The Missing People

by AbdouMaliq Simone
Goldsmiths College, University of London

Appreciating the unintelligible

If the experiences of cities and urban regions across a diffuse and often conceptually murky Global South are to exert a critical effect on urban theory in general, a wide range of seemingly “missing” people, spaces, and practices must be considered.  In large metropolitan regions like Sao Paolo, Karachi, Delhi and Jakarta specifically, the lives and terrain of a possible “majority”—straddling and making ambiguous the distinctions among “upper poor,” “working class,” and “lower middle class” –barely register in discussions of the probable and potential futures of cities.  While this designation of the “majority” is intentionally provocative and heuristic, these residents may indeed make up the bulk of the population in many metropolitan regions of the Global South.

This disappearance is not simply attributable to conceptual omissions or an occlusion that stems from an inherently unstable and excessively heterogeneous population.  For the political richness of such a purported disappearance entails all of the ways in which such residents have been complicit in bringing it about.  For the poor and for the middle class there have been either obvious advantages or administrative exigencies at work in making them visible.  Most claims for rights and services for the poor depended upon making their presence an inevitable and significant aspect of a city’s development, usually in face of an imposed scrutiny seeking to blame them for all that was wrong about the city.  By contrast, transparency in the case of the middle class was a critical platform on which to situate their claims of eligibility—the “normative citizen”—and to steer the city to meet their needs for the clear accountability of property rights, individuated consumption, and political authority that demonstrated their entrepreneurial capacity and commitment to “doing the right thing.”

For the “majority,” it was important to construct built environments that facilitated mutual witnessing as a form of continuous renovation of the narratives of economic well-being and social coherence.  In other words, opportunities for residents to pay attention to each other were not created in order to ensure that their behaviors conformed to the prevailing standards of propriety and efficacy.  Rather, this witnessing was the very condition to continuously remake what those standards looked like and as a means to redraw the lines of social collaboration—i.e., folding residents into new constellations of collective action that need not be stabilized in particular forms over time.  On the other hand, as such continuous mutability did not obviate the ways in which residents continued to associate with particular structures of belonging—kinship networks, ethnicity, histories of origin, occupational grouping—their subjection within the various tools that government applied in order to read their lives meant that these associations were taken to “stand in” for the entirety of their social economies.

Even in today’s variegated neoliberal urban conditions, probabilities, accountancy, and the stochastic modeling of risk are the things that really matter. This is not only because they are the instruments that work with large assemblages of data and uncertainty to specify the positions, the hedges, and the arbitrage that are critical for any urban economy, but also because they are the seemingly proficient instruments of dissimulation. They cover up for the fact that no one knows quite what is going on.  This efficacy is derived from the way they make everything count, everything accountable; the ways in which large volumes of raw data can be scrutinized in order to establish the visibilities, the patterns that are worthy of being discerned, that will constitute the locus of intervention. Everything else that falls outside of such modeling does not matter.  For large numbers of residents in cities of the majority world, then, the dilemma is how to demonstrate that where they live and what they do matters, when the possibilities of translation, visibility, and value become more problematic.  On the other hand, it is important, and to a large extent has been important for a long time, to stay outside the count, to not get sucked into the game of who and what is eligible and who is not.

If an intensified emphasis on the urbanized experiences of the Global South is going to matter, then the specific histories, practices and conditions of this “urban majority” have to be situated in an analysis appreciative of the tricky and unfinished cat and mouse game of coloniality.  We must keep in mind that in the postcolonial world, the onus of constructing viable built environments and urban economies was placed largely on the “majority” itself—through well-known processes of auto-construction.  The very concretization, then, of the possibility of citizenship, depended upon the densification of techniques—the intermixing of measures, angles, calculations, impulses, hinges, screens, surfaces, soundscapes, exposures, folds, circuitries, layers, tears, inversions as instruments for associating things, bringing things into association, where things get their “bearings” by having a “bearing” on each other.

Urban authorities often tried to limit the growth of urban populations or defer the affordance of rights to exist in cities.  Still, they faced the necessity of managing the city’s inhabitants according to specific conditions that made the actions, intentions, and aspirations of these inhabitants visible in terms of the fact that the responsibilities and claims were those of individuated persons or households. The technique of citizenship—that in which every inhabitant is accorded rights and responsibilities as an individual regardless of their status or history—was often applied as a form of management without political substance.  Individuals were to be enclosed, self-sufficient entities.  In part, this derived from recognition of the intrinsic volatility of urban life, its tendencies to fracture and separate. Collective formations then were to be the aggregation of individuals, who would functionally work out divisions of labor, roles, and hierarchies of authority.  But this circumscribed concept of collective life made little provision for processes of imitation and contagion—the ways in which urban life engenders fascinations, curiosities, affective intensities, and proliferating intersections of “fugitive materials”—gestures, sounds, phrases, and ways of doing things unmoored from any particular sense or eligibility.

As such, the value and trajectory of effort embodied by these “nebulous” spaces and populations cannot be assessed simply within the predominant terms of urban productivity, citizenship, rights, individuation, public, private, or civil action.  If such terms point to a range of specific devices that are applied in order to render actions legible and intelligible, and if intelligibility is an objective of governing, of deciding what is real and what is not, then the elaboration of the “unintelligible” becomes an important method of creating spaces of operation (as Justin Read suggests).  This is not the metaphysics of “undecideability.” Rather, it is a politics of slowing things down, of instantiating possibilities to keep things open, even if it means showing back to hegemonic actors aspects of the practices that are acknowledged as playing a critical role in the reproduction of that hegemony.

This practice may constitute an implicit acknowledgement by the weak of the capacities of the strong. They may signal that, in the hands of the weak, these practices can never be implemented in ways sufficient to challenge the strong.  The very same kinds of practices that in the hands of those with powers are construed as calculating, daring, and innovative, in other hands are seen as impetuous and self-destructive.  These are the very behaviors, then, which would seem to disqualify “ordinary residents” from being eligible to participate fully in a wide range of managerial, decision-making processes.  Yet, in this process of mirroring, limited spaces of maneuverability are opened and for much of the very same reasons they are opened for those supposedly much more well-versed in using them. In the process, residents elaborate an urban environment whose reverberations of diverse, intersecting matters—agendas, concerns, activities, calculations, affective intensities, and compositions—make it difficult for any single set of actors to unilaterally restructure the textures and uses of that environment.  Whether property developers, municipal governments, finance capital, or mafias, the illegibility of such environments makes it difficult for any single actor to confidently assess the implications of their “moves” in relationship to it.

This production of the unintelligible has never been an absolute guarantee against debilitating interventions.  Yet, across many cities of the world, it offers a kind of immunization, a space and a time in which to rethink a range of possible futures; to build upon the resourcefulness potentially immanent in the wide ranging interactions of diverse people and materials within them, as well as to rework the relationships of these spaces with a larger domain of transactions across unruly worlds.  As such, the supposed progressive disappearance of a people and terrain already “missing” remains something disturbing, not easily accounted for.  To understand what is going on, then, requires new kinds of engagements, not simply a new commitment to go out into this field equipped with the familiar discourses and methodological tools.

The Ruse of Urban Knowledge

For in part, the seeming unintelligibility of these districts is a product of the very proficiency of the methodological tools at our disposal.  The intensely urbanized composition of our knowledge about urban matters means that every element and process within cities can be widely articulated across sectors, scales, temporalities, and epistemologies.  Whatever transpires on a local level can justifiably have its antecedents in a vast plurality of causes and its implications ramify unbounded across discordant spaces.  In the current moment’s renewed fascination with Lefebvre’s notion of planetary urbanization, the city no longer embodies or even is a relevant construct for processes of urbanization. Driven by the exigencies of capital accumulation and the oscillation of making, undoing, and remaking of articulations across spaces, their diverging and converging, urbanization is a process that draws in everything to uses, values, and effects that cannot be necessarily foreseen or negotiated.

As such, planetary urbanization becomes what Timothy Morton calls a “hyperobject,” like climate change or nuclear radiation, something so “big” and omnipresent that the very knowledge that was deployed to “discover” it no longer has any adequacy in terms of navigating a relationship to it. (Timothy Morton,Ecological Thought. Cambridge, Harvard University Press, 2010).

Since hyperobjects “stick” to us like some viscous enwrapping, there is no possibility of analytical distance that would enable us to frame a delimited domain of consideration. And thus, there is no capacity to specify any particular trajectory of where things are headed, only the inter-meshing of ascendancy and decline, consolidation and dissipation.  Perhaps more precisely, like climate change, we can formulate that the impact of aggregate actions has implications far outlasting our ability to track them; any particular local manifestation of a hyperobject does not crystalize its essence at any moment, but only points to an implicate order, a “now you see it, now you don’t” simultaneity.

If such is the outcome of an expansive knowledge of urban matters, then it has also been not dissimilarly the phenomena at work in the history of the central city districts I am engaging here.  For here, too, there has been the prolific ambiguity as to whether particular households and neighborhoods are “getting better or worse,” where built environments exude an intense proximity of varying states of development and material conditions; where so many modalities of organization (or their lack) are at work that it is difficult to ascertain whether or not households, neighbors, or associations share common agendas or aspirations.  In configuring realities not easily disentangled by available analytical tools yet themselves the products of a highly urbanized knowledge, residents ensured the availability of a density of different materials to work with to attain particular, defined objectives. But more importantly, they intersected these materials in ways that they could not have planned or foreseen but that both constrained and opened up other possibilities that could be productively inhabited as a way to continuously adjust to the vagaries of the city.

The inversion of risk and the people to come

A persistent cat and mouse game of an unfinished coloniality may drive “majority” districts of cities to the cultivation and deployment of an intensely urbanized knowledge—where everything that exists within a district might go a lot of different ways, head toward a lot of different futures, just as residents have exhibited a willingness to discover and act on unfamiliar versions of themselves.  This process is shaped by a sense of risk, but risk cultivated as an indifference to either the assets that are “put in play” or the specific features of an “outcome.”  Residents took risks in part because they knew that to survive they could not stay still. City life was too uncertain, yet the very risk-taking activities of residents contributed to the very volatility that they were hedging against.

