Problematising Danger

in Academic Service - Archive by on February 22nd, 2011

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Event Date: 21 – 22 February 2011
The River Room
King’s College London, Strand Campus
London WC2R 2LS

Problematising Danger

ESRC Seminar Series- Contemporary Biopolitical Security

 

Co-sponsored by the Biopolitics of Security Network,
the Emerging Securities Research Unit @ Keele University
and the Centre for International Relations, Department of War Studies, King’s College London


Download workshop package here

“There is no liberalism without a culture of danger.” (Foucault)

Threats and risks have become the preferred categories for imagining contemporary security. Practices such as defence, border control and the surveillance of populations, insurance, risk profiling to identify suspicious subjects, and risk assessments to protect objects and systems such as critical infrastructure, rely heavily on well-established paradigms of security. Discourses and practices of threats and risks, with their allied technologies of measurement and calculation, however, relate to the wider problem of danger and its allied concept of ‘uncertainty’. Thinking ‘danger’ relates to understandings of uncertainties, otherness of being, and spaces and environments of protection in excess of those accounted for in the language and metrics of discourses of threats and risks.

What happens, then, if the analysis of security resorts to understandings of ‘danger’, ‘dangerousness’, and processes of ‘endangerment’? Is it possible to think security by referring ideas of danger to understandings of life, livelihoods and lifestyles, instead of ready-made ‘objects’ of security such as sovereignty, territory, the nation-state, citizens, borders, and sociological categories such as class and gender? Is it possible to think security in relation to danger away from utilitarian economic categories such as cost-benefit analysis, risk calculus, and rational choice?

The workshop aims to explore these questions and to challenge participants to wonder if current policy security priorities such as terrorism, climate change, weapons proliferation, resilience and migration can be thought in relation to ‘danger’ outside discourses of threats and risks.

In the first three workshops of this seminar series we began to explore an agenda for contemporary biopolitical security research around problems such as mobilities and circulations, resilience, values and processes of valuations in relation to the technologies through which lifestyles and livelihoods are treated as referents of security. In this fourth workshop we intend to spark a conversation around the implications of thinking dangerousness in relation to security and life.

The workshop is based on participants’ work and invites a reflection on the following questions:

- How are ideas of danger constituted? What forms of ‘data’, ‘information’, and ‘knowledge’ are involved in constituting a dangerous subject or a dangerous environment?

- What are the preconditions for understanding endangerment in and how do they question the ‘new security challenges’ of for example, terrorism (and cyber-terrorism), proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, climate change, and health pandemics?

- Can discourses and practices of security be different if reflections on the consequences of endangerment are advanced?

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Programme:

MONDAY 21 FEBRUARY

Luis Lobo-Guerrero and Vivienne Jabri – Introduction

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Panel 1 – Ontologisations of Danger

  • Btihaj AjanaRe-ontologising Danger (AUDIO HERE)
  • Joscha Wullweber Strategies of Danger and Dangerous Strategies (AUDIO HERE)
  • David Chandler The Ontology of Danger:Recasting the Human Subject in Discourses of Vulnerability and Resilience (AUDIO HERE)
  • Andrew Neal The Entropy of Dangerousness (AUDIO HERE)

Chair: Martin Coward (Newcastle University)

discussion:

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Panel 2 – Risk managing the dangerousness of terror

  • Cerelia AthanassiouChanging the Global War on Terror: Who is the ‘Ready’ Citizen Arming Against? (AUDIO HERE)
  • Lisa Stampnitzky- Constituting terrorism: three attempts at rational governance (AUDIO HERE)
  • Christopher ZebrowskiFalling-out: Examining the problematising capacities of danger (AUDIO HERE)
  • Jonas HagmannRisk registers and the measurement of everything: Security scientism and the reassertion of modernism (AUDIO HERE)

Chair: Claudia Aradau (The Open University)

discussion:

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Panel 3 – Danger’s Otherness

  • Debbie LisleDanger’s Other: Pleasure, Leisure & Travel (AUDIO HERE)
  • Sam Okoth OpondoFearscapes / Securescapes : Urban Anxieties, Securities and the Domestic Scene (AUDIO HERE)

