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P116


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The Future in Security: ethnographies of security at the edge of tomorrow [Anthropology of Security Network, ASN] 
Convenorss:
Mark Maguire (Maynooth University)
Alexandra Schwell (University of Klagenfurt)
Monika Weissensteiner (University of Kent)
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Format:
Network affiliated Panels
Sessions:
Tuesday 21 July, 11:00-13:00, 14:00-16:00 (UTC+1)

Short Abstract:

This Anthropology of Security Network (ASN) panel calls for anthropologists exploring the future in security to propose papers (with one-word titles) that are crafted to explain the term as used in their ethnographic field site.

Long Abstract

Anthropologists, we are told, have long stood with their backs to the future, recording Other times in the ethnographic present. Today, however, the future looms large. For some, dark anthropological concerns fill the horizon. For others, the cold order of probability might yet yield to the emergent politics of possibility. In this sense, the future is not yet written. But as more and more anthropologists turn to the future, there is a growing awareness that it is already inhabited, crowded even, with various future makers and their curious activities: scenario builders, trend watchers, champions of progress and prophets of doom. In all of this, security stands out. Security is about the possible and the permissible; security stands on the edge of tomorrow.

The anthropological literature on the future is extending classical work on time and surfacing a variety of concepts, from contemporary notions of "anticipation" to older and more specific socio-technologies like "risk". Indeed, one recent volume proposes a series of Aristotelian keywords. What of the anthropology of security? Much has been written about future-oriented security systems that are risk-based and anticipatory. But these terms are seldom spoken of in the field. What rough terms are found in the wild?

This panel calls for papers (with one-word titles) crafted to explain the term as used in their fieldsite, e.g. precaution, prevention, capacity or urgency. Papers will be gathered for a contribution at the intersection of security and future studies.

Accepted papers:

Author:

Vera Lazzaretti (Heidelberg University)

Paper short abstract:

Drawing on research about the spatialisation of power and politics of heritage at the highly securitised Vishvanath temple and Gyan Vapi mosque compound in Varanasi (India), this paper explores the role of security in urban aspirations, imaginings and future making vis à vis idioms of heritage.

Paper long abstract:

In March 2017, the state government of Uttar Pradesh (India) began implementing Prime Minister Narendra Modi's 'dream project' around the famous Kashi Vishvanath temple in Banaras (Varanasi), a pan-Indian attraction thronged by thousands of Hindu pilgrims every day. The project's aspirations are to expand the temple domain, develop wide access paths and facilities for Hindu pilgrims and ultimately to create a 'new heritage zone'. The area also includes, however, the Gyan Vapi mosque, a historic structure that, during the campaign that led to the destruction of the Babri mosque in Ayodhya in 1992 by mobs of Hindu nationalists, was specified as one of the next places to be 'liberated' from the Muslim presence. Since the 1990s, then, the area has been heavily securitised: Hindu pilgrims and Muslim mosque frequenters alike are body-searched by security forces, watchtowers stand as high as the mosque minarets and the presence of police has become embedded in everyday life. Many commentators suggest that the aspirations of Modi's 'dream project' are potentially detrimental to the security of the Gyan Vapi mosque, as its disputed structure becomes more exposed and it is absorbed into a Hindu 'heritage zone'. This paper looks at security as an aspiration that informs urban imaginings and future making. I am particularly interested in exploring ways in which security discursively and materially intersects with idioms of heritage and heritage-making processes while contributing to shaping selective and exclusive spaces.

Author:

Eveline Dürr (Ludwig-Maximilians-Universität Munich)

Paper short abstract:

This paper examines how vigilante individuals at the US-Mexican border are watchful towards conflicting futures and how this is linked to their understanding of security. It shows that the intertwinement of security and temporality can be turned into tools of governance and subject formation

Paper long abstract:

Racialized immigration policies along the US-Mexican border and increasing state surveillance are promising "security" in the face of immediate threats looming across the border. Security is understood as essential to ensure the further existence of an imagined society, based on values which are conceived of as inherently "American". Increasingly, the state calls upon its citizens to be vigilant using slogans like "if you see something, say something" and thus actively engage simultaneously in security-making and future-making. Drawing on research in San Diego, I show that the emic notion of being vigilant helps us to better understand the relationship between security, temporality, and state interventions in various ways. Vigilance is a form of watchfulness which is motivated by social values, often accompanied by concrete actions towards protecting those values. "Security" is turned into an individualized task, which makes citizens responsible for both the very instant as well as a more distant future of the US society more broadly: vigilance actually promises security and therefore a desirable future. This paper elucidates how vigilante individuals are watchful towards sometimes conflicting futures and how they link these back to their understanding of security. This practice goes beyond the individual, as each vigilante lends heightened attention in the service of a higher task. On a conceptual level, I argue that while the security paradigm (Goldstein 2010) provides a framework for social practices related to the anticipation of future scenarios, it also goes beyond this and serves as a tool for governance and subject formation.

Author:

Melina Kalfelis (University of Bayreuth)

Paper short abstract:

This paper explores the concept of punishment at the intersection of security, moralities and future-making. The focus will be on ambiguous security practices of a vigilante group in Burkina Faso and a reflection on the dark side of approaches to security in the context of weak statehood.

Paper long abstract:

In 2015, the vigilante groups of Koglweogo (kogle "to protect"; weogo "bush land") spread through Burkina Faso to fight thievery and restore security in communities. On the basis of extra-legal hearings, Koglweogo pronounces judgements on criminal cases and imposes physical punishments. These mainly entail whiplashes and terms of imprisonments, which is why Koglweogo is accused of human rights violations.

Participatory observations with the group revealed that Koglweogo attaches moral means and ends to their political agenda. One of their main justifications is a moral decay in conjunction with a growing distrust in communities. And indeed, during the extra-legal hearings it turned out that many crimes had taken place between relatives and neighbours. Against this background, Koglweogo claims to "rectify" accused delinquents through punishment ("on va le corriger"). Put differently, the groups instil fear and arbitrariness in the present in order to create security in the future.

This paper explores the concept of punishment at the intersection of security, moralities and future-making; a link that becomes obvious in relation to weak statehood. Punishment, in one way or the other, is institutionalized in each national approach to security. However, if the government cannot apply respective mechanisms, like it is the case in Burkina Faso, crime rates rise. Koglweogos' punishments therefore constitute a measure to finally hold people accountable and thereby discourage misconduct in the future. The paper will focus on the ambiguities of such self-determined punishments in the name of security and reflect on presumably dark sides of security practices.

Author:

Susana Durão (UNICAMP (São Paulo, Brazil))

Paper short abstract:

In urban Brazil, a residential-checkpoint (portaria) is a post-colonial project. The widespread nature of this familiar spatial element is a way to understand modern securityscapes and a social order based on inequality and suspicion.

Paper long abstract:

To cross a portaria and pass through an armed or unarmed security checkpoint has become an extremely normal and daily experience for many urban Brazilians. In this paper, I argue that the widespread nature of this familiar spatial element is a way to understand modern securityscapes and the implementation of a social order based on inequality. Every single new real estate, being a vertical or a horizontal gate-keeping condominium, is built with a physical checkpoint. Portarias are social-technical global security assemblages that permit the maintenance of micro-governance of collective and domestic life in and of buildings and restricted access spaces. They also reveal the most massive trend of private security, which is in fact an extensive market for the security outsourcing, and a fertile terrain for labour conflicts. The ethnography of residential-checkpoints is one of the most powerful ways to understand the macro and micro dimensions of security and control present in social relations today. Not only walls, fences, and gates, but also residential checkpoints are central elements for projecting entire safe cities as they guarantee a security in motion (enabling the fluxes of capital, people, services, and objects). In my examination of the portaria, I give special attention to how cultural intimacy is permeated by a post-colonial violence, and how the political economy of surveillance is expressed into the individual body and in social-technical interactions. More than protection, residential checkpoints produce universes of social and racial suspicion.

Author:

Alexandra Schwell (University of Klagenfurt)

Paper short abstract:

The paper traces the concept of urgency in various security-related areas and argues that urgency is a "controlling process" (Nader). Invoking urgency in the present is a performative practice that projects a threatening future scenario and creates a permanently imminent crisis that prompts action.