Anna Stanley’s (2012) important work on the relationship between risk and capital accumulation rightly emphasizes that risk is not about danger or untoward events and vulnerabilities (Anna Stanley, “Natures of risk: Capital, rule, and the production of difference.” Geoforum 2012.  doi:10.1016/geoforum.2012.06.010 ) Rather, it is a means of naturalizing distinctions. In other words, it explains and justifies why certain populations—the most vulnerable and insecure—must disproportionately absorb the deleterious effects of capitalist production.  Risk indicates that morbidity, ill health, impoverishment, and accidents are the result of contingency, and that contingency is only available through a language of statistical calculation that discerns patterns and trends in an assemblage of aggregate data removed from contextual specificity. Risk then becomes knowledge critical to practices of governance in that it renders visible the actions of populations in a field of chance.  Here differences among people and situations are instrumentalized and abstracted from the ways in which they are produced by economy and politics.  Such instrumentalization then permits accumulation to proceed without having to take into consideration the vast range of negative impacts it induces, or, more significantly, as illustrating the overall conditions which only capitalist production is, in the long run, capable of rectifying.

Dillon and Lobo-Guerro also reflect on the relationship between biopolitics and freedom. They rightly point out that the increased emphasis on the molecularization of life and the mechanisms through which various forms of life emerge is not interested so much in the truth of life, of where it comes from, of what it is essentially.  Rather, the interest is in finding ways to control the morphogenetic process itself in order to generate “living material” regardless of form.  Just as the city was the machine that at its heart was less interested in specifying what inhabitants would become than in struggles over who could control the processes of becoming, freedom, according to Dillon and Lobo-Guerro, is the guarantor of life becoming anything at all (Michael Dillon and Luis Lobo-Guerrero, “The Biopolitical Imaginary of Species-Being,”Theory, Culture & Society (2009), 26: 1–26).

Yet, this notion of risk can be inverted into a position whereby risk points to a capacity to render formerly relied upon social relationships—relied upon to provide anchorage and exposition to everyday life—contingent, i.e. as not necessarily what they have to be.

Drawing upon a philosophical example from Quentin Meillassoux (2011), rather than seeing development as the change of one consistent reality to another, time offers the opening of the possibility that something can end up being what it is, and perhaps anything, for no reason at all.  In order for something to be, and to be as it is, there may be necessary properties, but these properties, as Meillassoux puts it, are the consequences of the contingent character of that being—the fact that there need not be a specific reason for why something exists as it does (Quentin Meillassoux, “The Contingency of the Laws of Nature”:Environment and Planning D: Society and Space  (2011), 30: 322-334). Because something is constituted in a particular way and at a particular moment suggests that not everything was possible (leading up to that moment), that certain processes and elements converged to limit just exactly what an entity could be and do.  But, at the same time, that this something came into existence in the way that it did does not suggest any overarching reason for it doing so.  If this is then the case, the particular configuration of relationships inhabited by residents do not necessarily have to be the ones on which they must stake the future survival of their households.

Instead of risk being the language of contingency that obscures the processes through which a household reality has been constructed—a language that abstracts that experience in terms of particular appearances in statistical calculations—contingency becomes a means of “freeing” up livelihoods from a limiting commitment to specific modalities of self-recognition.  Residents could get on with negotiating complicated interactions with different facets of the city without necessarily being hindered by the defense of “ultimate bottom lines” or “territories of belonging,” or by taking on cascading social obligations which limited the kinds of perspectives and information residents had available.

Viable, if often limited, livelihoods derived largely from a multiplicity of incremental maneuvers undertaken to build upon and extend whatever a household had access to.  These maneuvers often relied upon positioning whatever assets the family had—financial,  social, or psychological—within new “neighborhoods” of association.  As such, households would speculate on the very conditions that consolidated them as a social unit.  In other words, speculative activities put into play the very conditions through which households recognized themselves as a life shared together—i.e. a sense of predictable bonds, shared assets, common collective performances.

For new initiatives often operated against the grain of what the household was accustomed to.  They would have to signal their willingness to participate in schemes and with actors that they otherwise might have shied away from; they would demonstrate their willingness to perform roles with others that might be discordant with the way they performed their relationships with each other.  Instead of the wider neighborhood being an extension of household ethos, it was actively cultivated as a divergent arena of interests and operations, even when ties of belonging through ethnicity, common place of origin, or religious practice were maintained.  Households knew that they operated in a crowded field of various initiatives and that the best laid plans would probably require continuous revisions and adaptation to those of others in order to accomplish anything.  Through this, many opportunities for work, improvement of living conditions, and insurance against various volatilities of urban life were secured.  But as with all experimentation, there were inevitable fallouts and failures, some of which could not be compensated for, smoothed over, or forgotten.

These reflections are not offered to counteract those of Foucault and Stanley, but rather to indicate a dynamic politics of ruse and dissimulation at work in the relationships between districts of a “nebulous majority,” forms of urban rule converging around the variegated technologies of neoliberalism, and urban analysis and policy formation in general.  The supposedly counter-intuitive practices of residents, purportedly operating against their own long-term consolidation and thus interests, opens up considerations of a more complicated, if still unequal and limited, interchange of actions.  We can see these as the differentials between actions from “above and below,” “global and local,” “municipal and parochial,” with always the “majority” denied the powers potentially incumbent in this status.  But such a hierarchy doesn’t quite get to what is going on.  The limitations in what these districts say to urban transformation in general are clear; we can find just so many ways of qualifying and dismissing them.  But they still exert a kind of “thereness” whose value and potentials are not clear, and thus not clearly finished. The experiences of these districts cannot be “averaged in” to more generalized formulations.  Districts seemingly inoculated against the onslaught of mega-development come to a resounding end; others who wear their vulnerabilities on their sleeves inexplicably hang on, even revitalize themselves.

Deleuze characterizes contemporary cinema as that in which “the people are missing.”  For talking about people as being parts of a social class or ethnic identity or political aspiration is not adequate to either the potentials opened up by cinematic events nor the unfolding politics of urban life.  As such, the people—the people of the city—have to be invented.  This, as the Filipino critical theorist Vincente Rafael puts it, is a different kind of state of exception, perhaps akin to a miracle.  Writing about Filipino vernacular experiences of freedom, the missing people discover themselves in the very inviting and welcoming of their arrival in a process that is never completed and is always underway.  In other words, the urban majority discovers itself not in dissecting its practices and identities, not at the ballot box, but by always taking on the challenge of paying attention to and absorbing ways of life that are not always recognizable, of creating urban spaces where nothing is summed up, where residents can try lots of different things without feeling like they are going to mess up the situation for everyone.  People come together and discover each other, not because they had to, not because they were fulfilling their responsibilities as citizens, but because the opportunity arose in the midst of people doing other things.  They may have been dealing with a broken water pipe, strolling leisurely in the streets at night, celebrating a religious festivity that brought together different crowds, gathering around a traveling food cart in a neighborhood, or having a heated yet friendly discussion on public transportation.

The sense of urgency about dealing with the uncertainties of urban life today means that one cannot simply depend upon the inherited notions about people of the past: the old stories about modernity, development and progress.  There must be a way of seeing between the lines, or ways of making lines between stories that are going in way too many different directions.

On the one hand, there is enough evidence to be convinced that city life everywhere is heading in a more unified direction.  But with such evidence, it is all the more striking that minor differences among places and people can be so powerful and inequities so pronounced.  Poverty is being successfully addressed and ignored; well-being is increasing, as is the intensification of dissatisfaction and alarm.  Let’s look at all of the containers through which urban life is enacted. There are images of people as objects of class position, cultural, national and religious identity, expressions of probabilistic behavior, risk and development “careers” and indicators of complex configurations of demographic, biochemical and biopolitical variables.  Yet they are all inadequate ways of thinking, feelings and speaking about how urban life is experienced and acted upon.  The challenge is how to think about lines of commonality, conveyance, and intensity among different facets of urban life that on the surface don’t seem to go together at all.

Photo: São Paulo, Brazil. Credit: Tuca Vieira

Performing Resistance

by Farah Godrej
University of California, Riverside

I spent much of SECT Beirut thinking about the “performance” of resistance.  The question was raised on day one by Howayda Al-Harithy’s talk on Tahrir Square.  I raised and pondered the question of whether much of what occurred at Tahrir, in the various Occupy movements, and indeed in many resistance movements, is a kind of performance of resistance that relies heavily on visibility and spectacle, and on addressing this performance to multiple kinds of audiences.  In other words, for resistance to be effective, it must be seen, heard and registered by some other to whom it is addressed, and from whom some response is called for.

I come to this question from my own interest in the political thought and action of Gandhi. Gandhi’s genius lay partially in his strategic ability to link disruptive, confrontational political nonviolence to a performativemoral posture of asceticism, stoicism and self-abnegation. For Gandhi, a rigorous, ascetic discipline ensured that the righteous anger and indignation inherent in nonviolent dissent was seen as an expression of the highest moral commitment. Gandhi was able to performatively link the motivation of the nonviolent dissenter to a form of spiritual discipline (as evidenced by his fasts, his insistence on simple living, dietary and sartorial minimalism).  Nonviolent resistance was thus strategically viable, for it used the symbolism of this performative discipline to subvert the ability of power structures to cast the disruption of resistance as dangerous, threatening and thus deserving of criminalization.

Thus, much of what occurred under Gandhi’s leadership during the Indian nationalist struggle was performative communication: messages were sent to adversaries (namely the British), and discourse and negotiation happened often through the performance of moral commitment.  The strength of commitment was communicated not simply through speech, but rather through resisters’ willingness and ability to suffer as a consequence of their civil disobedience.  This discursive negotiation depended crucially in turn on the ability of resisters to make visible the spectacle of their nonviolent suffering, to precisely the audience they wished to reach: among others, their adversaries.