Chair: Vivienne Jabri

discussion:

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Keynote Address:

Professor Marieke de Goede
Networked Danger and Speculative Security (AUDIO HERE)

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TUESDAY 22 February

Panel 4 – Sites, spaces and strategies of endangerment

  • Charlotte Heath-KellyCounter-Terrorism and the Counterfactual: Producing the ‘Radicalisation’ Discourse and the UK PREVENT strategy (AUDIO HERE)
  • Casey McNeillDanger and un-governed spaces in the US (AUDIO HERE)
  • Alex Hamilton – ‘Dangerous tools’ in ‘dangerous hands’: How synthetic biology is imagined as a ‘bioterrorist threat’ (AUDIO HERE)

Chair: Peter Adey

discussion:

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Final Roundtable and Conclusions With:

  • Mustapha Pasha (University of Aberdeen)
  • Marieke de Goede (University of Amsterdam)
  • Luis Lobo-Guerrero (Keele University)
  • Vivienne Jabri (King’s College London)
  • Martin Coward (Newcastle University)

discussion:

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Vivian Nutton – Galen, from Byzantium to Basle

in Academic Service - Archive by on February 22nd, 2011

Event Date: 22 February 2011 17:30
McCrea 201

 

 

Royal Holloway Department of History


Professor Vivian Nutton (University College London) – Galen, from Byzantium to Basle

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Alex Hamilton – ‘Dangerous tools’ in ‘dangerous hands’: How synthetic biology is imagined as a ‘bioterrorist threat’

in Academic Service - Archive by on February 22nd, 2011

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Event Date: 22 February 2011
The River Room
King’s College London, Strand Campus
London WC2R 2LS

Problematising Danger

ESRC Seminar Series- Contemporary Biopolitical Security

 

Co-sponsored by the Biopolitics of Security Network,
and the Emerging Securities Research Unit @ Keele University


R. Alexander Hamilton
London School of Economics

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Introduction to synthetic biology and synthetic biology ‘security concerns’

Synthetic biology is an emerging science that seeks to make biology engineerable, permitting the rational design and construction of novel living systems. Where this aim suggests many opportunities, possibly ushering in themuch-anticipated ‘century of biology’, offering new avenues for theproduction of health and wealth, it also suggeststhe possibility ofnew, uncontrollable dangers. The reason being, some argue,is because if more people, working in less formal research settings, begin to design and construct novel living systems, they might also use this technology to create novel pathogens, expanding the scope of the ‘bioterrorist threat’.Assessing how this threat might manifest itself, where its dangers lie, and how they might be managed, however, is problematic. Many uncertainties surround synthetic biology, including uncertainties about the current state of the art, its future potential, and the skills and motives of prospective ‘bioterrorists’, as well as the promising yet problematiccommunities of emergingamateur biologists – referred to, sometimes interchangeably,as‘do-it-yourself biologists’; ‘citizen scientists’; ‘garage biologists’; ‘biohobbyists’ or ‘biohackers’. In brief, the synthetic biology ‘threat’ is described as complex, and seemingly open-ended, which challenges a risk calculus that depends on stable factsabout the world.

Research aims and methods

This research broadly aims to map and critically examine the social and political processes that permit synthetic biology to be viewed as a security problem for which diverse security solutions are posed. My research is concerned with several distinct features of the synthetic biology security debate, as articulated by experts engaged in assessing and managing emerging risks in the life sciences, including: (1) how synthetic biology is understood as a security problem; (2) the forms of measurement used to qualify and quantify the synthetic biology threat; and (3) the modes of anticipatory governance deployed in the face of uncertainty. In the course of myresearch, I have read widely on the science of synthetic biology and its perceived security implications. I have also complimented this scientific and technical literature review with a series of interviews with a ‘constellation of experts’ (Rabinow 2008), including risk analysts, military planners, law enforcement agents, public health officials, prominent synthetic biologists, and others with a stated interest, and perceived expertise, in negotiating the security challenges posed by synthetic biology.This research principally focuses on the synthetic biology security threat as it is framed in the United States, where biosecurity considerations play an integral role in the synthetic biology debate, and are viewed as the key risks posed by the science.

