In the Journals

In the Journals, March 2019

Blog Pic Low Intensities

From: Diane M. Nelson, “Low Intensities,” Current Anthropology 60, no. S19 (February 2019): S122-S133.


Welcome back to In the Journals, a brief look at just a few articles that have been published in previous months on policing, law, and governance. These particular articles were published in their articles between January and February, 2019.

In the 2019 issue of Law & Society Review, Megan Ming Francis published a historical piece on the relationship between social movements and funding organizations. In this article, entitled “The Price of Civil Rights: Black Lives, White Funding, and Movement Capture”,  Megan Ming Francis analyzes the relationship between civil rights activist movements and funders and how the two understand the reasons for and goals of these movements. The author argues that what is occurring in the current civil rights struggle to protect black bodies from private and state violence (a popular exemplary organization being Black Lives Matter) is what she calls “movement capture”. By this she refers to how private funders influence civil rights organizations in their early stages, affecting the rhetoric and organization. The author takes a primary example from the historical trajectory of the NAACP.  After 1930 the NAACP shifted from focusing on protecting people from racially motivated violence to segregated education, a topic more palatable for white funders that stepped in around this time. Despite the monumental events that came from this switch, Francis notes that the reason for the switch is publicly hushed. However, a look at funders’ interests paints a more coherent picture. Francis goes through the process in which the Garland Fund grant affected the NAACP’s trajectory, analyzing both institutions’ goals, values, and interactions. Ultimately, the piece works as an important reminder to consider the very complicated politics of social movements, especially those working in civil rights. Specifically using the case of the Garland Fund and the NAACP, this piece shows how funding institutions can coopt movements, or perform what Francis calls movement capture, into diverting focus from a set of ideals or interests to another. Though this example shows how movement capture can reinforce racial ideologies, Francis makes sure to note that this does not need to be the case and that the process is something that can happen in any funding situation.

In the January-March, 2019 issue of Revista de Estudios Sociales: 67, Julieta Lemaitre Ripoll and Esteban Restrepo Saldarriaga published a piece that examines the post-peace agreement situation in areas that were formerly under FARC’s control in Columbia. “Law and Violence in the Colombian Post-Conflict: State-Making in the Wake of the Peace Agreement” notes that the recent peace agreement in 2016 between the revolutionary group and the state has not strayed from the traditional narrative of “civilization and barbarism, which Colombia shares with most countries in Latin America, [which] is premised on the radical and antipodal separation between law and violence…”. The authors take a critical perspective to this notion and explore the hopes and expectations that are behind the Colombian state’s efforts to establish “civilization” in ex-revolutionary zones, paying special attention to the relationship between law and violence. The authors base this essay on an meeting with Jean and John Comaroff they had to analyze the 2016 Peace Agreement, which was inspired by the writings and experience of the Comaroffs that attests to the inability to divorce law and violence in postcolonial settings. The authors raise compelling points that shine a light on academic literature on the region that continues to push the dichotomy of civilization/barbarism, a dichotomy that necessitates finding solutions to lawlessness that often involve state-building and expansion. The problem with this, as the authors make their point, is that violence, and what would otherwise be named lawlessness and/or chaos, is inherent in these solutions as well, a point that resonates with Taussig’s state of exception and Benjamin’s lawmaking/preserving violence. In doing this, Julieta Lemaitre Ripoll and Esteban Restrepo Saldarriaga construct a brief, but impressive genealogy of the dichotomy in political thought in the region.

In February’s issue of Current Anthropology, Diane Nelson published a dense ethnographic and historical piece on low intensity warfare in Guatemala in an article named “Low Intensities”. In this essay, Nelson considers the idea of low intensity conflict as something that is built into and reproduced through cultures, In Guatemala, “low intensity conflict” was used to describe the country’s civil war and post-war conditions. Her main objective is to show how low intensity war zones are not an inherent product of a specific culture, rather how they are nurtured and maintained in various settings, and their global implications. More specifically, she plans to do this by showing how low intensity conflict did not stop with the signing of the peace accords in 1996 in Guatemala, but how it continues into contemporary sociopolitical frameworks for ideologies, economic practices, and infrastructure. As the country moves from wartime to the postwar period in Nelson’s beautifully written chronology, the paper follows how militarism and organized violence moved, and have continued to reshape life through various tactics ranging from scorched earth campaigns to development plans.

In Ethnic and Racial Studies: 2019, Vol. 42, No. 16, Nisha Kapoor and Kasia Narkowicz cover an issue that is happening with British passports in an article entitled “Unmaking citizens: passport removals, preemptive policing and the reimagining of colonial governmentalities”. In their article, Kapoor and Narkowicz look at the way border securitization and the war on terror is affecting passports in the U.K.. Through this they index “racialized dynamics of this process and the reconfiguration of racial governmentalities”. Although there has been a lot of discussion between state officials and human rights organizations about revoking citizenship status as a punishment for certain crimes, not many are offering a critique on the practice of revoking passports. As a measure to protect the state from native terrorists in a way that avoided producing stateless humans, the British government can revoke passports. The authors argue that this practice also has racial repercussions and is a mode of racial governmentality. The authors investigate this practice by conducting the first academic qualitative research project with individuals who have had their British passports cancelled. Looking at the effects of this practice  and how it is carried out by the state’s various offices and agents, the authors make an important statement about the nuanced ways in which racial states maintain themselves through policy and practice despite international laws and standards that may be in place.

Martin Guevera Urbina and Ilse Aglaé Peña, in Sociology Compass published a piece named ”Crimmigration and militarization: Policing borders in the era of social control profitability”, that deals with the borderlands between the U.S. and Mexico. The article gives a background of the vast array of tactics used at the border between the U.S. and Mexico that range from motion detectors to blackhawk helicopters, all of which contribute to a growing militarization of the borderlands. As the authors goe through the various tactics and technologies of border patrol, he touches on a theme that is the base of another reading in this batch, the idea of “low intensity” warfare that is contained to certain areas and is slowly grinding without a foreseeable end. The two liken the borderland between the U.S. and Mexico to the Israel-Palestine border, in which a state of exception is built into it where security companies and states can experiment with new technologies and tactics in the name of national security. The article takes a comprehensive look at a wide range of literature on policing practices in borderlands to show how maintaining and protecting the border very easily moves inside and outside of the borders into the daily lives of citizens of all countries involved. The article is valuable for its contemporary perspective on recent rhetoric and policies from the Trump administration that perpetuate connections between border security, warzones, capitalism, and militarism.


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