Conversations on the opening day of SECT, however, began to raise a certain caution regarding the notion of performance within resistance movements.  Performance became equated to rehearsal, planning, and scripting, and in turn opposed in a binary fashion to spontaneity, unpredictability and the element of surprise which was said to have characterized the reactions, negotiations and contestations at Tahrir.   Underlying this caution was the implicit suggestion (perhaps not articulated) that “genuine” or “authentic” resistance could not be scripted or planned.  An important intervention then requires us to consider whether we must now broaden our very conception of resistance beyond the binary boundaries of either/or, and see it as something that involves both scripting and spontaneity, both planning and unpredictability.  Indeed Ruthie Gilmore asked us to consider the notion of resistance as repeated efforts at performance, or even improvisational performance – repeatedly trying new ways of performing a particular set of ideas or practices.

This returns me to my reflections on Gandhi’s leadership of the Indian nationalist struggle.  The movement led by Gandhi was based not simply on strong truth claims and moral commitments reflecting such truth claims.  Rather, the performances of resistance designed to articulate such claims were also known to be organized with precision, extreme advance planning, and rigorous training.  Gandhi insisted that civil resisters be trained in the techniques of civil disobedience, that the marches, protests and law-breaking led by him be timed, rigorously scripted, with resisters given extremely precise instructions about how to act in response to a variety of situations.  Rarely was anything left to chance, and rarely did Gandhi use the language of spontaneity or unpredictability as central to the movement.  Instead, he indicated repeatedly that the moral righteousness of the civil resister depended crucially on his or her ability to demonstrate a strict discipline, an ability to follow a pre-scripted course of action, and to adhere rigorously to the training and instructions given therein.  The strategic aspect of performance thus co-existed with the moral claims of the movement, and relied upon the precision, discipline and predictability of scripted resistance.

I end by suggesting, therefore, that Gandhi’s resistance could not have been any less “genuine” due to its obsession with the discipline of training and scripting.  Rather than wandering into speculations about the authenticity of various kinds of resistance—itself a rather problematic conception—we might ask instead whether we can unpack the notion of resistance as performance, and ask how such performance incorporates at different times and in different ways both the predictable and the unpredictable, both discipline and spontaneity, both rehearsing and improvising.

Photo: Tahrir Square. Credit: Jano Charbel

From India to Israel-Palestine: Spatialities of Domination and Resistance

by Chandni Desai
University of Toronto

The SECT seminar – Spaces of Resistance – was incredibly rich as the presentations and discussions led to speaking about and theorizing various spaces of resistance which included: the square, the neighborhood, the city, the street, the prison, the cafe, the body, monuments, walls, borders and the imaginary. The thread that seemed to weave each presentation and discussion together was the relationship between the production of space(s), neoliberal capital, and resistance. During the seminar David Theo Goldberg emphasized using a relational approach when comparing spaces as it would allow an understanding of how the production of space and its logics draw and inform each other. As such, in this short reflection I will attempt to think through resistance and spatiality in the forests of central India in relation to the politics of Israel-Palestine (spaces I have been trying to make sense of in my work). In doing so, I will attempt to apply the following concepts raised in the seminar which include: (1) state-making is war making (Wilson Gilmore); (2) occupying; (3) legibility/illegibility of space (Makdisi); (4) militarized sociality (Goldberg); and (5) Agamben’s notion of the state of exception.

While walking through the forested Hezbollah war museum in Mleeta, discourses of being masters of the land and soil circulated in the warfare narratives of the Hezbollah tour guides. This made evident the importance of the forest as a space of contestation and resistance in Hezbollah’s strategy against Israel. Israel has its own strategy of using trees – deforesting olive trees and replanting pines – by removing the visual presence of Palestinian existence in claims for space, and waging war for the overhauling of land(scape). Correspondingly, the Hezbollah also uses the forest and its trees as a central part of its warfare/resistance strategy, as fighters create(d) spaces of refuge for training and hiding their militants, and storing ammunition under the canopy of the forest. In this simulated battleground, I began to think relationally of the forest belt of central India, particularly the forest of Dantewada in the state of Chhattisgarh, where one of the most spectacular sites of struggle is being staged.

The forest of Dantewada, like Tahrir square, is a space that has been occupied by the local people who are predominantly Adivasi people (various tribes of Indigenous people) who are known as the “Naxalites” and/or “Maoists” and are amongst the poorest in the nation. The Maoist guerillas are fighting the state and massive multinational corporations to stop them from annihilating their forests and space(s) of inhabitation. This is because the Adivasi people, forested heartland, and minerals (bauxite, ironore, copper, gold and diamonds) are spatially all stacked upon one another. As the forests resources are lucrative for the accumulation of capital, the Indian government has signed hundreds of clandestine agreements – Memorandums of Understanding (MOUs) – with mining and infrastructure companies, and have tried to make legible what is not legible: multinational ownership of forested land, waters and mountains. Since the MOUs have yet to be translated into capitalthis translation requires the “unstacking” and “sorting” of the forested landscape by cleansing the people off the land, through military means, for the sake of India’s neoliberal economic “development,” “growth,” and “security”.

The state and media have declared that the Maoists are “terrorists” and are the largest internal “security threat” to India, much as Palestinians are cast as terrorists. Under this premise, the Indian government has attempted to militarize the sociality of Dantewada’s inhabitants through Operation Greenhunt. The discourse of “security” provides the state justification for various spatial policies and (re)-arrangements and is part of neoliberalism’s regime of control. For example, in the case of Palestine, security reasoning gave Israel the legitimacy to construct an illegal separation barrier in order to confiscate land and create a spatial division between “secure zones” and “insecure” ghettoized zones, in which the former is always under constant threat from those that inhabit the latter.  In the context of the Dantewada forest, the forest has been discursively produced as an “insecure” zone filled with Maoists – the “bad” national subjects. As a result, the Indian police and paramilitary forces have cordoned off the forest to temporally keep the illegible in, so military drones can eventually bombard and (ethnically) cleanse the area. The cordoning strategy disallows Maoist access to food, medicines, and basic necessities, basically placing the forested area under siege, again much like Gaza. Moreover, school buildings have been emptied out and are used as barracks, and fort-like structures surrounded with barbed wire are used for the creation of “secure” zones for police/paramilitary protection and hiding. What is kept hidden is the production of “insecurity” vis-a-vis violence by the state and various corporations through their sponsored armed vigilante group called the Salwa Judum (also made up of Adivasis). The Salwa Jadum have been burning and looting villages, raping women, and incarcerating or killing Adivasis, forcing thousands of them to flee to different states or roadside police camps. Here Ruthie Wilson Gilmore’s notion that “state-making is war-making” becomes clear as Operation Greenhunt serves to exemplify this notion, in which the making of the neoliberal, superpower Indian state is inherently linked to war-making. In her essay Walking with the Comrades (2009), Arundhati Roy suggests that India has exported technologies of violence from Israel, as the Israeli Mossad is training the top police/military officials leading Operation Greenhunt. Moreover, Israel is supplying India with new hardware – drones, laser range finders, and thermal imaging equipment – the same technologies of warfare it has used and continues to use to annihilate the Palestinians from their landscape. This suggests that domination always has a geography and spatiality, and where interests of capital converge, the spatial logics of neoliberalism and domination are globalized and shared.

While the Indian government is waging a war on its own people, members of the corporate media have condemned the Maoists for their armed struggle strategy and question the rejection of Gandhian non-violence. Through our seminar discussions, I came to understand that non-violent resistance requires an audience in order for resistance to be(come) legible. Since the forest does not have an audience, like the public (Tahrir) square for example, it is illegible and therefore demonstrating and occupying of space has to be conducted under a different set of conditions for it to become legible (at least to power). The hungry that are already starving cannot go on hunger strikes. And the poor whose subsistence comes from the forest alone cannot engage in boycott. Thus, occupying entails setting up mobile camps in the forests; possessing arms for self defense from annihilation; placing improvised explosive devices and booby traps to keep the police and paramilitary forces out of the forest area; and the writing of graffiti on walls as a means of communicating with the inhabitants of the forested areas. Domestication in the forest enables the Maoists to sleep, eat, live, train and celebrate life there, as a means of resisting removal from the land. Also, spaces of commemoration are built in the forest, to remember and pay respect to those that were killed/martyred.

Like the Palestinians, the Adivasi people are living in what Agamben conceives as “the camp” where thestate of exception – the cessation of the rule of law by the sovereign (Indian government), – becomes the rule. While Agamben “conceives the camp as a zone of indistinction between the public and the private, fact and norm, or law and life, where inmates are nothing but submissive subjects who follow a myriad of orders and regulations into which the sovereign’s decision on the exception is disseminated” (Hanafi, S.  “Spacio-cide: colonial politics, invisibility and rezoning in Palestinian territory,” Contemporary Arab Affairs,2(1), 2009:  106-121) . Agamben fails to account for the agency of those subjugated. As in the Palestinian refugee camps, the Dantewada forest is also a place of resistance and transgression, where agency should not only be understood as the act of resistance itself, but where agency uses the same mode of power: the state of exception. To resist the militarization of their sociality and spatial reorganization plan of transferring the Adivasi off the land, through forced displacement or genocide, the Maoists have also suspended following the rule of law through the use of armed struggle against the Indian state and its armed forces and vigilantes. In doing so, the Maoist insurgents have not simply imagined the potentiality of resistance but have materially inhabited that potentiality, which domination disallows. As such this inhabitation has allowed them to keep the corporations off their lands (at least for the past six years), though many lives have unfortunately been lost in the process.

As I conclude, I am left with many questions. Whether it is India or Israel, what becomes of the state when war is a condition for its making? What happens to those who inhabit these nation-spaces and what becomes of their resistance? If state-making is inherently linked to war-making, does resistance automatically become constituted as part of war-making? What imaginaries might exist whereby resistance can transcend war?