Conceptual framework

Underlying this research is a conceptual interest in how threats are constructed –that is, how objects, knowledge, and people are identified as security problems; how these problems are elaborated as threats, and how these threats are, at least ostensibly, governed. Although drawing on aspects ofsecuritization theory (Wæver 1995), this research is concerned not only with the naming of security problems, but also with the mechanisms that permit security problems to be rendered knowable and actionable. Of particular interest, then, are the specific rationalities and technologies of risk that are deployed in the name taming chance, including their scope and limitations. To an extent, this research agrees with Beck’s (1992) notion of ‘risk society’, acknowledging that modern, self-generated catastrophespose uncertainties that challenge the logic of probabilistic risk assessment.Yet it also acknowledges, as a number of risk theorists have pointed out (Ewald 2002; Erickson and Doyle 2004; O’Malley 2004),that despite the perceived open-endedness of catastrophic threats, including climate change, terrorism, natural disasters and economic crisis, concerted efforts are being made (by risk analysts, military planners and others) to render these events knowable; with the presumption that they can be managed. Therefore, this research strives to suspend judgment on what types of threats synthetic biology mightactuallyenable – that is, whether they are actually calculable risks or incalculable dangers–in favor of focusing on the words and actions of those presently engaged in assessing and managing the unruly aspects of synthetic biology, and synthetic biologists, in pursuit of a sustainable science. Their words and actions, of course, are no less instrumental in shaping perceptions of the synthetic biology threat, including the knowledge and people bound up with it,as well as mediating possible responses to this threat.

Preliminary findings

As a site of emergence, characterized by uncertainty and rapid change, synthetic biology provides a unique vantage point from which to explore how modern technological threats are assembled; how they are constituted; and what strategies of preemptive governance are proposed to manage them. What stands out at this stage of my research is the manner in which synthetic biology and its practitioners are variously framed as dangerous and risky. Dangerous, to the extent that security experts suggest that DNA synthesis technology might be used to synthesize all manner of dangerous, unknown and potentially unknowable, pathogens; as well as to the extent that this technology is accessible to an expanding universe of amateur scientists, who might deliberately, or accidently, cause grave harm. And,risky, to the extent that practical responses are nonetheless proposed to mitigate the likelihoodof potential harm, including a variety of strategies aimed at screening orders for synthetic DNA (increasingly purchased from commercial ‘gene foundries’), filtering out dangerous sequences and suspicious buyers, while at the same time questioning the dangerousness of synthetic DNA outside of a ‘natural’ cellular context, and acknowledging the difficulties of pinpointing dangerous people. In this context, assessing and managing risk, while drawing on certain empirical indices, such as statistical matches between ‘safe’ DNA and DNA ‘of concern’ or profiles of ‘credible’ buyers and buyers ‘of concern’, depends equally, and perhaps primarily, on making subjective distinctions between who or what should count as ‘dangerous’. Such an approach to managing threats is largely about drawing boundaries, establishing limits, and erecting barriers, in an effort to support the productive aspects of synthetic biology while preempting the destructive ones. As there seem to be few indications of government shutting down, or even greatly curtailing, synthetic biology (at least in the United States), precautionary risk management, in its most restrictive form, does not appear to be on the political agenda (Presidential Commission for the Study of Bioethical Issues 2010). Instead, efforts are being made to monitor developments in synthetic biology, and the activities of synthetic biologists, and to take measures to lessen the impact, or at least the liability, that might result from the misuse of synthetic biology.

