In the Journals

In the Journals – November 2016

Surveillance Camera

Welcome back to In the Journals, a monthly review of just a fraction of the most recent academic research on security, crime, policing, and the law. The year (both calendar and academic) is coming to a quick end, and we here at Anthropoliteia continue to compile the best and most pertinent recent publications for our readers as fall turns to winter, and the holiday season quickly approaches.

The December 2016 issue of Security Dialogue features an article by Huseyn Aliyev titled “Strong militias, weak states and armed violence: Towards a theory of ‘state-parallel’ paramilitaries”. This article challenges the well-established presentation within conflict studies of paramilitary organizations as state-manipulated death squads or self-defence groups, and argues that some present-day militias extend their functions well beyond the role of shadowy pro-regime enforcers. Drawing its empirical insights from Ukrainian pro-government volunteer battalions and supporting its findings with empirical observations from other parts of the world, the article posits that the rise of powerful militia organizations acting in parallel with the state makes it imperative to revisit the theory and typology of paramilitary violence. The key theoretical argument of the article is that ‘state-parallel’ militias differ qualitatively from the ‘state-manipulated’ paramilitaries that are typical of the Cold War period. The article shows that although ‘state-parallel’ paramilitaries are not a new phenomenon, they have thus far remained critically understudied and undertheorized.

The most recent issue of Public Culture features an article by Josef Sorett entitled “A Fantastic Church? Literature, Politics, and the Afterlives of Afro-Protestantism”. This article tracks the evolving tensions between culture and politics in African American life to offer an account of how an idea of “church” shapes contemporary black literature and social activism. Although generally understood as a dramatic reimagining of the black past and as a break from the “Black Church,” specifically, black literature and protest politics in the present moment are not as far removed from the traditions of Afro-Protestantism as they are thought to be. Recognizing the degree to which racial and religious discourses are mutually constitutive, this essay calls attention to how blackness itself (under a variety of names) has circulated as a religious discourse—as a veritable conversation within and without, all around and about, the church.

The article “The war on meaninglessness: A counter-terrorist self through an absent terrorist other” by Yarin Eski, focuses on post-9/11 port security, its policing actors and how their occupational, counter-terrorist identity is (re)established. The empirical context of this study is that of operational port police officers and security officers who construct port security in the ports of Rotterdam and Hamburg. Drawing from a multi-sited, ethnographic fieldwork study, specific attention is paid to how operational staff, employed in a highly securitized realm saturated with War on Terror governance, (re)establish their occupational identity through the terrorist other without having ever been confronted, face-to-face, with terrorism. Instead of fighting in a global War on Terror, and given the way they construe their identity through the terrorist other, they endure an everyday War on Meaninglessness.

Finally, Anthropoliteia’s own Meg Stalcup has two articles of interest out this month. The first, “The Aesthetic Politics of Unfinished Media: New Media Activism in Brazil” is from the Fall 2016 issue of Visual Anthropology Review. Her article analyzes the role of key visual technologies in contemporary media activism in Brazil. Drawing on a range of media formats and sources, the article examines how the aesthetic politics of activists in protests that took place in 2013 opened the way for wider sociopolitical change. She argues that the forms and practices of media activists is aimed explicitly at producing transformative politics. New media technologies were remediated as a kind of equipment that could generate new relationships and subjectivities, and thereby access to intentionally undetermined futures.

Her second article, “Anthropology of security and security in anthropology: Cases of counterterrorism in the United States”, has been co-authored with Limor Samimian-Darash, and shared online ahead of print by Anthropological Theory. Here, the authors propose a mode of analysis that considers security as a form distinct from insecurity, in order to capture the heterogeneity of security objects, logics and forms of action. They first develop a genealogy for the anthropology of security, demarcating four main approaches: violence and state terror; military, militarization, and militarism; para-state securitization; and what they submit as ‘security assemblages.’ Security assemblages move away from focusing on security formations per se, and how much violence or insecurity they yield, to identifying and studying security forms of action, whether or not they are part of the nation-state. As an approach to anthropological inquiry and theory, it is oriented toward capturing how these forms of action work and what types of security they produce. The authors illustrate security assemblages through their fieldwork on counterterrorism in the domains of law enforcement, biomedical research and federal-state counter-extremism, in each case arriving at a diagnosis of the form of action. The set of distinctions proposed is intended as an aid to studying empirical situations, particularly of security, and, on another level, as a proposal for an approach to anthropology today. This work presents a set of specific insights about contemporary US security, and an example of a new approach to anthropological problems.

Once again, here are a handful of book reviews that have been included in various journals that we feel are of greatest interest to our readers. The December 2016 issue of International Criminal Justice Review features James J. Chriss’ review of Ilana Feldman’s “Police Encounters: Security and Surveillance in Gaza Under Egyptian Rule”. The most recent issue of Urban Studies features a review of Matthew O. Thomas and Peter F. Burns’s book “Reforming New Orleans: The Contentious Politics of Change in the Big Easy” by Angeliki Paidakaki. Finally, Theoretical Criminology features a review of William Garriott’s edited volume “Policing and Contemporary Governance: The Anthropology of Policing in Practice” by Pat O’Malley.

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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