Photo: Abujhmad, India. Credit: Indian Vanguard

Confounding Mleeta and the Undergrounds of Resistance

by Hatim El-Hibri
New York University

Hizballah’s Museum of the Resistance at Mleeta is confounding. In one sense, the place confounds many attempts to grasp its importance for understanding the politics and spaces of resistance. In another sense, the museum is a con-founding of the armed struggle it is dedicated to, in that it promotes one interpretation of that history as ‘natural,’ but in so doing, belies the techniques which stage that history.

In statistical analysis, a confounding variable is one that undermines the relation between two other variables under study, or is the third element in the mix that leads, for example, to false correlations. Mleeta confounds in the way that it demonstrates a very distinct sort of relationship between mediatic modes of display and concealment. In many critical modalities, the truth is something concealed and in need of excavation or unveiling. The political value is placed on ‘getting the truth out,’ or, on the politically liberating or subversive effect of displaying that which is concealed. Yet Mleeta is a museum that puts the tactics, technologies, and even theology of covert guerilla warfare on display. The upfront and direct address of its film reel or ‘The Abyss’ installation (complete with a captured tank whose barrel has been twisted into a cartoonish knot), for example, may strike many sensibilities as blatantly propagandistic and easily dismissible. Yet this would miss what is significant about this mode of display. For many political positionalities, it is concealment that is of strategic and tactical importance. As an active military site, Mleeta was of value because of how it weaponized the porosity of the surface of the earth, and according to the affable and multilingual tour guides, provided a ‘natural defense’ against the unnatural relationship to the land that the Israeli forces sought to create. With the transformation of the bunker into a museum display, the subversive or resistant quality of concealment afforded by the underground is re-enlisted in a historical pedagogy of the Resistance. Thus the museum confounds the equation that critique must reveal that which is concealed by including such a move within its structure, and embedding concealment within a mode of display as a new stage(ing) of resistance. Like Solidere, debunking surfaces is structurally and spatially anticipated.

To return to the second sense in which Mleeta is confounding, the museum, as a technology, embodies a supplementary relationship to the historical narrative that it stages. The museum expresses the political moment in which Hizballah began to make a claim to the nation and the state, and to actively seek to establish the legitimacy of its platform in local, regional, and even global arenas. The museum represents a point at which the party, which previously only made claims in the name of historically dispossessed Shi’ites and against Israel, found itself in a position of national prominence or even dominance; of transitioning from making a particular claim to the universal to making a universalizing claim. The site distills the contradictions of the moment when the resistance attempts to naturalize its transition into power, and in a way that need not necessarily be antithetical to the plurality of circuitries of capitalism and tourism. Mleeta does not con-found resistance through its reincorporation into tourism, or its continued and open military resistance—and reduction of resistance—to Israel and the US’s interests. Mleeta does not confound because its gift shop makes Nasrallah into a key chain, but because of the answer it gives as to what happens when resistance becomes The Resistance. At a time when various uprisings struggle for direction and momentum, and the Left grapples with what it means to be spatially political, Mleeta’s confounding contradictions are an object lesson in the politics of space in the context of a visual world   that has never been as binary as it seems. Rather, it clarifies how the production of such binaries is integral to the reproduction of the fracturing systems that we live in, and the critical condition of living in the tenuous space between such polarities.

Photo: Mleeta, Lebanon. Credit: James McMillan

Beirut as a Militarized City

by May Ee Wong
University of California, Davis

Beirut is militarized space par excellence: the city has served as a backdrop for a multitude of wars and military attacks as the capitol of a country that has been definitively shaped by sectarian interests which have intersected with larger regional conflicts. Despite the relative peace currently experienced by its denizens, Beirut has long existed in a critical condition of being in a protracted state of war: peacetime is the intermittent period between the next military attack and the last, while discourses and processes of civilian reconstruction have been continuously fraught by sectarian contestation. With its constant attempts to configure itself as a global financial city amidst political and military conflict, it raises the question of what the notion ‘business as usual’ might mean — the city plugs itself into neoliberal trends, while engaging in a state of perpetual infrastructural emergency. In its extreme circumstances, it serves as a unique example of a city existing in a critical condition, but it also exemplifies the inherent homology between the mechanics of neoliberalism and militarization which function according to notions of risk and security.

In that respect, Beirut can be regarded as a limit case of urbanization that reveals the militarized character of urban processes, exemplifying Paul Virilio’s notion of the city as dromological theatre, a space of “habitable circulation” (5), where various types and registers of speed, change and movement contend with each other that constantly shift, displace and attempt to ground notions of territory, memory and social relations through the interaction between the development of physical infrastructure and political and socio-economic practices. During SECTVIII, we were introduced to three distinct urban sites which unfold similar militarized logics of contestation in the ways urban structures and spaces manifest: the new Downtown area planned and administered by the private company Solidere; Dahiyeh, the suburban area reconstructed by Waad, a Hezbollah-affiliated company, after the 2006 Israeli-Lebanese war; and the UNRWA camps of Shatila and Sabra. Although all three sites appear different from each other in character, they all reflect complexities of the contemporary urban condition. This is a condition where the city becomes the site of multiple contesting realities undergirded by technics that enable expansion and circulation, and also the disruption or suspension of either physical movement and/or economic and social flows.

What I find most evident after comparing these three sites is that the logics and processes of neoliberalism are compatible with the processes of military warfare, in the sense that both aim to assert claims upon land (and other conceivable areas such as the sea and airspace) through the technique of abstraction that brackets land (and other types of areas) as territory, more specifically, as property and military space respectively. The process of abstraction is brought into effect by the application of scientific notions of categorization which identifies and sets boundaries to space, such that space becomes a legible commodity to be exchanged, or a definable area where sovereignty and/or military action can be exercised. In the case of the Downtown area, the space is reshaped as a variation of the downtown area of any other global city replete with condominiums and shops directed at the ‘high net-worth individual,’ with an emphasis on Beirut’s history marketed as a defining difference. In Solidere’s game plan, history itself is made legible by the preservation and showcasing of archaeological ruins and building facades to reflect a constructed narrative of Beirut’s past. History is presented indexically in the Downtown area; it presents itself as a style rather than an expression of the peoples’ collective social memory of the place. In the case of the Dahiyeh, Hizbullah effectively transforms the suburb into an infrastructural prosopopeia to the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) and the Israeli state (in the same character as the exhibits in Mleeta) by taking on the reconstruction of the area after its bombing in 2006. The suburb is deliberately rebuilt according to its pre-existing dimensions; even though Waad explains their strict adherence to the former master plan as their attempt to conserve social relationships and social memory in the suburb, the reconstruction also functions as a legible warning to Israel about Lebanese resilience and Hizbullah’s capacity to retaliate — a tool of preemptive psychological warfare. The camps of Shatila and Sabra are not exempt from urban property trends, as one of the main concerns of the residents is the increased partitioning and extension of existing living space. As there are no specific regulations with respect to property space in the camp, residents (who are not necessarily Palestinian) create claims to space by strategically building more walls which divide or extend existing spaces, bringing about other problems related to overcrowding that pose a challenge to the health of the Palestinian population.

The legibility of the space is often complicated by social subjective dimensions of time within space: time as experienced by those who reside or move within spaces in tangible and intangible ways. These subjective dimensions of space and time function as the basis of resistance and contestation by challenging the categorical boundaries of given space, or by slowing down or suspending change or movement. Despite Solidere’s claims about wanting to make the Downtown area inviting for the public, the area seemed remarkably empty when we visited it, as compared to the bustling crowd at another shopping neighbourhood in Beirut, Bourj Hammood. Waad’s strategy of rebuilding the Dahiyeh as it was before the bombing is an attempt to channel the trauma of residents and fix their memories towards a particular notion of collective resistance against the Israelis through the shaping of space. But Waad’s attempts at consolidating influence over the neighborhood are in turn affected by the movement of residents who sell or rent their housing units. Despite the burgeoning problems of the camp, Palestinian refugees continue to live in Shatila and Sabra — out of necessity, and also out of a subjective desire to inhabit their right of return. The makeshift yet permanent structures of the camp reflect the political subjectivity of the Palestinian as that of suspension, which becomes the mode of his/her resistance towards the Israeli occupation.

In the seminar, we discussed resilience as a form of resistance in a critical condition, exemplified by the video that Saree Makdisi had screened of Palestinian villagers picking up the pieces of their makeshift homes that had been bulldozed over by the Israeli soldiers and setting them back again. We also discussed resistance as a tactic which operates according to contingent factors that prevents the foreclosure of possibility — this boils down to simple notions such as ‘walking differently,’ or attending to the disclosing gap in the wall. While such resistance serves to enable one to survive, often on a day-to-day basis, how does one engage in a kind of resistance that might enable one to fundamentally change the systemic conditions of the critical/carceral condition itself? How do we (or can we) escape or reconfigure the logics and technics of militarization in everyday life instead of decelerating or suspending exploitative modes of circulation and control? Saree discussed how the notion of everyday resistance might be able to transform into an act of the sublime, and how one might be able to engage in local scales of resistance to achieve the collectively unimaginable. While I agree that it is necessary to engage in thinking of the unachievable or the impossible, the fact that the Israeli-Palestinian conflict still carries on after two intifadas is testament to the difficulties faced by the Palestinians which prevent them from mounting a more effective and lasting resistance that would not only voice opposition but would dismantle their current conditions of oppression.

