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17
Jun2013

Performing the state of emergency in situ, part 4 (intervention)

IV. Plastic Deformations of “Common Sense”

And so, we find ourselves at the cross-section between two crucial active processes that include, on the one hand, the shady characteristics of the financial crisis ––and hence, the articulations of the state of emergency as well–– and on the other hand, the persistent demands for the urbanisation of the military subject, with the necessary emphasis upon the asymmetric dimensions that characterise the contemporary environment of armed conflict.

It is at the heart of this cross-section that it makes sense for us to seek some elementary indications for the fate of public space today. Admittedly, we ought to recognise that the experimental uses of public space do not contain any elements of originality. One could claim, after all, that public space comprises the location par excellence for exercising the exception. Yet what catches our interest is the fact that such fields of exercise are transformed and enriched, by this point, qualitatively –– to such an extent that some of these gradually migrate from the colonial zones (where they would traditionally limit themselves) to select variations of the so-called “first world” urban environment. We know that colonies always comprised the crucial fields of exercise for disciplinary technologies. As Achille Mbembe points out, “...the colonies are the location par excellence where the controls and guarantees of juridical order can be suspended – the zone where the violence of the state of exception is deemed to operate in the service of 'civilization'”. [1]

And so, for the colonial countries, colonies were not merely sources of invaluable raw material and reservoirs of mass unpaid labor. They also comprised a unique testing field for reconfigurations concerning the exercise of sovereign authority. “Colonial occupation itself was a matter of seizing, delimiting, and asserting control over a physical geographical area – of writing on the ground a new set of social and spatial relations”. [2] The inscription of this new plexus of social relationship on the ground was ––and continues to be–– one of the issues at stake for the colonial apparatus. And, for the needs of this inscription, a systemic investment is required on the notion of the ground, which is utilised as “...raw material of sovereignty and the violence it carried with it”. [3]

The need for such fields of experimentation continues to concern the military-police  headquarters today –– which make sure to process the ways of in situ exercise of authority, giving birth to more refined forms. For example, the aforementioned study by the RAND Corporation, titled “People Make the City”, concerns itself with the importance of the American Doctrine for Joint Urban Operations (JP 3-06), with some quite telling prose: “Ongoing operations in the villages, towns, and cities of Afghanistan and Iraq offer the first real test of the United States' first-ever joint urban operations doctrine [...] The objective of this study is to reveal tools that will better enable military and civilian alike to best meet national policy objectives by more effectively conducting urban combat and restoration”. [4] In other words: putting together a specialised manual is not enough; this has to, in addition, be tried out. The military operations in countries of the capitalist periphery offer such paradigmatic opportunities. And we should keep in mind that the know-how produced in these select laboratory places does not limit itself to the narrow spatial limits of the latter, but instead refreshes the operational capacities of the military-police science, for the needs of homeland security itself. Foucault would tellingly write about this: “It should never be forgotten that while colonization, with its techniques and its political and juridical weapons, obviously transported European models to other continents, it also had a considerable boomerang effect on the mechanisms of power in the West, and on the apparatuses, institutions, and techniques of power. A whole series of colonial models was brought back to the West, and the result was that the West could practice something resembling colonization, or an internal colonialism, on itself”. [5] Recognising this particular novelty in Foucault’s thought, Graham emphasised upon the fact that “...it points beyond traditional ideas of colonisation toward a two-way process in the flow of ideas, techniques and practices of power between metropolitan heartlands of colonial powers and the spaces of colonised peripheries”. [6]

From the academic year 1975-76, the time when Foucault would refer to the boomerang effects at his Collège de France lectures, cities globally have been subject to rather radical transformations. At the core of these transformations lies the phenomenon of mass migration and its embroilment in the process of further urbanisation. At this state of forced movement and mass dispersion, and under the influence of fiercer and more flexible forms of capitalist exploitation, the conditions are shaped up for extreme intra-urban polarisations –– which, in a number of cases of western metropolises, allow for the formation of a type of downgraded internal colonies. [7] In this way, new territories of separation are born and hence, new spaces of conflict –– which in turn prove themselves to be privileged fields of exercise for any given military-police apparatuses. Therefore, the fields of exercise in question include, gradually, some select places of the “first world” urban formations, therefore utilising the opportunities of testing out new technologies of discipline offered in the very heart of the metropolises. [8] Should we now place next to them, the spaces and the times of radical political demands and projects ––which are transformed into a subject of military management anew–– a particular environment of cases is produced; cases which may maintain a stable relationship to the know-how produced in some exotic, colonial lab, yet is nevertheless characterised, in addition, by a local production of disciplinary technologies, which is gradually diffused in an ever-increasing number of articulations of the social and urban field.