 

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Casey McNeill – Danger and un-governed spaces in the US

in Academic Service - Archive by on February 22nd, 2011

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Event Date: 22 February 2011
The River Room
King’s College London, Strand Campus
London WC2R 2LS

Problematising Danger

ESRC Seminar Series- Contemporary Biopolitical Security

 

Co-sponsored by the Biopolitics of Security Network,
and the Emerging Securities Research Unit @ Keele University


Casey McNeill
Johns Hopkins University

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In Foucault’s account of biopower, as power that takes the life of the population as its object, he describes the ‘military-diplomatic apparatus’ of the modern state as being particularly resistant to biopolitical technologies, demonstrating instead the persistence of sovereign and disciplinary power. Questioning the continued relevance of this claim, I explore the prominence of biopolitical strategies in U.S. military interventions in Africa via the new Africa Command (AFRICOM). I aim to complicate critiques that AFRICOMis a neo-imperialist effort to gain access to Africa’s strategic resources. While, as a space embedded in historically produced relationships of power, the legacy of colonialism and imperialism in Africa remains, the practices and strategies of power that actualize these relationships develop and change over time. Describing practices in Africa with reference to a past iteration of global power—that of imperial conquest—precludes inquiries into temporal adaptations and evolutions in the distributive and circulatory effects of power across spatialdifference.

In 2005, the U.S. Department of Defense defined “ungoverned spaces” as a new “threat paradigm” for Africa; this paradigm has since been consistently invoked to justify AFRICOM’s interventions in Africa. Following Foucault’s claim that “Liberalism turns into a mechanism continually having to arbitrate between the freedom and security of individuals by reference to this notion of danger,” I understand ungoverned spaces to be such a notion of danger. It arbitrates U.S. security practicesvia ontological determinations about what forms of life and freedom are dangerous and what forms must be secured, locating threats not in a regime or an ideology, but in a particular way of life – a life that is undergoverned or ungovernable.

The Sahara-Sahel region was one of the first areas identified as a dangerous ungoverned space. Currently, AFRICOM oversees a State-Department led program in the region, the Trans-Sahara Counterterrorism Partnership (TSCTP) and a military-led program, Operation Enduring Freedom Trans-Sahara (OEF-TS). The goal of these programs, according to AFRICOM’s 2010 Posture Statement, is to “deny safe havens to terrorists” by “increasing border security, promoting democratic governance, and reinforcing regional as well as bilateral military ties.” The tools needed to achieve these goals reach beyond the traditional military apparatus. AFRICOM emphasizes the need for a “holistic view of security that includes defense, law enforcement, and customs and border security” and attention to issues like public health, economic development, and democratization.

AFRICOM interventions in the Sahara-Sahel demonstrate biopolitical rationalities and instrumentalities of governance. As a rationality, biopolitics arbitrateswhat freedoms and interests are valuableorthreatening according to its valuation ofways of life that must be protected. As an instrumentality, biopoliticsconnectsparticular people, practices and interests to these definitions of danger, as it securitizes discriminately. Thus, the rationality of ‘ungoverned spaces’ as a way to arbitrate between desirable and dangerous forms of life is instrumentally applied to the Sahara-Sahel region, enabling particular interventions.

According to AFRICOM’s biopolitical rationalities and instrumentalities, life in the Sahara-Sahel region is conceptualized in opposition to the resilient, productive, and adaptable population that neoliberal governance seeks to foster. In contrast, it is imagined as (a) not properly participating in processes of global circulation, particularly due to its large volume of unregulated trade and smuggling activities and (b) not adapting properly to a globalizing (post)modernity on any number of fronts, including (i)poverty/development, (ii)responses to illegal activities, and (iii)enforcement of national borders and related forms of government surveillance(especially among nomadic Tuareg populations).