The Street: Survival & Resistance

by Maysa Ayoub
Center for Migration and Refugee Studies, American University in Cairo

The seminar provided me with an opportunity to revisit critical theory. My work throughout my Masters degree study was especially influenced by the critical approach, particularly by the work of Anthony Giddens and “Structuration” theory. My MA thesis on the processes in the development of a squatter area in Cairo applied the concept of “everyday forms of resistance.” The thesis studied the different strategies adopted by the government in the process of upgrading squatter areas, arguing that top-down approaches that ignore the perception of the targeted population tend to create resistance on behalf of that population that negatively affects the project itself. In recent years, however, my work on refugees, which is mostly qualitative, had shifted my theoretical interest to social constructivism. The seminar not only offered me a chance to refresh my mind on the critical theory approach to understanding the processes and effects of domination and their resistances but also offered me an opportunity to think about how the two approaches might be employed together to fruitful purposes. The opportunity provided by the seminar’s discussions and debates, particularly from the viewpoint of the many anthropologists, refined my understanding of how to apply critical theory to research on refugees, minorities, and the marginalized. One lesson I’ve learned is that it is necessary to find ways to get over the fear that social constructivism imposes the researcher’s view. Knowledge can be produced and applied to impact policy without claiming that it is the only knowledge regarding the object of analysis at hand.

I am currently working on a paper exploring ways migrants in Cairo attempt to share the street with local poor Cairenes.  As in other cities in the world, selling in the street is a practice prohibited in Cairo. Despite that, when walking through the streets of Cairo one is surprised by the presence of large number of street vendors. Through an ongoing process of curbing on the part of authorities and resisting on the part of the street vendors, poor Cairenes were able to assert their “right to the city.” Previous research on migrants and refugees indicated that selling in the informal market is reported as the most common economic activity. Through analyzing the use of public space by migrant/refugee street vendors in Cairo, my paper aims to understand the extent of the migrants’ ability to have a space and to assert their right to such space. The paper also aims to evaluate how their interaction with both the locals and the authorities can have an impact on shaping public space. During the seminar, the enriching analysis provided by presentations on spaces of resistance, negotiating such spaces, and on ontologies of resistance, among others, opened my eyes regarding how to provide theoretical grounding to my own work and research interests. The opportunity provided by the seminar’s discussions and debates gave me priceless ideas about how to evaluate the different forms of survival strategies deployed by the migrants that can impact their lives and the public space in which they operate.

The seminar was also very useful in making sense of the changes sweeping through the Arab world. Despite the fact that I had the privilege to experience “Tahrir” as a space of resistance and transformation, being part of the Tahrir uprising never allowed me to actually conceive it as a space of resistance. “Tahrir” for me was merely a “place” where Egyptians gathered to voice their concerns. The intensity of discussion on and around “Tahrir,” other spaces of resistance, and other forms of resistance allowed me to broaden my conception of “Tahrir” from merely a place to a “space” that provides a way of understanding. The intervention I provided on the last day on “Tahrir” was an outcome of the process of listening, thinking, and conceptualizing that was offered by the seminar.

Photo: Protesters praying in Cairo, Egypt.

Occupation, Demonstration, Protest

by Nell Gabiam
Iowa State University

The main seminar theme that resonated with my work and that really got me thinking is that of “occupation.” First of all, what does it mean for a place like the refugee camp, more specifically the Palestinian refugee camp, to be occupied? When we think about Palestinians in relation to occupation, the most obvious image that comes to mind is that of the Occupied Territories (the West Bank, Gaza, and East Jerusalem). However, Israeli military occupation, and linked to it settler colonialism, are not the only realities through which one can understand Palestinian space as occupied space.

In my book manuscript, I examine why UNRWA’s (United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East) introduction of the discourse of “sustainable development” into the refugee camps of Ein el Tal and Neirab in Syria proved to be a controversial issue and a source of tension between Palestinian refugees and the agency. I argue that, while not resisting development per se, Palestinian refugees were resisting UNRWA’s development narrative presented as a story of progress that entailed refugees moving away from “dependence on assistance” toward “self-reliance.” Ein el Tal and Neirab can be seen as spaces that are occupied by the dominant narrative of UNRWA-sponsored development. Palestinian refugees, while not rejecting this narrative of development outright, insisted on development being incorporated into an overarching story of progress that begins with their forced displacement from their Palestinian towns and villages in 1948 and ends with Israeli implementation of their internationally recognized right of return to their Palestinian homes. According to one variant of this narrative, development is about empowering oneself, becoming resilient in the face of social hardship, so that more energy can be devoted to the political project of return.

I was struck in the seminar by Ghassan Hage’s comments, during the panel on “privatization and neoliberal logics,” on the “logics of encompassment”: “Otherness is allowed to exist by being encompassed.” Within the context of neoliberalism, this logic means that the poor are not displaced, removed, or eradicated but rather “a niche is carved for the poor” within the neoliberal project. It occurred to me that this attempt on the part of Palestinian refugees to encompass, to incorporate the narrative of development into their overarching political claims can itself be read as a form of attempted occupation of a particular discourse. That occupation can operate through incorporation and encompassment is also exemplified by the fact that Israeli occupation in the Palestinian Occupied Territories is not simply a question of physically inserting one’s presence in those territories but incorporating them within Eretz Israel, physically and ideologically. One might argue here that such an analysis is contradicted by the separation wall that the Israeli government has built along the green line. However, a counter argument would be that rather than signaling absolute separation, walls tend to spring up precisely because integration has already taken place. Thus walls are themselves ambiguous spaces, spaces that are embedded in the multiple and, at times, contradictory logics of occupation. They do not simply function to separate people or keep undesirables out, but also work to manage relations between populations. In this case, one could argue that the Israeli separation wall works to keep “dangerous” Palestinians at bay while the process of incorporation is being consolidated. The wall itself as a physical structure is being built according to a logic of incorporation, deviating from the green line cutting deep into the Occupied Territories. A recent New York Times op-ed written by author Frank Jacobs on the contested borders of Israel/Palestine ends with a quote from French intellectual Régis Debray: “only when borders disappear does the need arise to construct walls.”
The part of the seminar discussion that I am still grappling with has to do with the differentiation between occupation and demonstration. I would like to add a third category, “protest.” I wonder if these three terms can be fully dissociated from one another and in what way it is useful to contrast them. This topic was part of the discussion that arose after the panel on “privatization and neoliberal logics.” The discussion focused mostly on the distinction between occupation and demonstration. According to Ghassan Hage and Ackbar Abbas, a feature of occupation is that it doesn’t presuppose any demands and therefore doesn’t recognize any authority. Ackbar Abbas contrasted “demonstration” to occupation arguing that “demonstration” is about “making a demand of authority” and that this is a demand “that can be granted or not.” As far as I’m concerned, “protest” includes both “occupation” and demonstration.” For me, Tahrir and the Occupy movement that swept many American and European cities are a form of protest but this form of protest is not new. In the seminar some pointed to Hizbollah using occupation as a form of protest a few years ago. That is something I was unaware of, but for me, before Tahrir, Occupy, and Hizbollah, there was the Palestinian refugee camp. Someone asked, during one of our group discussions, who held the record for the longest occupation of a space as a means of protest. I believe Palestinian refugee camps are definitely contenders in that respect. Of course the Palestinian refugee camp has its specificities. Unlike Tahrir or Zucotti, Palestinians did not willingly march to their camps. If anything, they were marched into them and protest certainly was not the initial role for which the camps were set up. But Palestinians have, over the years, transformed their camps into spaces of protest. To understand, in part, why issues having to do with changing, modifying, and “developing” the landscape of the camp have been controversial, it is imperative to recognize that the camps embody an ethos of protest. Like Tahrir or the tent encampments of Zucotti, the camps have to stand out, they have to be visible, they have to interrupt the dominant narrative of everyday life, they have to signal a problem, a problem that cannot be ignored, and won’t just go away. That is why, within the context of my research, it is important that despite infrastructural improvements, the camp “continue to look like a camp,” that it not become indistinguishable from the space of the city.

In contrast to what was said during discussion, I wouldn’t completely separate occupation from demonstration by saying that occupation doesn’t make any demands while demonstration does. I would nuance this a bit by saying that the main goal of occupation is to interrupt the present and demand attention but once attention is given I don’t see how demands would not follow. It also seems to me that demands, even if not clearly articulated, are a catalyst for occupation (to me there is a demand implied in the statement “We are the 99%”). Finally, it is not clear to me that occupation does not recognize authority. It seems to me that there was a dialogue going on between the protesters in Tahrir and the government, culminating in the announcement by the army that Mubarak had stepped down.

With regard to “demonstration” perhaps you could say that demonstration rests on a set of clearly formulated demands that presuppose a recognition of authority from the outset. This is the case especially when it comes to authorized demonstrations. But what about unauthorized or spontaneous demonstrations? Do they necessarily involve a clear set of demands or a recognition of authority? What about riots (for example the LA riots in the aftermath of the Rodney King beating), or are riots in their own separate category?

The arguments made in the seminar that “demonstration” implies movement while occupation does not, that “demonstration” implies demands while “occupation” does not, also raise the following questions: did the protesters in Tahrir not march to occupy the square (some going back and forth daily)? Wasn’t the occupation of Zucotti Park preceded and supplemented by marches on Wall Street? When Palestinian refugees demonstrated by marching to the Israeli border in May 2011, was that the first time that they were demanding the implementation of their right of return? On a certain level, couldn’t the occupation of the space of the refugee camp, for more than 60 years after being forcibly displaced, in itself be seen as a demand for Israeli recognition and implementation of the right of return? Would paying attention to temporality help answer these questions and offer a more complex understanding of the relationship between protest, demonstration, and occupation?

Photo: Neirab Refugee Camp, Syria. Credit: UNWRA

Five Spaces of Resistance

by Anonymous

1. First there was a wall.
The uprising in Syria started in Dara’a in February 2011, when fifteen youth spray-painted anti-regime
graffiti on the wall of their school in the town of Dara’a. This graffiti was perceived by local authorities as an audacious act of defiance and was fiercely opposed with brutality. The youth were arrested, interrogated and tortured. In return, the community was outraged over the students’ mistreatment and the government’s violent reactions. This lit the flame in the city and sparked the first uprising – an uprising that soon turned into an armed insurgency in most parts of Syria and led to government troops responding with brutality. In 18 months, thousands of people have died, with no clear end in sight. The month of August 2012 was the bloodiest so far in Syria. On the 25th of August, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights announced 16,384 “martyr civilians” were killed. According to the Strategic Research and Communication Centre, at least 27,612 persons have been killed to date including 968 protestors killed under torture; 76,000 were missing; and 216,000 protestors are currently incarcerated.