In this process of diffusion, the re-articulation and readjustment of public meanings holds a key role. In the case of Athens, the spatial terms of segregations may not bear the strictness of the (neo)colonial examples –– and so, the ground inscription in question may be articulated with more refined and more indiscernible ways. Nevertheless, the way in which Mbembe describes the relationship between ground and sovereignty, and in particular the way in which this is intermediated by the production of cultural and conceptual constructions, finds a complete application in the uniform security area that Dendias, for example, envisions. Mbembe then argues: “The writing of new spatial relations (territorialization) was, ultimately, tantamount to [...] the manufacturing of a large reservoir of cultural imaginaries. These imaginaries gave meaning to the enactment of differential rights to differing categories of people for different purposes within the same space; in brief, the exercise of sovereignty”. [9]

This is therefore where the last episode of our trial perambulation through the performative landscapes of the state of emergency stands. And it concerns precisely the ways in which social relationships and their meanings are redistributed through the spatial demands produced by the new dogma of public security –– and through its material articulations in particular. Because apart from performing themselves, as we saw, patiently and meticulously producing their paradigmatic self-image, they also perform something else: they cause extremely serious deformations to the feeling of public experience. The territorial inscription of the demand of public security carries with it the reproduction of a new plexus of meaning-giving, one which re-structures the meaning of public presence in itself –– at the precise moment when the operations in question take place. The permanent police presence in public space comprises, in this sense, an essential element of meaning-assigning for public space per se. And beyond whatever material articulations, it invests first and foremost upon the perceptual field. Butler writes that “To produce what will constitute the public sphere, however, it is necessary to control the way in which people see, how they hear, what they see. [...] The public sphere is constituted in part by what can appear, and the regulation of the sphere of appearance is one way to establish what will count as reality, and what will not”. [10] The transformation of public space into a field of constant military-police experiments additionally acts, then, as a particular “regulation of the sphere of appearance”. And it relies upon the quick adaptability of the population. “A military force introduced during times of crisis becomes a tool of social engineering”, writes, entirely shamelessly, the RAND Corporation. [11] A position that merely reflects the tremendous importance carried, today, by the widespread mixing of the figure of the soldier with wider segments of the population –– and which repeats what is by now a commonplace in the counterinsurgency operations: “COIN operations can be characterized as armed social work”. [12]

As part of this social engineering, the loss of vital segments of public space ought to  become an object of habit. It reshapes, in this way, the subjects on the basis of new disciplines –– thus utilising what Foucault had diagnosed long ago. Namely, that “the individual is not [...] power's opposite number; the individual is one of power's first effects”. [13] The repeated operations, therefore, aim at accustoming the subject with their harsh reality. Some accustoming with loss, which takes place through its repetition, that is, in the field of habit –– gradually shifting the limits of social tolerance and simultaneously gaining grounds of public space as much as segments of public meanings. This battle over meanings comprises one of the basic presuppositions for the success of the military-police operations. And it was analysed above, to an extent, through the extensive references to the field of ideological production. The American manual for the Urban Operations reserves a special place for this presupposition, through its reference to the term Psychological Operations (PSYOP). According to the manual’s glossary, these are “Planned operations to convey selected information and indicators to foreign audiences to influence their emotions, motives, objective reasoning, and ultimately the behavior of foreign governments, organizations, groups, and individuals. The purpose of psychological operations is to induce or reinforce foreign attitudes and behavior favorable to the originator’s objectives”. [14] Sliding over the reference to the foreign dimension of the audiences, it would make sense for one to focus upon the fact that they clearly comprise propaganda operations aiming at the influencing of public opinion. Operations, that is, which are fully and clearly situated in the field of ideological production. In the manual’s technical terminology, Psychological Operations are directly linked to the so-called Public Affairs (PA), [15] and they comprise one of those foundational elements that comprise the main core of the Information Operations (IO). [16]

