Another commentary by yours truly at Anthropology News. AN format forbids in-text citations and footnotes, but if you’ll follow the links you’ll find a dense web of Anthropoliteia contributors’ work!
A short essay I wrote over @ Savage Minds, featuring shout outs to several Anthropoliteia contributors!
Just happened to be looking this up today in the OED:
community policing n. policing at a local or community level; spec. a system of policing by officers who have personal knowledge of and involvement in the community they police.1934 New Castle (Pa.) News 20 Feb. 16/3 Major Adams asserted that the modern principles of community policing are based on antiquated methods.1973 Times 24 Sept. 2/6 Community policing, at present one of the most controversial talking points in Andersontown.2000 P. Beatty Tuff i. 4 The mayor think rhyming sound bites, community policing, and the death penalty going to stop fools from getting paid.
The results of more than a century of anthropological research on households, kinship relationships, and families, across cultures and through time, provide no support whatsoever for the view that either civilization or viable social orders depend upon marriage as an exclusively heterosexual institution. Rather, anthropological research supports the conclusion that a vast array of family types, including families built upon same-sex partnerships, can contribute to stable and humane societies.
This post is my first, personal, attempt at refiguring anthropological inquiry after the internet 2.0. I guess this is just a fancy way of saying that I’m beginning to try to come to terms with doing ethnography after the birth of social media. For context, my original fieldwork in France, way back between 2003-2005, coincided with Friendster, but that’s about it (it’s no coincidence that it was juring that time that I met my first “blogger”). I’ve long though about what it would mean to start up a new project in the age of blogging, microblogging, social media and whathaveyou. I’ve had various personal inspirations, and a few more or less inchoate collaborations (especially through the various iterations of the ARC Collaboratory, whose website seems to be down right now), but, at yet, no sustained engagement. So here goes.
The problem is that I haven’t submitted a project for IRB approval yet, so I’m a little limited in what I can talk about here. On the upside, everything that I’ve learned from my IRB Reviewer training is that my own personal experience doesn’t count as “research” for the purposes of that governing board. So I’ll limit myself to that for now.
For a while now I’ve been “stuck” on an article I have been writing on the French banlieue riots of 2005 & 2007. These served as a kind of punctuation mark to my period in the field, and also as a kind of cotillion for the pervasive effects of the Nicolas Sarkozy-inspired assemblages of police tactics I had been watching take shape. From the beginning I knew there was a slant to both the media coverage and social scientific analysis to which I wanted to run counter: too often these skipped over the actual police technologies (understood broadly here to include, but not to be limited to, the material objects of policing) that were at the core of the story and that were the original impetus for the riots.
In knew this was what I wanted to do but, like I said, I’ve been stuck. For years. Yes, I’ve been writing other things in the meantime, but I still go back to this unpublished article, Electric Burns.
However, recently I’ve been introducing myself to what some call “the new ontology“. I’ve been so moved for a variety of reasons, primary among them the exciting work of my wife Katie Hendy on the materiality of pharmaceuticals, itself inspired by the work of Isabelle Stengers and Andrew Barry; secondary among them was recent Newtown shooting, the consequent serious thought to the agency of things, such, as guns, that it forced and the general reminder from the blogosphere that anthropology in fact has a long tradition of working through that tangled problem.
All of this is a roundabout entree into the fact that I attended a TASER X2 training seminar last night with the EMU Police Department. My presence there was due, in part, to the fact that several of the members of my department balked at the news that such “non-lethals” were adopted without consultations with–or even notification of–the faculty. As a peace offering of sorts, Chief Bob Heighes offered some of the Crim faculty the opportunity to attend the training, and I took him up on the offer.
Now, as I said earlier, I didn’t really have time to get a proper IRB approval, nor did I present myself as a researcher to those involved in the training, so to talk about too much of what went on would be a disregard of anthropological ethics. But I can write about, from a personal perspective, something that I think has some import: that is, what such tools do.