After this act and the arrest of the fifteen kids, their wounded bodies were excessively shown on public media. The torture marks on their skin evoked the graffiti marks on the walls; before February 2012, the wall in Dara’a’s school was silent and intact. An act of graffiti broke this silence and produced an irreversible moment of resistance – a change of reality. Since then, clandestine networks of resistance and spaces of endurance emerged as an alternative or perhaps an opposing reality by activists and grassroots movements in an attempt to survive and eventually reverse power relations.

Graffiti is a clandestine act – a secret event that infiltrates the very controlled space of the state. Graffiti is often done in secret. It is a surreptitious repetitive act to reclaim space, and needs to be re-enacted and re-produced over and over again as an assertive inscription on the city.

2. The absent presence of the street
The Street has been central to the Arab Spring, acting as a space of mobilization and resistance. As we have seen in Egypt and Tunis, public space was appropriated as a form of political expression and graphic inscriptions. Yet in the Syrian case, the relationship between the street and popular resistance proved to be more complicated. Despite media representation, the place where the street was effectively appropriated as a site of resistance happened under the protection of the free army. And so, the street (as portrayed in the media) became a space of imagined projection, filtered out temporarily from the rest of the socio-spatial system. In fact, the actual street in its everyday sense (outside these protected areas) remained far from its potential as a collective site for popular mobilization and can be, at least until today, described as a controlled public space or in extreme cases as a site of crime.

The unsafe reality of the street as a site for public gathering or expression has produced highly coordinated yet hidden networks of resistance and a certain clandestine space that escapes the persistent attempts by the regime to control space as well as disrupt, erase, and rewrite the everyday.

3. The activist’s network
In the past 18 months, desperate attempts from Syrian authorities to restrict movement triggered the most symbolic acts of defiance. However, most of these acts remained covert. Graffiti is one of these secretive acts. Daily-concealed practices were intended to reclaim urban space through the coordinated enactment of resistance in space and time.

Activists coordinate their gestures leading to the disruption of existing order, benefiting from their intimate familiarity with the city and transgressing restrictions on time.

In many ways over the past months, activists infiltrated the very controlled space of the state through networks of coordinated acts of resistance. These acts took place in private as well as public spaces. For instance, domestic demonstrations were proclaimed when district inhabitants acted together in time shouting slogans from the windows of their houses. Another example was the broadcasting of revolutionary songs by placing remotely controlled loudspeakers on the roofs of residential buildings.

One of the most audacious acts took place on the 5th of May, 2011 when a group of young activists poured red dye in fountains of central squares across the heart of Damascus to symbolize Syria’s bleeding, to protest the killing of civilians, and in one case to explicitly symbolize the “blood of martyrs.” Two months later, on July 28, 2011, a group of young Syrian activists painted, gathered, and threw dozens of small Ping-Pong balls from the upper quarters of the Mouhagereen Mount in Damascus towards the Sikkeh. The balls were painted with anti-regime slogans (no to sectarianism; leave; freedom; etc.) This act, named “Freedom Balls” or “Courat El Hirriyeh,” was later performed in another neighborhood (Barada River in Damascus). The perplexed embarrassment of the security forces as they tried to control and collect the balls from the narrow streets of the city produced the absurd. Despite the extreme control by the state, they were actually unable to see the group and foresee the planning process because of the great secrecy that dominated the work. Also, most of these acts would require a high level of coordination. In the case of the “Freedom Balls,” one person would throw the balls while the other would record with a camera documenting the event. A third person would be responsible for securing the escape of the other two.

4. The clandestine funeral
On February 22, 2012, at 3 o’clock in the morning, inhabitants of the village of Bouayda were engaged in praying and attending the funeral of four young men who died in their houses during the bombardment. Jonathan Littell was present, witnessing the event. He published a photograph of the funeral in Le Monde on Thursday, February 16 titled “Enterrement Clandestin.”

Usually, funerals are peaceful collective activities. In current Syria, they have turned into clandestine activities. Many funerals take place in the middle of the night to avoid drawing attention and being attacked by the security forces. In this sense, Bouayda’s funeral becomes a temporary and secretly produced space. A short-lived activity, it is similar to the above-mentioned fleeting moments of marking the wall with graffiti or pouring dyes in the fountain. It is a transient declaration, very much present in the now as an anticipation of tomorrow.

5. The Mo’taqal
Al-Mo’taqal (Arabic term for “detainment prison”) is a parallel space constantly alive in the Syrian people’s consciousness. It is the ultimate controlled space by the state. For a long time, it was “there,” existing simultaneously alongside our reality – an underground prison, an oubliette, in the form of secret cells in the city, dungeons in jail and police stations. In our minds, the space of the Mo’taqal is enveloped in darkness; it is the “Other Space” that is authoritative and powerful. It is the Black Space – both literally and symbolically. Black in the sense that it embodies the absence of light and it can therefore be menacing, criminal, and evil. It has no nuances: A space of oppression, coldness, menace, and heaviness. Al-Mo’taqal is tight-lipped, unvoiced and hidden. Concealed: a space of subversion. Time in the Mo’taqal is also different; the dungeon space is unlimited: heavily present and permanent. It is always there.
Yet paradoxically, the space of the Mo’taqal can also prompt symbolic acts of resistance in the sense of questioning the system’s disciplinary acts (e.g. hunger strikes, petitions), physical fear, and disfiguration (torture). In this case, suffering turns into a political statement or a form of resistance. Al-Mo’taqal in Arabic also refers to the person under arrest; a shadow of our existence. In the confined space of the prison, often enclosed within the walls, the body of the Mo’takal (“the prisoner”) is locked up, disciplined and contained in an the invisible twin space: a shadow space of the city.

Photo: No Walls Street. Credit: Mosa’aberising on Flickr

To Tackle Spaces: Looking For Analytical Tools

*Draft paper. Do not cite without the permission of the author.
by Marie-Claude Haince, York University

As someone who has been investigating the sidelining of “unwanted” immigrants in detention centers, theSpaces of Resistance seminar was for me a great opportunity to reflect on the architecture of exclusion in so-called “Western democratic societies.” Moreover, my intention in attending such a seminar was to discover new or different analytical tools to capture the space I’m investigating. Throughout the readings proposed, some concepts caught my attention. In this paper, I would like to discuss the notion of “topologies of power,” in relation to concepts such as “assemblages” and “apparatus.” It seems to be a relevant piste, an interesting way of apprehending the space, while keeping in mind the question of power, its architecture and its “making of.”

On Topologies and Assemblages

In his article, “Topological Twists: Power’s Shifting Geographies,” John Allen (2011) proposes a new way to understand power at work and develops a vocabulary in this respect. While exposing the limits of territorial and networked approaches, Allen advocates for a “topological sensibility” (2011:284) which is able to disclose the spatiality of power. This idea of topology has the merit of challenging some conceptions of space as fixed and achieved. It exposes and captures the diffuse characteristics of power.

The approach proposed by Allen focuses on “spatial relationships,” “the mediated exercises of power.” As he argues, “a topological appreciation of the workings of power, in that sense, is not so much about which actors have become more or less dispersed, more or less networked, as it is about how they make their leverage and presence felt through certain practices of proximity and reach” (2011:290). In other words, Allen, with a topological understanding of power, attaches great importance to paying attention to the “how” of power. How power is exercised, how the actors evolve in this framework, how power relationships are at play, and so on. In other words, he focuses on the “practised nature of power” (2011:291). In sum, the topology of power is the arrangement which enables the deployment of power.

But how does this conception of topology differ from the notion of assemblage put forward by numerous scholars (Ong and Collier, Rabinow, Sassen, to name a few)?

Building on Michel Foucault’s notion of biopower, anthropologist Paul Rabinow developed, in the 1990s and most notably in Anthropos Today, this idea of a post-disciplinary rationality, namely “assemblage.” For Rabinow, assemblages are local re-compositions or re-arrangements of the triptych “life-language-work,” which have potentially global effects. An approach in terms of assemblages implies three levels of analysis: 1) the problematization (around an event); 2) the assemblage (i.e. the forces moving around the event); 3) the device (i.e. the crystallization of these forces in a lasting apparatus). The assemblage would be the tangible result of a contemporary anthropological problem; i.e. “an apparatus composed of a grouping of heterogeneous elements […] deployed for specific purposes at a particular historical conjuncture” (Rabinow and Rose, The Essential Foucault: Selections from the Essential Works of Foucault, 1954-1984. New York: New Press, 2003:10). The task then, for anthropologists and social scientists, is to show how and in what ways this works.

Aihwa Ong and Stephen Collier follow the avenue proposed by Rabinow. They offer some “research trajectories” to grasp phenomena associated with globalization. They focus on the “structural transformation or new configurations” induced by global phenomena. In their view, “‘global assemblages’ are sites for the formation and reformulation of […] anthropological problems. They are domains in which the forms and values of individual and collective existence are problematized or at stake […]” (Ong and Collier, eds.,Global Assemblages: Technology, Politics, and Ethics as Anthropological Problems. Wiley, 2005:4). Simply put, they propose a distinctive approach to contemporary anthropological problems. New subjectivities, new forms of work, these are the objects of their investigation. They “consider the forms of individual and collective life as they are reflected upon and valued, constituted and reconstituted, through reflexive practices” (p. 7). By doing so, they endeavour to shed light on a specific conjuncture. One of the main aims of the study of assemblages “is to gain analytical and critical insight into global forms by examining how actors reflect upon them or call them into question” (p. 14). This kind of approach has the merit of staying close to practices. Indeed, by dissecting the significance of practices, it is possible to seize a specific anthropological problem.

Nevertheless, a question remains for the anthropologist used to work and play with the Foucaldian notion of apparatus: In what ways is this notion of assemblage dissimilar?

