Category Archives: In the News

1 in 10 French police are “issued from immigration,” and this is news because…?

According to the Institut national des études démographiques (Ined), and as reported in Le Figaro, almost 10% of French police are “issued from immigration” (I’ll have to look closer at the original research to see what this means, because in my experience it can mean anything from 1.5 generation to 4th generation) but almost 2/3 of that is from other European countries–Spain, Portugal, Italy– not former French territories and colonies. Still, this is big news because:

1) not many people thought the numbers would be even that high; and

2) these kind state-run surveys of race/ethnicity are extremely rare in France, some even considering them illegal–this particular survey is a direct result of an initiative of Nicolas Sarkozy when he was head of the police as Minister of the Interior

Filipino prisoners dance it out, again

First they brought you Thriller, now a medley from Queen.  That’s right, the inmates of the Cebu Provincial Detention and Rehabilitation Center in Cebu, Philippines are at it again.  I have only the vaguest idea what this about (here’s a start), but I plan to do some old-fashined scholarly footwork in the near future to see if anybody’s done or is doing work on this.  If not, I might smell a second project

Mass Incarceration, Higher Education and the Legitimacy of Violence

I’ve got a post over at Anthropoliteia in reaction to some provocative commentary by Jonathan Simon on the current UC Strike.  Here’s a tidbit:

What Jonathan’s work in Governing through Crime has shown, however, is that one of the few remaining–maybe the only remaining–domain in which the violence of governance seems legitimate to American voters is in the domain of crime control and punishment. It therefore has become the trope through which all American governance is filtered.

What we’re left with is, on the one hand, a massively inflated, impractical and unjust incarceration system and–importantly–on the the other hand, no way of conceiving any other legitimate form of governance.

This is not a question of corporate greed versus educational egalitarianism, or even good guys versus bad guys (as much as I’d like to hate on Mark Yudof along with everyone else), but of finding a way–literally–of justifying the very real kinds of violence involved in supporting education; of including higher education into the political calculus of life and death.

via Jonathan Simon’s provocative thoughts on the UC Strike « Anthropoliteia: the anthropology of policing.

Where the ‘Balloon Boy’ Is: incitement to an anthropology of knowledge

Linda Holmes, over at NPR, has an interesting reaction to yesterday’s “Balloon Boy” story (which I too followed, on the TV screen of the local cafe where I was grading papers).  She writes:

Like a whole lot of other people, I watched for a while yesterday as the helium balloon in which a 6-year-old was supposedly flying made its way through the sky, landed softly on the ground, and turned out to have nobody in it. And, like a whole lot of other people, I was relieved when it turned out that he was in the attic of his own house the entire time.

(My favorite part of the news coverage: a CNN commentator using a fancy touch-screen gizmo to zero in on a satellite photo of THE KID’S HOUSE in order to dramatically demonstrate the outcome.)

And finally, like a whole lot of other people, I hoped that perhaps something might be learned from the entire sequence, and that it might be remembered for … I don’t know, perhaps a few hours. The point being: If you don’t know what’s going on, don’t say you know what’s going on. Yes, this was fed by 24-hour news channels, and it was fed by Twitter (which, at least for me, performed with a certain uneven twitchiness the entire time this was unfolding).

But it was also fed by the fact that we who live with so much information are no longer used to admitting that we don’t really know what’s going on. Surely someone knows what’s going on; how can it be otherwise? I don’t have to be driven crazy anymore about song lyrics, or who played the best friend in a movie from 15 years ago, or what my old neighborhood looks like these days. Thanks, Internet!

via Whatever The ‘Balloon Boy’ Lesson Is, We’ve Apparently Already Forgotten It – Monkey See Blog : NPR.

there’s something more to be said about this via the anthropology of knowledge, but i think the image of millions of people watching an empty balloon, and the engines of information that circulated around it, is a good starting point… I’ll have more thoughts later

The Death of the University, Cultural Studies and Unicorns (not necessarily in that order)

I admit i came to this a bit late, but Michael Bérubé has written an article over at The Chronicle of Higher Education, entitled “What’s the Matter With Cultural Studies?”  that has caused quite a stir.