TASERS fire small dart-like electrodes with attached metal wires that connect to the gun, propelled by small gas charges similar to some air rifle propellants. It uses a temporary high-voltage low-current electrical discharge to override the body’s superficial muscle-triggering mechanisms. The recipient that is ‘connected’ to an electroshock gun feels great pain and can be momentarily paralyzed (only so long as there is an electrical current being applied) because his muscles are receiving electrical ‘shock’. The (relatively) low electric current—the model used by French police officers, the Taser x26 uses a 6 volt electrical supply, about the size of a common digital camera, to produce a current of 2.1 milliamps—must be pushed by (relatively) high voltage to overcome the electrical resistance of the human body. A shock of half a second duration will cause intense pain and muscle contractions startling most people greatly. Two to three seconds will often cause the subject to become dazed and drop to the ground, and over three seconds will usually completely disorient and drop an attacker for at least several seconds and possibly for up to fifteen minutes. The X2, used by the EMU PD differes from the X26 in that, along with an additional array of recordign and auditing technology, it contains two catrtidges which load in a semi-automatic style.
Now, Chief Heighes wouldn’t let me get TASE’d along with (almost) everybody else in the training. And to tell you the truth, I don’t blame him. He doesn’t know me, nor do I think he really expected me to show up, and I’m sure he’s not very clear as to why I was there in the first place. Given all that, I probably wouldn’t TASE me either. But I was there. And one thing I did was “spot” one of the officers as he got TASE’d. This is a common part of TASER training, the purpose and effect of which is, I think, in need of more reflection.
One of the things such training does, I now know, is emotional work. To call the probes “dart-like” is probably a misnomer. They are barbed, like fish hooks. And they embed into the recipient’s skin in such a way that the only way to remove them is to tug them out, quickly and directly, with a tug that removes a chunk of flesh as well. Due to the much more dramatic and painful spectacle of the shock, this part of the process usually gets overlooked. But I wasn’t shocked yesterday, nor did I shock anyone else. But I did pull out a probe.
I don’t fancy myself the most squeamish person around, but sometimes an individual aware of the world around him is forced to process what he is doing. Sometimes, not too often, I go fishing. The last time I went fishing I caught a bluegill that was too small for the hook I was using. It swallowed the hook so thoroughly that the barb came out its eye socket, just below the eye. On the one hand, I was terrified. On the other hand, I knew to do nothing at that point would be ghastly. I tried to be firm and cool. I tried to not feel things that I was feeling. I held the fish down, secure to the ground, and tried to work the hook out smoothly and directly, just as I had done with the other fish whose mouths I had hooked. Unfortunately, the fish did not cooperate. It flailed and its eye popped like a grape. Its leap also removed it from the hook and it plopped into the water, where it swam away. I remember, in the end, being mad at the fish for making me such a destructive force.
When I took out the TASER dart, I was thinking of that fish. Again, the task was to be cool, smooth direct and to disassociate. I tried. I pulled, at least. It came out, but it hurt and, like all TASER shots that night, bled. I remember deeply wanting to hug the “recipient”. As much to comfort him as to reassure myself. But I got the sense that such a display would be inappropriate, so I decided instead on a pat on the shoulder and walk away.
What forms of affect to pain, and other forms of violence, are developed through police technologies, such as the TASER? How does one shape subjects to wield it? What modes of being in the world are made necessary by a political formation that relies upon such technologies? These are the questions raised by an anthropology of policing which takes its objects seriously…
I’ve just uploaded a copy of the syllabus for a new class I’ll be teaching the second half of this semester, “Ethnographies of Police”. I’m pretty psyched about it. You can find a pdf version here, or go to the “Teaching” page of my blog and see it amongst the other syllabi uploaded there.
There’s been quite a bit of media confusion and consternation about the astonishingly large French protests against gay marriage and adoption that occurred the other day. In the end, I feel just about as confused as anybody, but I would like to point out a couple of things here:
- One of my constant refrains in translating French politics to Americans has been that the version of France that we get here, the New York Times and Washington Post version, is only a very limited perspective on what France is today. It’s only based on this narrow vision that something like these protests (or, in my own work*, the popularity of Nicolas Sarkozy) seem surprising. there’s a vast, working class, disenfranchised and non-Parisian French population that most Americans have almost no sense of.
