I’ve recently published a piece of creative non-fiction–part of my forthcoming book The Police Against Itself–as part of the blog Somatosphere’s series “Notes on Guns and Violence.” Below is an excerpt:
Things have been so busy this semester I haven’t even been able to keep up with spreading the word about my own work! There are three major publications I wanted to let you all know about. I have been working on some of these for several years now, and I’m very proud of them:
This book was published in French under the title L’Adieu au voyage. This phrase is an allusion to the last page of Tristes Tropiques, in which Claude Lévi-Strauss invites us to seize the essence of humankind not through geographical or anthropological explorations of the planet (“fond farewell to savages and explorations!”), but through the ephemeral contemplation of the works of nature: a crystal, a perfume, or, famously, the eye of a cat. In my mind, this phrase did not refer to such a project, and even less to some historical moment: the farewell to journeying does not designate some historical realization through which, after explorations and empires, the West would observe with bitterness the end of exoticism or the vanishing of differences (these topoi date back at least to the eighteenth century). It designates rather a moment within ethnography, through which the anthropologist relinquishes any idealized conception of difference. It is thus not only a farewell to some idealized Other, but also a farewell to oneself, in other words the redefinition of the relationship between subject and object. Like in Lévi-Strauss’s original phrasing, the farewell to the journey does not point to any conclusion, or disenchantment, but to the reconfiguration of a relationship, a twofold process of objectivation and subjectivation.
— From the Preface to the English Edition of Vincent Debeane’s Far Afield: French Anthropology Between Science & Literature
I’m a big fan of Cliff Rosenberg’s work on police as a mechanism of power operating through and in the name of the social. His work on immigration at the beginning of the 20th century in France is one of the bases for my own concept of a “post-social police,” by way of contrast with the police reforms i witnessed in the early 21st. So I was pleased to see that he made an explicit connection between regimes of the social in a recent review of Stephen Kotkin’s Magnetic Mountain:
Did population policy under Stalin differ, in any fundamental respect, from those of inter-war France or other Western countries? In a radical rethinking of the Soviet experience, Stephen Kotkin said no. Magnetic Mountain moved the field of Soviet history past an increasingly sterile cold war standoff between the so-called new social history and the totalitarian school. With the social history generation, Kotkin insisted on seeing the Soviet project from the perspective of ordinary people, subject to the same kind of forces that applied throughout Europe. He had no truck with ideas like oriental despotism or Russian exceptionalism, but, with the totalitarian school, he took ideology seriously, presenting everyday life and high politics within a single analytical frame. To do so, he drew eclectically on a range of theoretical perspectives, above all on the work of the late Michel Foucault. Foucault often implied that Auschwitz and the Gulag were the logical outcome of the Enlightenment project, but his primary goal was to illuminate the corrosive, coercive nature of liberal reform efforts in Western Europe, to puncture their claims to universality. The vast bulk of his corpus avoided the twentieth century. Kotkin, by contrast, used Foucault’s perspective directly on the Soviet system itself.
Contemporary European History, Volume 23, Issue02, May 2014 pp 193-207
In order to spurn me on when I need writing inspiration, and as its own form of procrastination, I created a Spotify playlist of all the songs I remember listening to while while in France during my dissertation research. Now I’ve learned that you can embed Spotify playlists into WordPress posts, so you’re all in luck and can play along at home:
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
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
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.”
P.S. Check out a cameo from anthropologist John Bowen, author of Why the French Don’t Like Headscarves
“Transatlantic Perspectives on the Local Pursuit of Intelligence”
April 2-3, 2009
University of Illinois College of Law
Conference Organizers: Jacqueline Ross, University of Illinois College of Law, and Thierry Delpeuch, Centre National de Recherche Scientifique
Jointly sponsored by the University of Illinois College of Law; the University of Illinois College of Law’s Program in Criminal Law and Procedure; The University of Illinois Police Training Institute; the University of Illinois European Union Center; the United States Embassy in France; the Ministry of the Interior of France (Délégation à la prospective et à la stratégie); the Agence Nationale de Recherche; and France’s Centre National de Recherche Scientifique