong aspects of police work. Their trailers depict lots of gun pointing, door-busting, perp-chasing, and handcuffing. Forget the baton-twirling Officer Friendly. To the extent that the shows aid in the recruiting of new police officers, they’re almost certainly pulling people attracted to the wrong parts of the job.

One of the tag lines for TLC’s new show is “There’s always a good time to use a Taser.”

This Week in Anthropoliteia History

25 years ago this week Alec Jeffreys discovered DNA fingerprinting

The South Pacific, Water… and police

In writing an expose about Fiji bottled water for Mother Jones magazine, Anna Lenzer runs in to some trouble with the police

Moments later, a pair of police officers walked in. They headed for a woman at another terminal; I turned to my screen to compose a note about how cops were even showing up in the Internet cafés. Then I saw them coming toward me. “We’re going to take you in for questioning about the emails you’ve been writing,” they said.

What followed, in a windowless room at the main police station, felt like a bad cop movie. “Who are you really?” the bespectacled inspector wearing a khaki uniform and a smug grin asked me over and over, as if my passport, press credentials, and stacks of notes about Fiji Water weren’t sufficient clues to my identity. (My iPod, he surmised tensely, was “good for transmitting information.”) I asked him to call my editors, even a UN official who could vouch for me. “Shut up!” he snapped. He rifled through my bags, read my notebooks and emails. “I’d hate to see a young lady like you go into a jail full of men,” he averred, smiling grimly. “You know what happened to women during the 2000 coup, don’t you?”

Are police human?

I understand that edited pieces, such as special issues of journals, by their very nature can’t be exhaustive in their scope.  However, Daedalus‘s special issue “on being human,” an off-shoot of the National Humanities Center’s project of the same name, offers nothing coming close to a discussion of anthropoliteia, let alone any full-on consideration of police.

There would seem some work for us to do here: to include discussion of policing into STS-dominated discussions of “the human”.  How has the chasm between Aristotle (“man as that human animal with the additional capacity for politics”), or even Montesquieu, and the present moment opened up so wide as to make discussions of the human without politics seem plausible?

Foucault Lectures now on you iPod

Certainly one of the culprits people might point to for that transition is Michel Foucault and his discussion of biopower (“For millennia, man remained what he was for Aristotle: a living animal with the additional capacity for political existence; modern man is an animal whose politics places his existence as a living being in question”).

I don’t necessarily buy that though.  Luckily we can go to the audio to try to resolve it…  Mp3 versions of Foucault’s famous lectures, some of them in English, have been made available via UC Berkeley’s Media Resources Center.  These include such anthropolitiea-related classics as “Sécurité, territoire, population” and “Il faut défendre la société”.

Citations Mentioned

Rose, H., & Rose, S. (2009). The changing face of human nature Daedalus, 138 (3), 7-20 DOI: 10.1162/daed.2009.138.3.7
Gazzaniga, M. (2009). Humans: the party animal Daedalus, 138 (3), 21-34 DOI: 10.1162/daed.2009.138.3.21
Pippin, R. (2009). Natural & normative Daedalus, 138 (3), 35-43 DOI: 10.1162/daed.2009.138.3.35
Hacking, I. (2009). Humans, aliens & autism Daedalus, 138 (3), 44-59 DOI: 10.1162/daed.2009.138.3.44
Darwin, C. (2009). Comparison of the Mental Powers of Man and the Lower Animals–continued Daedalus, 138 (3), 60-67 DOI: 10.1162/daed.2009.138.3.60
Ritvo, H. (2009). Humans & humanists Daedalus, 138 (3), 68-78 DOI: 10.1162/daed.2009.138.3.68
Harpham, G. (2009). How do we know what we are? The science of language & human self-understanding Daedalus, 138 (3), 79-91 DOI: 10.1162/daed.2009.138.3.79
Appiah, K. (2009). Experimental moral psychology Daedalus, 138 (3), 92-102 DOI: 10.1162/daed.2009.138.3.92

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Dispatches

Foucault on anthropoliteia: “The police’s true object is man.”

Michel Foucault, discussing Louis Turquet de Mayerne’s 1611 treatise on the police Aristo-democratic Monarchy:

  1. The “police” appears as an administration heading the state, together with the judiciary, the army, and the exchequer.  True.  yet in fact, it embraces everything else.  Turquet says so: “It branches out into all the people’s conditions, everything they do or undertake.  Its field comprises justice, finance, and the army.”
  2. The police includes everything.  But from an extremely particular point of view.  Men and things are envisioned as to their relationships: men’s coexistence n a territory; their relationships as to property; what they produce; what is exchanged on the market.  It also considers how they live, the diseases and accidents that can befall them.  What the police sees to is a live, active, productive man.  Turquet employs a remarkable expression: “The police’s true object is man.”
  3. …What are the aims pursued?  they fall into two categories.  First, the police has to do with everything providing the city with adornment, form and splendor.  Splendor denotes not only the beauty of the state ordered to perfection but also to its strength, its vigor…. Second… to foster working and trading relations between men…. There again, the word Turquet uses is important: the police must ensure “communication” among men, in the broad sense of the word–otherwise, men wouldn’t be able to live, or their lives would be precarious, poverty-stricken, and perpetually threatened…. And here, we can make out what is, I think, an important idea.  As a form of rational intervention wielding political power over men, the role of the police is to supply them with a little extra life–and, by so doing, supply the state with a little extra strength.  This is done by controlling “communication,” that is, the common activities of individuals (work, production, exchange, accommodation). (bold emphasis my own)

Foucault M. 2000. “Omnes et Singulatim”: toward a critique of political reason. In Power, ed. JD Faubion, pp. 318-319. New York: New Press (see the text for free here)

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