Paper long abstract:

Urgency is a leitmotif in the current conjuncture, from climate change debates and migration policies to even management literature. For security scholars, the concept of urgency is pivotal yet so far underresearched, because it is in the notion of urgency where temporality and emergency are condensed and mutually reinforce each other. The urgency of an issue is formulated in the present but holds projections for a potentially apocalyptic future scenario. Therefore, unsurprisingly, urgency is an important part of securitization processes and affective populist politics that present imagined threats as imminent. Urgency as a political practice is central in creating insecurity and stirring up fears. The paper links the concepts of urgency and the state of exception to the study of emotions. It seeks to trace the concept of urgency in various security-related domains and argues that urgency is a "controlling process" (Nader 1994, 1997) in late modernity that shapes the actors' habitus and (re)produces a social order. It is an emotional and political practice which pervades many domains of social and political life. The dogma of urgency creates a permanently imminent crisis that prompts action. It is the opposite of deliberation, the ultimate affective politics.

Author:

Alejandro Limpo (ISCTE-IUL)

Paper short abstract:

This paper is an ethnographic approach to the socio-technical dynamics that are part of risk perception in the process of calculate 'secure futures'. I analyze what my interlocutors from EMSA points out as information in their practices of image production for surveillance of seas and shores.

Paper long abstract:

The European Maritime Safety Agency (EMSA) offers its eyes to European maritime safety bodies: fisheries control, borders, customs, pollution, law enforcement. Its constellation of satellites, UAVs, sensors, algorithms and radars produce the images that mediate the tasks of surveillance of seas and shores, but are these images just targeting the ocean surfaces? As they are synthetically calculated, they are able to point to the future as well, anticipating events that may affect European Security. In this context, image is a word that is linked to information.

Image and information are articulated in the different services offered by EMSA (detection, tracking, identification and characterization) in a double sense: making it possible to imagine and code images of real or potential situations (coding a radiometric spectrum or anticipating the position of a ship) and interpreting and classifying images at a scale and speed impossible for human operators (interpretation algorithms). To understand the relationship of this niche of images and information together with native categories like 'risk perception' and 'security' in this paper I analyze the dynamics where signals, reflectances and data-sets, that is, information, become calculated images of illegal migrants or smugglers as possible futures.

This is an ongoing project currently being developed through fieldwork at EMSA's headquarters in Lisbon. In this paper I take my interlocutors' multiple references to information and visual inputs (expert readable capabilities, signal coding, sensor tuning) as an ethnographic insight to understand current surveillance practices and dynamics of future in the field of European maritime safety.

Author:

Mark Maguire (Maynooth University)

Paper short abstract:

This paper explores failure as a keyword and cultural form in several organizations from NATO to EU airport security agencies, thereby making a contribution at the intersection of security and future studies.

Paper long abstract:

For anthropologists, the study of security yields to the limitations of fieldwork -- the work of eliciting relations, connections and their everyday meaning. Unsurprisingly, then, the disciplinary focus is on how externally-imposed (in)securitization impacts the ethnographic locality and on the alternatives to "security" available far from Brussels or the Washington Beltway. The same tendency is holds true for recent anthropological treatments of the future: recently, Arjun Appadurai cast the situation reductively as a tension between the ever-expanding order of probability and the emergent politics of possibility. In this sense, the anthropologist is charged with the unique task of not only critically opposing the world as is but also helping to imagine the world as it ought to be.

But what if security discourses and technologies are understood as culturally productive rather than as entirely reductive? "Failure" plays an interesting role here. In the world of security, the future looms large and it shows itself as a dark horizon filled with unimaginable threats and dangers, each with potentially catastrophic consequences. Contrary to popular belief, high-level security agents are—or do not see themselves to be—pre-emptively scouring the near-future for shadowy, real or imagined threats. Instead, security is primarily a matter of continuity, and failure often emerges and must be grappled with internally within complex bureaucratic organizations. This paper, then, explores failure as a keyword and cultural form in several organizations from NATO to EU airport security agencies, thereby making a contribution at the intersection of security and future studies.