In the Journals

In the Journals – April 2016


Welcome back to In the Journals, a look at some of the many recent publications on the law, sovereignty, security and the state. As winter is now well in the rear-view mirror for those of us north of the equator, you might want to spend some time in the sun as you work your way through some of these hand-picked articles.

In the April issue of Comparative Studies in Society & History, Greg Feldman’s article ‘“With my Head on the Pillow”: Sovereignty, Ethics, and Evil among Undercover Police Investigators’ uses ethnographic fieldwork among an undercover police investigative team in a southern European Union member state to examine the moments that arise when this team acts “ethically” in spite of the legal and policy mandates surrounding their work. To this end, the article details some basic conditions in which this team works when operating outside of the law. Those conditions include their particular place in the investigative process; egalitarianism among particular subjects; deep familiarity with each other; and an understanding of similarities between themselves and the targets of their investigations. Though fleeting in its appearance, the impetus to political action and a sovereign form premised upon particular speaking subjects can be understood through phenomenological anthropology and the anthropology of ethics.

April also saw the publication of the latest issue of Punishment & Society, with many articles of interest for Anthropoliteia’s readers. As just one example, Jesse Wozniak’s ‘Missing the Moral: Excited Delirium as a Negative Case Study of a Moral Panic’ investigates Excited Delirium, a controversial medical explanation offered as an explanation for a variety of in-custody deaths. Excited Delirium has failed to provoke a widespread response, raising the question of how a phenomenon that meets all the classic criteria can fail to incite a moral panic. Wozniak argue this stems from the entrepreneurs involved failing to present themselves as sufficiently moral, their campaign to medicalize the phenomenon meeting an unreceptive medical field, and their broad conception of Excited Delirium too easily facilitating strong counter-narratives.

The most recent issue of Medical Anthropology Quarterly includes an article by César Ernesto Abadía-Barrero entitled ‘Neoliberal Justice and the Transformation of the Moral: The Privatization of the Right to Health Care in Colombia’. Abadía-Barrero presents experiences of health care–seeking treatment, judicial rulings about the right to health care, and market-based health care legislation in Colombia. When insurance companies deny services, citizens petition the judiciary to issue a writ affirming their right to health care. The judiciary evaluates the finances of all relevant parties to rule whether a service should be provided and who should be responsible for the costs. This article shows how the consolidation of neoliberal ideology in health care requires the transformation of moral values around life.

The latest Social Text brings us Nicholas Mirzoeff’s ‘The Murder of Michael Brown: Reading the Ferguson Grand Jury Transcript’. Mirzoeff uses the transcript of grand jury hearings as an archive to demonstrate how the informal systems of racial hierarchy in the United States operate today. Arguing that the #BlackLivesMatter movement has created a persistent looking as a means of making such issues visible, Mirzoeff describes how the grand jury prosecutors turned the event into a high-definition visual space in which only physical evidence and police testimony could be trusted, discounting all eyewitness accounts. Far from proving the innocence of then Officer Darren Wilson, this account leads to more questions than answers. However, the Department of Justice review not only concluded that Wilson was justified in the use of force but also cast doubt on the signature question of whether Brown’s arms were raised. We are left with a smoking gun but no bullet.

In the March issue of American Anthropologist, Erica Weiss’s ‘Incentivized Obedience: How a Gentler Israeli Military Prevents Organized Resistance’ highlights how the apparent withdrawal of the state from practices of indoctrination are accompanied by a shift in recruitment and training that emphasizes self-advancement and social mobility. While in the past the Israeli state and military focused exclusively on shaping self-sacrificing citizens, today it invests a great deal of its effort in structuring the calculated choices of self-interested individuals toward favorable outcomes. The author demonstrates that the lightening of disciplinary sanctions in favor of individual freedom is an effective form of weakening dissent and that it confounds efforts to constitute organized resistance to militarism, leaving activists floundering to find effective ways to express their political concerns.

Finally, recent months have brought us an array of book reviews on recent publications on law, security, policing, and the state. To name just a few, American Anthropologist includes a review by Catherine Lutz of Joseph Masco’s ‘The Theater of Operations: National Security Affect from the Cold War to the War on Terror’, as well as Susan DiVetro’s take on ‘The Violence of Care: Rape Victims, Forensic Nurses, and Sexual Assault Intervention’ by Sameena Mulla. David Brotherton offers a review of David Skarbek’s ‘The Social Order of the Underworld: How Prison Gangs Govern the American Penal System’ in Punishment and Society, while the journal Sociology has published online Anna Ross’ review of Johann Hari’s ‘Chasing the Scream: The First and Last Days of the War on Drugs’ in advance.

As always, we welcome your feedback. If you have any suggestions for journals we should be keeping tabs on for this feature, or if you want to call our attention to a specific issue or article, send an email to with the words “In the Journals” in the subject header.

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