- But it’s not only left-leaning American academics who seem to have no sense of the sector of societé, it’s the French technocratic elite as well. Whether or not Hollande is right about this issue (which he unquestionably is), every account of what’s happens suggests that he and his government were completely taken aback by the reaction–this was supposed to be an easy no-brainer that would slide through. The very fact that they “didn’t see it coming” is both instructive and indicative of a larger pathology in French political culture: even in my own, limited, anthropologist-as-bumbling-neophyte way, and even while hanging out with (mostly) libertine-esque Parisian artists and leftists, I knew there were strange undercurrents of homophobia; blockages from unexpected people towards thinking about homosexuality as a human lifestyle. Whether or not I agree with Hollande (and, again, I find it impossible not to), or share many of the same basic assumption about the world (which I probably do), these protests point once again to the fact that France’s technocratic elite are pathologically detached and unaccountable from the people in whose name they govern. I’m not the first to make that argument–Bourdieu and many others beat me to it–but I have tried to emphasize how this disconnect offers a challenge for French political life while also opening the door to the kind of right-wing populism utilized by Nicolas Sarkozy and his supporters. You can seen it in the less-than-earnest response by Sarkozy protege Jean Francois Cope, but also in the insistance by Hollande and crew that things will move forward as planned no matter what.
- This utter failure by social scientists and politicians to understand a large sector of French (and, I think, American) public life is a shame. It’s a shame because i think there are real lessons to be learned here about something i really don’t understand. And I really don’t get it; I really don’t get the affect nor the target. On either side of the Atlantic (although one thing I do get is labeling it an American conspiracy gets us close to nowhere). For example: one thing that should be thrown into stark relief about the American version of these debates by the French ones is that whatever this is about (and, again, i have no real clue) it is not merely adherence to a religious tradition. Since the French have spent the last 10+ years stoking fears of “Islamists” importing religion into the public sphere, the gay marriage debate has largely avoided the issue. but yet the target and the stance is the same. Doesn’t tghis make us question how much the U.S. debate is “really” about religion and how much religion is merely the idiom through which the debate happens? i think it does. Although i don’t know if this gets us any closer to explaining what’s going on, it sure helps in knowing what kinds of explanations to avoid.
*This article is behind a paywall. If you have access to it, i prefer you use the above link. if not, you can find it available here
[Extended Deadline] CFP: Bureaucracy as Practical Ethics: attending to moments of ethical problematization through ethnography
Panel to be submitted for the American Ethnological Society & Association for Political and Legal Anthropology Spring Meeting Chicago, Illinois April 11-13, 2013
A significant strain of scholarship on the anthropology of ethics suggests that, since the Enlightenment, ethical thought in the West has been reduced to sheer will to power. A key point of evidence for this claim has been the reliance on bureaucratic forms of administration, which are highlighted as examples of alienating “anti-politics” machines of indifference. This panel hopes to challenge that broad understanding of the role of ethical thought within the contemporary world by using sensitive ethnographic accounts of bureaucratic praxis to explore how ethical challenges are confronted across a variety of contexts. The goal is to use these accounts in order to open up a conversation in which anthropologists might more adequately attend to moments of ethical problematization; moments that offer concrete opportunity for ethical refiguration and, therefore, ethical thought within contemporary political forms.
If you are interested in participating in the panel, please email a proposed paper title and abstract of no more than 250 words to Dr. Kevin Karpiak (firstname.lastname@example.org) by
Tuesday, January 22nd.
[Update: Since the deadline to submit panel proposals has been moved back, I've decided to extend this as well: paper abstracts should now be submitted by Wednesday, February 13th.]
For summer fun, I sat back down with Ian Hacking’s classic The Taming of Chance. I don’t know why I missed it before, but the opening line seems in need of a close reading: “The most decisive conceptual event of twentieth century physics has been the discovery that the world is not deterministic.”
Now, on the one hand, I think I know what he means here–that the development of quantum theory through a monkey wrench into the broader metaphysics of a deterministicly ordered universe. On the other hand, isn’t that claim, well, deterministic?
I can think of three possible answers to that question:
1) Yes, and Hacking doesn’t recognize the irony.
2) Yes, but history doesn’t work like physics, so there’s no contradiction
3) No. (In which case, I’m obviously not getting some nuance about the nature of causality)
In the off chance that somebody might be able to help me here, here’s the full opening paragraph:
The most decisive conceptual event of twentieth century physics has been the discovery that the world is not deterministic. Causality, long the bastion of metaphysics, was toppled, or at least tilted: the past does not determine exactly what happens next. This event was preceded by a more gradual transformation. During the nineteenth century it became possible to see that the world might be regular and yet not subject to universal laws of nature. A space was cleared for chance.