Therefore, the ideological design and the ideological curation of these operations evidently include PSYOP elements. Yet what maintains its own importance is the fact that these exercises, beyond the ideological shielding and propaganda that they presuppose, also demonstrate an autonomous capacity to act as peculiar PSYOP in themselves. As operations, that is, which themselves carry a conceptual, training and psychological burden precisely at the moment when they take place –– and in particular during their repetition. The materiality and the everydayness of the operations themselves and the physical presence of security forces per se therefore train, to a large extent, for their acceptance. And this is the way in which they are performatively transformed into a “tool of social engineering”, intervening in the intelligibility of public experience in itself. In their study titled Streetsmart – Intelligence Preparation of the Battlefield for Urban Operations, Glenn & Medby argue that “Population groups or individuals can also be manipulated by either the friendly or opposing force, by other parties, or by events themselves. Such manipulation may be with or without the knowledge of the subjects influenced”. [17] It would therefore make sense, indeed, to emphasise upon the operational and “plastic” capacity attributed to the events themselves. The Xenios-Zeus operation comprises, for example, a typical case of such –– since it is not merely an operation that translates into an tremendous investment in the field of the operational capacities of the police science. It is also an implicit and meticulous educational procedure in the field of social engineering, the main subject of which comprises the shifting and the reassignment of meaning of personal experience within the contemporary public space. That is, on the one hand the installment of fear in the life of the migrant subject, which enforces an informal regime of  curfew. On the other hand, the familiarisation of the non-migrant subject with the everyday sight of mass arrests and population displacements, which re-assigns them meaning –– making them gradually appear as an urban banality, if not as an essential element of the metropolitan aesthetics. [18] The field of ideological production many not suffice, then, on its own, in order to influence the most innermost articulations of the embodied conceptualisation, so crucial for the experience of public space. Its necessary addition must be sought, it seems, in a phenomenology of the everyday “legal” violence.

The repeated operations do not only comprise, however, a reality in the Arendtian sense of the public phenomenon to which we are bodily exposed. [19] They also leave indelible traces in the field of representation –– that is, in the media construction and management of meaning. In this sense, the familiarisation with this reality is not developed only at the level of public phenomena, of which we have an entirely personal, bodily lived experience –– but also at the level of their representation; that is, the ultimate field of meaning-giving, thus eventually communicatively storming, in a crucial manner, the private sphere. If there is something that therefore completes our familiarisation with the state of emergency, it is our familiarisation with the state-of-emergency-as-spectacle, as part of which we consume it, effortlessly, through its media representations. “The 'shock and awe' strategy”, writes Butler, “seeks not only to produce an aesthetic dimension to war, but to exploit and instrumentalize the visual aesthetics as part of a war strategy itself”. [20] In this direction, the filming on part of the Greek police itself of the operations for the eviction of squats (as well as that of other operations) opens up precisely the question of their aesthetic-isation as an additional element of this emergency social education. And if one where to judge from their “artistic” result, it appears that the main aim of these police media products is not so much to aesthetically curate the public presence of the Greek police, as much as to enforce it.

And so, beyond the strictly technical part of the operations in question, and with whatever training and know-how importance held by their repetition at a practical and technical level, there is some additional gain for the domestic sovereignty, hereby related to the familiarization of the “public opinion” precisely with these operations and their repeatability. More precisely, public opinion as an abstract and constructed ––therefore artificially “public”–– sense and opinion about the things that surround us, is constructed through the constant repetition of these appearances, which merely utilise its known flexible qualities. The military management of social demands and political struggles invades, today, the field of public sphere –– with forms that make it one of the main signifiers of the socio-economic crisis and its political management –– producing, in turn, a specialised yet entirely recognisable imagery of the crisis. The black-clad, fully armed member of the EKAM unit, always charged with a surplus of military semantics that was too heavy for the taste of the greek post-dictatorial tradition (and as such remained hidden and almost entirely inactive, behind the most refined public articulations of the Greek police), nowadays becomes a symbolic condenser of public-space-at-the-time-of-crisis, taking care of re-drawing, hastily and harshly, the limits of what is conceivable, permitable and normal. There are some, therefore, who meticulously try to shift the meaning-assigning of public phenomena away from the field of political and social demands, into the field of military conflict.

And let us not forget that the EKAM unit was traditionally mobilised in cases where there was, usually, a concrete possibility for the use of arms from the opposite side: that is, in cases where there was the chance of armed conflict. The fact that today, these same elite security forces are effortlessly used in order to break up strikes, or to repeatedly raid occupied social spaces, evinces the fact that the conceptual framework of what comprises an armed conflict is simultaneously shifted. Or, to put it more simply –– that is, with Schmittian terms––, an ever-increasing number of forms of struggle are gradually conceived and assigned meaning through the liminal typology of the relationship between Friend and Enemy –– in particular, through its most extreme implementation, that is, of armed conflict, [21] which correspondingly requires a liminal i.e. military administration. The repeated uses of this more militarised section of the police for cases which could once even comprise the subject of political negotiations shows, in the clearest of ways, that the crisis carries with it an entire apparatus of conceptual-penal-military mechanisms, the everydayness and the repeated public activations of which performatively ensure it the weight of the normal and the natural. What would until yesterday extract its meaning and justification from history and the conquests of political and social struggles ––an extraction that is rightful and, to a large extent, publicly recognised as such even from its enemies–– is nowadays ordered to violently unclassify itself and to hastily take its place within the new, flexible penal context of the crisis. This violent declassification comprises merely one of the forms assumed by the state of emergency as an educational process. And as Roger Dadoun stresses out, the foundational anthropological function of education is to “deal with violence, to negotiate violence...”. [22] We would argue the same about the character of contemporary democracy, letting one of the advisers of the present prime-minister to articulate it best: “the monopoly of violence belongs to the democratic state alone –– and we will crush you”. [23]