How, according to this framework, might life in the Sahara-Sahel be made governable, and thus rendered less dangerous? The objectives of AFRICOMare to produce institutions and practices that signify a resilient, adaptable population according to neoliberalism’s (evolving) valuation of life. Adaptability to issues of poverty, terrorism and crime, climate change, disease and human rights are managed and regulated via particular institutions and knowledge practices, which produce authoritative assessmentsand cost-benefit calculations. This governance work, carried out under AFRICOM by the U.S. military, State Department, USAID, and non-governmental “partners”, participates in its own economy of resources, standing, and influence, in which a project’s correlation with hegemonic “best practices”

determines its viability. These governance practices produce assessments of regions like the Sahara-Sahel that identify vulnerabilities and then apply these “best practices.” As in the case of AFRICOM, these interventions oftendisrupt existing strategies of adaptability. According to regional analysts, the TSCTP and OEF-TSare exacerbating local vulnerabilities associated with environmental change, political marginalization of minority and nomadic groups, and poverty.US counter-terrorism military aidis strengthening contested national governments’ ability to repress, rather than negotiate with, dissident groups. This is the case for rebel groups, largely made up of nomadic Tuaregs, in Algeria, Mali, and Niger, whose demands include greater political autonomy and increased investments in economic development. Additionally, regional militarization is disrupting vital sources of income, including tourism and trading routes. These routes represent more than income, but the protection of a nomadic way of life that has been under threat, not only from the rigidity of international borders and systems of land tenure, but also by increasing environmental and economic pressures.

Observers who are attentive to ways in which these interventions disrupt or destroy local practices and livelihoods, and especially where theycirculate resources into the global economy to benefit corporations and financial institutions who are not accountable to local communities, call these practices a form of neo-imperialism. This is analogous to imperialism because it is a form of domination – domination over the ways in which life adapts and participates in global processes of circulation. This expression of power is made possible by hegemonic regimes of knowledge/power, expressed in discourses of security, development, humanitarianism, and human rights via states, the UN, civil society groups, NGOs, and humanitarian groups. This is an important claim because it shows how liberal projects to mitigate real human vulnerabilities can and do produce forms of domination that do not challenge states’ political violence, but rather enable it.

 

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Charlotte Heath-Kelly – Counter-Terrorism and the Counterfactual: Producing the ‘Radicalisation’ Discourse and the UK PREVENT strategy

in Academic Service - Archive by on February 22nd, 2011

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Event Date: 22 February 2011
The River Room
King’s College London, Strand Campus
London WC2R 2LS

Problematising Danger

ESRC Seminar Series- Contemporary Biopolitical Security

 

Co-sponsored by the Biopolitics of Security Network,
and the Emerging Securities Research Unit @ Keele University


Charlotte Heath-Kelly
Aberystwyth University
cch08@aber.ac.uk

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This paper considers how ‘knowledge’ about ‘radicalisation’ produces a dangerous Muslim subject, but also how opacity concerning transitions to terrorism generates that will to knowledge. Looking at the underpinnings of the UK PREVENT strategy, this paper utilises conceptions of risk and governmentality to understand how the radicalisation discourse produces criteria of dangerousness and opportunities for intervention in British Muslim communities.

The major assumption which underwrites UK PREVENT strategy is that a ‘radicalisation process’ actually exists; this conception evolved from academic and policymaking discomfort with post-Cold War ‘religious’ terrorism and from the discourse of ‘New Terrorism’ – which produced knowledge about increasing connections between religiosity and violence. As well as focusing policymaking attention on religious ideas as the ‘contagion’ behind contemporary violence, and producing understandings of ‘vulnerability’ and ‘intervention’ within PREVENT, the idea that a ‘radicalisation process’ exists presents a counterfactual to terrorism – which enables governmental intervention in its supposed production. This presents an interesting overlap between disciplinary and security governance, as those presenting vulnerability indicators for radicalisation are also (viewed as) threats to the wider collective – they are both ‘at-risk’ and ‘risky’, vulnerable and dangerous.

Converse to the role of knowledge, Lacher’s (2008) conception of opacity is also used to explain governmental mapping exercises of Muslim communities. Perceived illegibility drives a ‘will to knowledge’, which reproduces understandings of disorder in Muslim communities (post-Bradford, Oldham and the Satanic Verses controversy) and upon which calculations of dangerousness and risk (qua terrorism) are made. This paper argues, then, that a combination of knowledge and opacity (the perfect conditions for risk) concerning Muslim ‘borderlands’ produced governmental mapping strategies and ‘knowledges’ which underwrite PREVENT.

 

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