One thing I’m a bit embarrassed by is how paltry our coverage of the events in Ukraine have been over the past few weeks. I’m sure I’m not alone in watching from afar and being fascinated with what is happening, but I have no special expertise in the region. Does anyone from our readership?
One thing that’s fascinated me in particular is how quickly the state of policing shifted, and what this potentially means for how we think about such things as “police,” “state,” “violence,” and “democracy.” You know, all those classic elements of Police Studies that draw on Weber.
Let us (if we can) imagine a society without language. Here is a man copulating with a woman, a tergo, and using in the act a bit of wheat paste. On this level, no perversion. Only by the progressive addition of some nouns does the crime gradually develop, grow in volume, in consistency, and attain the highest degree of transgression. the man is called the father of the woman he is possessing, who is described as being married; the amorous act is ignominiously termed sodomy; and the bit of bread bizarrely associated in this act becomes, under the noun host, a religious symbol whose flouting is sacrilege. Sade excells in collecting this pile of language: for him, the sentence has this function of founding crime: the syntax, refined by centuries of culture, becomes an elegant (in the sense we use the word in mathematics, a solution is elegant) art; it collects crime with exactitude and address: “To unite incest, adultery, sodomy and sacrilege, he buggers his married daughter with a host.” pg. 156-157
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V0016252 Credit: Wellcome Library, London An allegorical monument to Sir Isaac Newton and his theories on prisms. Line engraving by L. Desplaces after D. M. Fratta after J.B. Pittoni, D. Valeriani and G. Valeriani. By: Owen Mac Swiney after: Giovanni Battista Pittoni, Giuseppe Valeriani, Domenico Valeriani, Louis Desplaces and Domenico Maria Fratta
Marilyn Strathern has an article in the latest issue of the Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute and, per usual, it hurts my head and will take some time to unpack, traversing the work of Paul rabinow, Marshall Sahlins, Donna Haraway, Isaac Newton, Isabelle Stengers and others in just a few short pages. When it comes to Strathern, usually this effort is far exceeded in its rewards. For now, one passage caught my eye, on the work of “relation” in Paul Rabinow’s writing:
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.
Not sure exactly who major Adams is or what he’s about, but it is interesting to think that the newness of “community policing” was in question even way back in 1934. Of course, I’m also not sure what Adams meant by “community policing” had anything to do with what we mean today, or even by the second (1974) entry.
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.
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.
Opponents of the same-sex marriage demonstrate against the government’s draft law to legalise marriage and adoption for same-sex couples in Paris, November 18, 2012. The sign at right reads “No to Homosexual marriage”, the one behind it says “The family is sacred.” REUTERS/Christian Hartmann
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
a blog about post-social policing, anthropology, science studies and more