 

by Christos Filippidis

 

Notes

[1]: Mbembe Achille, Necropolitics, Public Culture, Volume 15, Number 1, Winter 2003, p. 24

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[2]: Ibid., p.25

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[3]: Ibid., p.26

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[4]: Glenn, Paul, Helmus, Steinberg, ibid., p.3

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[5]: Foucault Michel, Society Must Be Defended – Lectures at the Collège de France 1975-76, edited by Mauro Bertani & Alessandro Fontana, Picador, New York 2003, p.103

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[6]: Graham Stephen, Foucault’s Boomerang – The New Military Urbanism, in Sorensen Stilhoff Jens and Soderbaum Fredrik (eds.), The End of the Development Security Nexus? The Rise of Global Disaster Management, Development Dialogue, No.58, Uppsala, April 2012, p.38

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[7]: Ibid., p.39

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[8]: Βλ. Graham, Cities Under Siege, ibid., p.xix,86

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[9]: Mbembe, ibid., p.26

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[10]: Butler Judith, Precarious Life – The powers of mourning and violence, Verso, London-New York 2006, p.xx

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[11]: Glenn, Paul, Helmus, Steinberg, ibid., p.30

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[12]: Βλ. FM 3-24, ibid., p.A-7 και Kilcullen, ibid., p.43

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[13]: Foucault, Society Must Be Defended, ibid., p.30

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[14]: FM 3-06, ibid., p.Glossary-21

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[15]: Public affairs: Those public information, command information, and community relations activities directed toward both the external and internal publics with interest in the Department of Defense. Ibid., p.Glossary-21 & pp.5-19,5-20  

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[16]: Information operations: The employment of the core capabilities of electronic warfare, computer network operations, psychological operations, military deception, and operations security, in concert with specified supporting and related capabilities, to affect and defend information and information systems and to influence decisionmaking. Ibid., p.Glossary-14 & p.5-14

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[17]: Glenn & Medby, ibid., p.91

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[18]: Obviously, the observation in question does not regard all those who sometimes cheer and at other times feel innermost satisfaction at the sight of the aforementioned displacements. And it is worth to be said that long before Xenios-Zeus operation it was them who made sure the public spaces were transformed into places forbidden for migrants.

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[19]: In regard to the notion of the “public”, Arendt wrote that “For us, appearance – something that is being seen and heard by others as well as by ourselves – constitutes reality” and that “our feeling for reality depends utterly upon appearance and therefore upon the existence of a public realm”. See Arendt Hannah, The Human Condition, The University of Chicago Press, Chicago & London 1998, pp.50,51

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[20]: Butler, Precarious Life, ibid., p.148

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[21]: Let us not forget, at this point, that Carl Schmitt argued that “The friend, enemy, and combat concepts receive their real meaning precisely because they refer to the real possibility of physical killing. War follows from enmity. War is the existential negation of the enemy. It is the most extreme consequence of enmity”, Schmitt Carl, The Concept of the Political, trans. by George Schwab, The University of Chicago Press, Chicago & London 2007, p.33

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[22]: Dadoun Roger, La violence: Essai sur l' “homo violens”, trans. by Nikolas Al. Sevastakis, Scripta, Athens 1998, p.48

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[23]: See the article by Failos Kranidiotis titled “The Monopoly of Violence”, newspaper Demokratia, January 13, 2013, available at http://www.dimokratianews.gr/content/12765/%CF%84%CE%BF-%CE%BC%CE%BF%CE%BD%CE%BF%CF%80%CF%8E%CE%BB%CE%B9%CE%BF-%CF%84%CE%B7%CF%82-%CE%B2%CE%AF%CE%B1%CF%82?page=1

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City at the Time of Crisis is a research project tracing and researching the effects of the ongoing financial crisis on urban public spaces in Athens, Greece. Read more...