Now I hate to make light of the article, which I think is actually very good and extremely important, especially for those of us who are upset at what’s going on at the University of California right now–the article is extremely good at reminding us, not to get to Battlestar Galactica on y’all, that all of this has happened before.  Stuart Hall predicted Thatcherism before it happened, he reminds us, so looking back at how the academic left responded, what worked and what didn’t would probably be pretty helpful.  It probably would be most helpful, I think, for those of us state-side concerned with privatization of the university to read Policing the Crisis: Mugging, the State, and Law and Order (1978) and then Audit cultures: anthropological studies in accountability, ethics and the academy (2000) and make sense of what did and did not happen over there in the UK in between.

Having said all that, Bérubé does have a knack for punchy sentences.  My three favorite:

via unicorn wolf lazers fuck you
via unicorn wolf lazers fuck you
  1. “… you might as well be asking about the carbon footprint of unicorns.” A group of cultural studies graduate students at UC Davis have actually taken this one up.
  2. “False consciousness, after all, is what’s the matter with Kansas.” This is in reference to Thomas Frank’s book What the Matter With Kansas?
  3. “It’s the neoliberalism, stupid.”

Is the “culture of results” bad for life?

The last couple of weeks I’ve been teaching kids in my Intro to Anthropology class about one of the classic uses of the “culture” concept for anthropologists–to set off a domain of human life at least partially distinct from biology (think Margaret Mead in Coming of Age in Samoa or Alfred Kroeber‘s “superorganic” or any number of later examples).

My dissertation, on the other hand, looked at a different kind of “culture”: that which Nicolas Sarkozy, then head of the Police nationale, called “the culture of results”.  By this he meant a fundamental shift in not only the way government agencies conducted their affairs, but in the value orientations and work ethic of the French people writ large.

Needless to say, this was and remains a controversial agenda.  The latest issue du jour concerns a rash of suicides at France Telecom, which are being blamed on the aggressive “culture of results” style restructuring the former public service has been experiencing.  The Telegraph UK writes:

“In a nutshell, it’s gone from a public service culture to a cash machine,” said Ivan du Roy, author of Stressed Orange, a book about the company’s angst.

Union leaders blame the suicides on a brutal, target-obsessed company culture in which, they say, formerly well-qualified and adjusted employees – most in their 40s and 50s – are pushed around like pawns with the unofficial aim of “breaking” them so they will leave.

Some 22,000 have left in the last four years. But many remain and have been shifted into high-pressure call centres where individuals compete for monthly results-based bonuses.

via France Telecom deputy chief executive Louis-Pierre Wenes resigns over 24 staff suicides – Telegraph.

The “culture of results,” it seems, is not only distinguishable from, but incompatible with, life itself as it understood by many of the employees of France Telecom.

Liberalism, Trasparency and the Interior Labyrinth

The New York Times has been covering the trial of former Prime Minister Dominique de Villepin (and others) in what has become known as the Clearstream trial.  Basically, the accusation is that de Villepin faked a list of bank accounts, linked them to arms dealers, and then put Sarkozy’s name on it to try to ruin his political career and gain the presidency for himself.  If you remember, de Villepin was the guy who won the hearts of many on the American left when he denounced the U.S. war in Iraq at the UN.  He at one point was also the main political rival of the up-and-coming Sarkozy.

Anyway, something jumped out at me from today’s article that seems really important:

The trial itself has become a spectacle, given the Sarkozy-de Villepin rivalry, which also has elements of social and class prejudice. Mr. Sarkozy is a lawyer, while Mr. de Villepin went to elite schools, served as a diplomat, writes poetry but was never elected to any national post.

In 2004, for example, according to the magazine Le Point, Mr. de Villepin said, “Nicolas doesn’t have the makings of a man of state, because he has no interior labyrinth.” Mr. Sarkozy, he said, lacks “the mystery that is the strength of great men.” With Mr. Sarkozy, he added, “all is there, on the table, for the taking.”

