Tag Archives: post-social

Regimes of the social: Rosenburg on Kotkin

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.

Population Politics, Power and the Problem of Modernity in Stephen Kotkin’s Magnetic Mountain

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.

New Community-Police Re-figurations in Oakland

Jonathan Simon, over at Governing Through Crime has some interesting reflections on a recent article in the San Francisco Chronicle:

From the article it appears that the major tactics are more beat cops walking commercial streets and the creation of a new police linked (but not managed) “outreach” initiative aimed at stalling conlicts in Oakland neighborhoods before it turns lethal.

No doubt the beat cops are reassuring, especially to business people like the furniture store owner interviewed by Chip Johnson:

“We had homeless people sleeping in our doorways, people wandering up and down the block, but when he came, that all vanished,” said Ford, 68. “I would say about four out of six days a week, he will stick his head inside the door and say hi. It’s been a great relief.”

Whether a strategy of chasing homeless people away is constitutional or sustainable in the Bay Area (especially when many of our neighbors may soon be joining their ranks) we will leave for another post, let alone whether it has any effect on violent crime.

More intriguing is the outreach initiative which Johnson credits to Mayor Ron Dellums:

Toribio said outreach workers paid for through the city’s Measure Y program have established a “strong working relationship” with some street toughs. The workers regularly target areas with patterns of violence.

“We send them in when we’ve determined there may be trouble brewing, and they work to try and let calmer heads prevail,” Toribio said.

“Most of these guys (outreach workers) grew up in some of these neighborhoods. They recognize guys from the street,” he said. “Some of them have been to prison and battled their demons, and they have a lot of credibility on the street.”

Leave aside the interesting constitutional questions of an apparatus that “work with police”, but “they aren’t agents of the police and don’t share information.” The approach sounds promising to me.

Ironically it underscores some of the problems that shadow the promise of the police. Why do the police lack so much credibility in neighborhoods suffering from violence that they need a parallel apparatus to provide them information as needed to stop or solve violent crimes? When we put more police offices on the streets how might their conduct actually exacerbate violent crime?

via Governing through Crime: The Promise of Police.

It seems, once again, that contemporary re-figurations of police practice revolve around the constellation of concepts that are central to Weber’s definition of the state.  We have new types of human communities operating on different sorts of terrain under the aegis of unique claims to legitimacy.  This is the ensemble of pragmatic political experimentation that I’ve been calling a “post-social police.