An Anthropology of Apparatuses

Spaces such as the Immigration Detention Centers, so often seen as operating outside of the state (as spaces of exception), are actually integral parts of the state; they operate from within. They are the margins of the state and they can be defined as spaces, practices, strategies and mechanisms through which the uncertainty of the law takes shape and where arbitrariness is deployed to make law certain, as Veena Das and Deborah Poole point out. In other words, they are the “grey zones” where exclusion takes place and shapes subjectivities. It is within these grey zones that biopolitics operates.

My current research, titled Contemporary Heterotopias: Institutional and Political Apparatuses of “Alien” Sidelining in Canada, explores the institutional regulation of the “unwanted” and the role played by institutions and by “intermediate actors” (private security agencies, NGOs, etc.) when they have to manage bodies, individuals, and populations who are considered “unwanted.” To do so, I take a specific site or space of investigation, namely the Canada Immigration Prevention Center of Laval, while aspiring to give an empirical intelligibility to these processes of sidelining.

The space – as an architectural frame, as a set of practices, as an ethos, as an apparatus, etc. – is at the heart of my examination. Furthermore, theoretically this research is notably framed by an anthropological inquiry into the moving borders of exclusion. This perspective is necessary to apprehend those apparatuses of exclusion that are emerging in contemporary societies such as Canada. Developing such a theoretical framework requires linking a more classical examination of these kinds of spaces (namely the Canada Immigration Prevention Center of Laval) such as that fuelled by Goffman’s well know work to a new conceptualization of those spaces, such as a “space of non-existence” (Susan Coutin, “Illegality, Borderlands, and the Space of Nonexistence,” in Globalization under Construction. Governmentality, Law, and Identity. Richard Warren Perry, and Bill Maurer, eds., pp. 177-202. University of Minnesota Press, 2003) “hors-lieux” (Michel Agier, Aux bords du monde, les réfugiés. Flammarion, 2002), or even “non-places” (Marc Augé, Non-Lieux. Introduction à une anthropologie de la surmodernité. Seuil, 1992), which will allow us to challenge accepted definitions of space and open new ways of thinking about borderscapes, borders, and exclusion. This framework allows me to go beyond liminality and to think more broadly about those heterotopias  – other spaces – that have emerged contemporaneously. In sum, such a “dissection” allows me to interrogate the relations between these apparatuses and the way mechanisms of exclusion take shape in contemporary societies.

Grasping the “power at work” is the main concern of the ethnography of institutions I’m carrying out. This implies paying attention to routines, internal culture, codes, production of authority and their effects. Looking at sidelining institutions from the “bottom-up perspective” of ethnographic fieldwork implies going beyond the structural relationships between institutions, ideologies and political policies. It requires a closer look at the actors who are at the center of these processes of exclusion, meaning the administrative agents and intermediate actors in those institutions. Examining, on the ground level, how these protagonists (re)appropriate procedures and their effects is also a prerequisite for this kind of approach which focuses on the “power at work.”

In order to understand these spaces theoretically and empirically, I have adopted an approach that I elsewhere have called an anthropology of apparatuses (Marie-Claude Haince, “Upstream’ Borders: An Ethnographic Approach to Control and Management of Immigration in Canada.” Electronic Document, 2011, Apparatus, a key concept in contemporary thought elaborated by Michel Foucault has to be considered as: a thoroughly heterogeneous ensemble consisting of discourses, institutions, architectural forms, regulatory decisions, laws, administrative measures, scientific statements, philosophical, moral and philanthropic propositions – in short, the said as much as the unsaid. Such are the elements of the apparatus. The apparatus itself is the system of relations that can be established between these elements. (Michel Foucault, “The Confession of the Flesh,” in Power/Knowledge: Selected Interviews and Other Writings, 1972-1977. Ed. Colin Gordon, Pantheon Books. 1980:194-228)

Empirically, the approach I propose focuses on the daily functioning, practices, and strategies that take form within and shape these apparatuses, specifically those that concern immigration and the various elements that are at the heart of the apparatus, such as Canadian and Quebecois immigration institutions, laws, legislative and regulatory documents, policies, discourses, procedures, etc. In other words, my approach favours a micro and non-institutional perspective, which is based on daily functioning and which seeks to reveal what is at stake in the apparatus, notably the production of categories, classifications, subjectivities and borders, etc. that are central to the management of immigration and which shape and control the immigrant’s conditions of existence. With the idea of biopolitics as a modality of the exercise of power, and acting as an analytical nucleus, such an approach opens up several possibilities.

It is important to note that the apparatus shapes the categorizations that assign to each a place in society. By extension, it allows for the fabrication of an individual typology and, in that case, an immigrant typology. Moreover, as Foucault has argued, the apparatus allows one to grasp how global strategies of power are embedded in micro-relations of power (Foucault 1980:199). Analyzing these micro-relations of power provides an opportunity to question the mechanisms of power, in other words, to show how power works and operates on a daily basis through relations giving form to exclusion concretely.

Conceptually, Immigration Prevention Centers are for me apparatuses. The place or space itself, the concrete materialized architecture of exclusion, is only a component of a larger set of relations that are at play.

Still Looking for Analytical Tools

To conclude, the set of notions examined here are interesting tools for developing a method of investigation, for conceptualizing the space examined. Hence, they are relevant methodological tools rather than analytic ones. That is to say, I still have to push further my quest for analytical tools.

Photo: No Walls Street. Credit: Mosa’aberising on Flickr.

When the Lights Go Out

by Muriam Haleh Davis
New York University

David Theo Goldberg is the Director of the University of California Humanities Research Institute, a professor at the University of California, Irvine, and one of the world’s leading figures in Critical Race Theory. Ten years ago he started SECT (the summer Seminar in Experimental Critical Theory). From 29 July – 9 August, the eighth session of SECT was held in Beirut, Lebanon on the theme of “Spaces of Resistance.” What follows is a conversation I conducted with David Theo Goldberg during the Seminar, intercut with my reflections as a participant in SECT VIII.

Ten days discussing critical theory were punctuated by a series of moments when the lights went out. Of course, this is not surprising, but this time I couldn’t help but attend to the different reactions these dark moments provoked: from mild discomfort (the air conditioning goes off), to awkwardness (a professional dinner is suddenly taking place by candle light), to outright bizarre (the replicability of spaces of global capital thrown into question when the music and lights go off at H&M). And then there were the electrical wires: the web of strands—spliced, and re-spliced—that ran through Shatilla and became deadly in the winter due to the combination of ice and kilowatts. During this workshop in Beirut, I started thinking of time, space, and politics in terms of power.

DTG: The post-colonial global south (and I need to stress these are broad generalizations) has been living in a critical condition pretty much since independence. [The condition] is critical in the sense that it faces not having resources, living close to the limit if not at the limit. All of these things—the lack of electricity, the lack of running water, things that people in the global north have taken for granted—have provided dispositions of working around, of resourcefulness in the face of the lack of resources, of being able to figure out how to get along, from one crisis moment to the next, from one critical moment to the next. The other sense of critical is of critical theorizing and trying to get at the roots of things, not to take things at face value and for granted. Of trying to think from these moments of real suffering and challenge [and] to pose questions from those sets of conditions regarding the issues that have an immediate purchase on the lived condition. [This is] what Achille Mbembe has called the necropolitical—the question of what becomes of resistance when war and the distinct possibility of violent, premature death become a matter of daily life. These are the questions one has to face up to when one rises up—if one even has a place to rise from.

The notions of precarity and necropolitics were not new to me. I had spent two years as a PhD student at UC Irvine discussing them (often with David Theo Goldberg himself), so the question remained: Why should forty-odd academics discuss these questions from Beirut?

During the “walking graffiti” tour some of the workshop participants decided to “tag” the walls themselves—writing things that ranged from the silly (a diamond next to the name of a rapper) to the hilarious (“don’t feed fat cats” on a wall near AUB) to the political (“Syria wants freedom”). The next day, as we convened for a discussion feeling the first signs of theory fatigue, someone posed a question that jolted us to political attention: what right did we have to be tagging those walls—which most of us were viewing as tourists rather than inhabitants? What was our claim on that city and those spaces, which categorically weren’t ours? We were suddenly forced to discuss our own positionality as scholars largely based in the global North, and the relationship between identity, place, and activism. It was a moment that touched many of us who had done activism in circles that we were not born into and who were forced to define a conception of political solidarity that was not derived from ethnic belonging. Still, the notions of theoretical and political responsibility weighed heavily over the next week.

Doing graffiti, in any case, is different than organizing for BDS in that it stakes a material claim. It is often fraught with danger, done clandestinely, in conversation with other artists. Or is it? The political possibilities of graffiti can be located in its very transience, erased, re-inscribed, authorless. Still, we had marked a set of walls which, in a fundamental sense, weren’t ours. The discussion was charged—and raw—unlike those I have participated in as a doctoral student, where there is often a predictability to graduate seminars and a staging that I knew almost by heart (and relished in performing, to a certain extent). In southern California, politically charged emotions certainly were never visibly in play (perhaps even—or especially—when one was discussing affect theory).

DTG: It is clear that critical theory has…become repetitive, and where it’s not repetitive it has become episodic. [We have started these workshops] not with a view towards reviving critical theory, but to think about how you do critical theory differently, which is not by dismissing the tradition of critical theory but by drawing on it as one among other resources in facing up to the questions of our times. By not being bound by the boundaries of that critical canon and by…drawing on the fragments of insight…that provide a kind of starting point or an intervention point [in order] to think about the conditions we face today. This is what some of us have started to call poor theory. [The idea is to] draw on whatever is at hand that enables one to move the insight in critically engaging and productive ways. And that could be something from the critical theory canon—insights from Benjamin or Adorno or others—or it could be any other equally compelling and insightful, incisive text or cultural insight or fragmentary concern that teases out what the driving issues are…for thinking about the sets of problematics that we face today.