“Some take this for arrogance, aggression,” he added. “In reality, it is weakness.”

via Bitter Political Trial Grips France – NYTimes.com.

There’s something there–about the role of language, both as an ethos and as a politics–that I think is very important, that I’ve been trying to capture in my own work, and that I think–if one properly understands the stakes of the problem–is very perplexing.

I’m all for poetry.  I’m all for beauty.  But labyrinthine politicians make me nervous, mostly because I’m a liberal in the classic sense of the term.  Jeremy Bentham, for example, equated metaphor with despotism in that it was a type of non-reasoning and therefore ultimately, as a politics, shear imposition of will.

The question I think is how to make sense of, and forge, a poetics for a post neoliberalism…

GPS, trash, security and the scope of the human

I came across a new interesting project that entails affixing GPS devices on individual pieces of trash.  it’s probably best if I let them speak for themselves:

index-1Imagine a future where immense amounts of trash didn’t pile up on the peripheries of our cities: a future where we understand the ‘removal-chain’ as we do the ‘supply-chain’, and where we can use this knowledge to not only build more efficient and sustainable infrastructures but to promote behavioral change. In this future city, the invisible infrastructures of trash removal will become visible and the final journey of our trash will no longer be “out of sight, out of mind”.

Elaborated by the SENSEable City Lab and inspired by the NYC Green Initiative, TrashTrack focuses on how pervasive technologies can expose the challenges of waste management and sustainability. Can these same pervasive technologies make 100% recycling a reality?

TrashTrack uses hundreds of small, smart, location aware tags: a first step towards the deployment of smart-dust – networks of tiny locatable and addressable microeletromechanical systems.These tags are attached to different types of trash so that these items can be followed through the city’s waste management system, revealing the final journey of our everyday objects in a series of real time visualizations.

The project is an initial investigation into understanding the index-2‘removal-chain’ in urban areas and it represents a type of change that is taking place in cities: a bottom-up approach to managing resources and promoting behavioral change through pervasive technologies. TrashTrack builds on previous work of the SENSEable City Lab in its exploration of how the increasing deployment of sensors and mobile technologies radically transforms how we understand and describe cities.

via Trash | Track.

Now there’s a lot that could be said about this project, but partly what I find so interesting is the use of what were originally a set of security techniques (think Compstat and ankle bracelets for parolees under house arrest) used to not only provide a more livable future (the fellas over at Vital Systems Security might even call it “flourishing”) but shift the spatiality of human life–what would/does it mean to think of ourselves not as relatively narrowly bounded physical objects but as nodes of extending networks of activity which have the ability to determine life itself?

Politics and the Passions

I have a responsibility to offer a larger post on this issue, but a line from an article in today’s NYT on the re-emergence of the burqu/niqab/veil debate in France (of which, by the way, Nicolas Sarkozy seems to be switching sides since 2003) seems to simultaneously sum up the situation in France and demand an analysis via Albert Hirschman’s classic The passions and the interests:

“Passions have been so high that when domestic intelligence issued a report saying that only 367 women in France wore a full veil, it seemed to make no difference.”

via French Parliament to Investigate a Possible Ban on the Burqa and Niqab – NYTimes.com.

P.S. Check out a cameo from anthropologist John Bowen, author of Why  the French Don’t Like Headscarves

Critical (Bio)security

The weight of a summer course, cross-country move and the need to expand the “Publications” portion of my CV is upon me, but even still I’m working towards formulating a more or less coherent instigation for an anthropology of liberalism (look for that, probably via On the Assembly of Things in the upcoming week or so).  Until then:

Paul Rabinow of the Synthetic Biology Engineering Research Center, discussed the potential risks of insufficient public dialogue in more specific terms.

“Given the access to this material through the internet, there are unquestionably going to be accidents and malicious uses. That’s a given,” he said.

“But then what? What is the reaction to that going to be? Shut down biology? That’s what Dick Cheney would have done. I don’t think the biology community is prepared with answers to that question yet. But they need to be.”

via The Great Beyond: ‘Shiny happy biology’. (subscription required)