The “critical canon” animated many of our discussions, but they were often framed by more imminent problematics. Who was uncomfortable taking pictures in a refugee camp? What was our role in being there (“they are very happy to see you,” our guide kept repeating, even as a gang of laughing youth joked about taking one of us hostage)? Who should (or shouldn’t) agree to speak on al-Manar TV after a guided tour of the Dahia (the Beirut suburb destroyed by Israeli bombing in 2006 and reconstructed by Hizbollah)?

Despite many of our activist backgrounds, why did some of us feel uncomfortable throwing a rock into Israeli territory? One colleague insisted, “If we don’t do something concrete here we’ll just have been another set of theorists talking about things no one cares about,” echoing the frustration that many of us had felt as we moved through the physical spaces of Lebanon. We were aware of our position of privilege as we moved through these spaces protected by our structural position as members of the academy largely from the global North. And while our stories were inevitably more complicated than that, we seemed to occupy a position of structural whiteness, even as we approached places for which many us had mobilized, organized, boycotted. The strangest thing about the occupied border with Palestine was that Palestine was just right there—just a patch of land that looked like all the other patches.

DTG: Race shapes the way people think and their dispositions in relation to power and to each other through power as a consequence of the forming and fashioning and fabrication of the racial—both in the sense of creating the social fabric through race and the fabrication that it is always a make-up, putting on the cosmetic, but also making people believe the fabricated projection, a kind of compulsion, a set of convictions.

Why the racial in relationship to Palestine rather than ethnic considerations or other ways of configuring power is precisely because the articulation of a Jewish homeland, from the very beginning, as a geographically identified fathering site with boundaries and borders, was articulated very explicitly in racial terms. Now people have argued that in the nineteenth century everyone was talking in racial terms. Well, fine. But those who came to understand critically that this was a crucial project of the nineteenth century and that it bore with it enormous death- producing baggage also came to rethink the insertion of the homogenous into the heterogeneous. Israel’s project seemed constitutively and conceptually predicated on the fashioning of a homogenizing condition that was necessarily exclusive of anyone not seen to belong to that homogenizing project. Even as it seems to recognize heterogeneity in that homogeneity, it is still ultimately homogenizing. Who can return? Who belongs here? Who exists here? How do we sweep out that which is taken to be constitutively different? And it is explicit in Theodor Herzl and Moses Hess, even as [the discourse] became more sophisticated post 1948. People say there is no racial language here—maybe and maybe not—but even if not, explicitly (it is explicit in Herzl and Hess, actually), racial language is not just about the explicit use of race, it is also the use in the name of race not expressed explicitly for the conditions for which race has always stood. In that sense, Israel remains a racial project. As Saree Makdisi has shown, the legal structures of apartheid and Israel map on to each other in very disturbing ways for anyone who would be disturbed by such things and…the fact that it is denied is to say that people are disturbed by these things even when they’re in defense of things they are disturbed by….It is not just a denial, it is a denial of the denial of that possibility, which is revealing of the fact that something else is also going on—not just in the denial but in the denial of the denial. A recognition too sensitive to touch, an acknowledgment that itself cannot be acknowledged.

I am “legally” Jewish. With my name and heritage, if Hitler were around he’d be offing me. And yet I don’t feel I need to be in Israel or that Israel represents me. If that is the project you want, well and good, be there, embrace it. But then you have to be open to the critiques we are making of your project as a homogenizing project and be serious about those critiques… In a way I respect Benny Morris because he’s so honest—even as I’m horrified at the positions he is taking but there is something I can say to him. You can scream at each other but at least you are engaged. The accusation of preclusion is a product of this project of deep homogenization at the boundaries and that is pernicious. That is a project that’s destined ultimately to fail, as projects of repression in the end almost invariably do. Post-apartheid [and] the Arab Spring raise in their own respective ways the complexities of the afterlife, the legacies these repressions leave in their wake.

It is true that there is something awkward but refreshing about actual conflict in academic circles; the texture of intellectual life often feels predictable, and there are critical questions that require more than a citation of Agamben or a mention of Foucault to address. In Beirut, there was an often destabilizing sense that the boundaries of discussion were flung open and that the walls of the question and response format of MESA was being disturbed in fundamental ways. How could we talk about Hizbollah without theorizing neo-liberalism? How could we not reflect on the fact that terms we had been trained to use and the authors we knew how to cite seemed increasingly flat—failing to capture the historical and political reality, the complexities, that we confront. I thought of my years of proposing badly-worded and uninspired (but ultimately “successful”) MESA panels. The modalities of our intellectual and political life have perhaps also become episodic and predictable and the nature of the afterlife of Middle Eastern Studies is still uncertain.

DTG: Globalizing forces and flows have placed the notion of region or area in question. Modes of established—”given”—comprehension are being undone in favor of emergent ones. It is no longer merely a question of mapping or remapping already bounded geographies—that’s too static, too bounded. [The question should be] how are the networks of relation reconstituting and what networks are in play [in order to try] to get at the suppleness, re-alignments, the uncontainable forces in play. This is exactly what is proving to be deeply unsettling for people. Part of critical theory’s challenge and part of our challenge is to find the terms that enable us to translate ourselves to ourselves in the face of these relational shifts—which after all has always been the challenge of the humanities. It is the project of translation of what it means to be human, in especially critical and shifting conditions.

The academy is completely at a loss today. It always comes to things after the fact, particularly in the global north. There is a challenge from my own campus by the dean of business, who has just co-published a book arguing that the humanities and qualitative social sciences are irrelevant to students’ interests today in seeking marketable skills. [He claims we should] just get rid of them if they are incapable of paying their own way. It is staggering that someone in a full service university would be so bluntly and brutally honest.

So one has to ask, what is the role of the academy and what kind of comprehensions are left in place in the absence of the academy. Are there critical ways of engaging these questions that are nevertheless supple [and] subtle but also strong enough to be able to reinvent themselves?

It is fair enough to claim that area studies and the US academy are subpar institutions. But many of us (the author included) were looking for a job involving both. And to strip the workshop of its purely intellectual engagements, many of us wanted to know how our projects could benefit from thinking about questions from a different geographical and analytical place. As someone who has been trained in Middle Eastern studies as well as critical theory, I felt particularly invested in the possibilities for intellectual and professional engagement between the two. I have submitted articles to the MESA bulletin that subsequently attacked me for being overly “self-conscious” (a pathologizing of the tendency to theorize?) and I fought with theorists about historical specificity. This is a tale of two trainings, perhaps, but life many of my colleagues, I wanted to know how to resolve a resulting disciplinary identity crisis.

DTG: Comparison is about comparing discrete identity formations and looking at their likenesses and differences. You are holding them apart and are failing to understand a very different world which [exists] in the relations that shift and order and reorder and constrain and unsettle… these different sites. And you can only do that when you give up boundedness as a primary social determinant. The relations themselves have become more complex and less bounded. Area studies missed [the so-called “Arab Spring”] precisely because in predicating itself on static boundaries it was blind to the complex range of relational forces in play.

It was difficult not to think of boundedness without thinking of walls—which had been a major part of our discussions and explorations. There were walls we tagged (in Beirut), walls we photographed (the Lebanese-Israeli border), walls between which we felt both entrapped and touched (the narrow passages in Shatilla), walls where we were asked to account for our presence (the gates of AUB), walls we read and re-read (quotes written at Mlita—the Hezbollah liberation museum in the South). One presenter later noted that walls—like phenomenology—are defined by the gaps. I wondered where we repeatedly found gaps in our collective academic life? Why do many of us repeatedly come up against a frustration at being unable to make ourselves translatable for a non-academic (or activist) audience? Why did I feel that, as the archival material for my dissertation piled up and my theoretical background grew, I found it was increasingly difficult to find the right kinds of questions to ask?

David Theo Goldberg started his presentation to the group in Beirut with Anais Mitchel’s “Why We Built the Wall.” He continued: The wall is built to keep out the plunderer, the stranger, the threat of the unknown. Its construction and sustenance always requires militarization and it always requires supplementation, more wall. No matter how high or long or how thick the wall, it needs to be expanded. The wall fixes in place, or attempts to fix in place. It might start as a fence; though a fence invariably turns out to be not enough so we will try to keep them out by building a wall. A watchtower, for example, is not just an addition but becomes a constitutive part of the wall. The wall always needs other supplemental technologies that are interwoven with each other… Walls invariably cut through lived space and try to order socialities. They shape the flows of people, commerce, products. They order the social… and empty out the heterogeneous, in the name of a monumentalization to the projection of homegenization. As such, walls are the end of politics, they are a way to fix in place the contestable—to remove from the landscape the possibility of contestation. [This section is based on the author’s notes rather than direct quotations.]

In Beirut itself, the walls were less neat than in Irvine, which is one of the largest private development projects anywhere, almost fifty years in the making, where it is reputed that the planners refused to include sidewalks to preclude the possibility of walking and thus unpredictable public gatherings. The threat of chaos was everywhere in Beirut, from crossing the street to Hezbollah’s use of private property to consolidate party rule. This city, after all, had witnessed a protracted civil war and Lebanon is a country for which there is no official historical narrative after 1946. Both places have guarded against the threat of chaos in their own way, the difference being that Irvine managed to erase all but the softest echoes. Yet moments of darkness often reintroduce a bit of chaos, sometimes with incredibly generative (if not definitive) results. As David reminded me, “I’m not a fan of conceptual promiscuity, but theoretical promiscuity I’ll own up to—that’s poor theory in play, after all.” After the “passing” of the Foucaultian, Derridian, and Post- Colonial moments, there was something humble about this articulation of poor theory. It was chaotic, frustrating, and at times disorienting—elements from which area studies has long protected itself. Poor theory might not make for a successful MESA panel proposal, but it may offer a generative darkness from which to rethink the trajectory of Middle Eastern studies as well as critical theory.

Originally published in Jadaliyya, August 2012. Photo: Shatila Refugee Camp, Lebanon. Credit: Maritess Steffen