New Publications on Pacification and Protest Against It

Over the past couple weeks, I've published some new articles. Most importantly, Humanity has published my article "To Secure the Global Great Society: Participation in Pacification." This is my first sole-authored peer-reviewed journal article, and it's in one of my favorite journals, so I'm very excited about it. The article grows out of a chapter of my dissertation, and it also continues some of the research and thinking that first appeared in a journal article and a book chapter that I co-authored with Ananya Roy and Emma Shaw Crane. 

Here is the abstract:

The U.S. federal mandate of community participation, which defined the social-welfare programming of the Great Society’s War on Poverty, was recapitulated in U.S. foreign aid through Title IX of the 1966 Foreign Assistance Act. Many agencies adhered to this mandate, including, surprisingly, those concerned with counterinsurgency in South Vietnam. This article, therefore, inquires into the mechanics of pacification, demonstrating that the population whose security was at stake was responsible for its own participation in achieving security. By placing the linkage between community development and security in a transnational frame, this article shows that pacification must be considered a productive, not simply destructive, form of governance.

The article has several goals, all organized by an insistence on placing US domestic governance and US overseas rule in a single analytic frame. It shows that participation was internalized not only within the War on Poverty's community action programs but also within foreign aid via Title IX of the 1966 Foreign Assistance Act. But it further demonstrates that pacification experts in the Ed Lansdale circle and beyond were already certain that the only way for counterinsurgency to be successful was to offload the responsibility for the work of pacification to the pacified themselves. William E. Colby declared, as I write, that pacification did not mean quiescence but actually meant activity by the people whose loyalties were to be won. As such, the article makes a case for rethinking what exactly is the political tone of community-level participation.

Many scholars today celebrate the participation mandate of the War on Poverty as progressive. Further, we often encounter the argument that the US war in Vietnam sucked the life and the resources out of the efforts to remediate poverty and racial inequality at home. But my research shows that the war effort in Vietnam and the war effort in US cities and rural areas relied on remarkably similar techniques and methods at the grassroots level.* In the work I did with Roy and Shaw Crane, we illuminated the constructed character of "community" as a an object of social and political intervention, to denaturalize and specify how community came into being historically and geographically. This article continues in this vein to show that the expectation that community can be a bulwark against coercion by the state or a reliable method of social uplift must be rethought. Instead, community is the very technology used to rehape and redirect grassroots power, via participation.

A minor goal of the article is to reshape the emerging literature on pacification and community development. With geographers and other social scientists doing much of the conceptual work on pacification, work I admire and rely upon, I felt it would be improtant to interject a bit more specificity. Oftentimes, I worry that "pacification" threatens to become synonymous with violent war-making, without attending to the ways that the practice, as well as mandate, of local-level participation shaped the possibilities and conditions for coercion. Simply put, dropping bombs from airplanes on civilian residences is not pacification. But it may be a precursor to pacification or a response to pacification's failure if participation is unsuccessful due to resistance, recalcitrance, etc. The combination of construction and destruction is key. When it comes to community development, I am clearly in dialogue with my buddy and colleague Daniel Immerwahr, whose excellent book Thinking Small does not discuss Title IX. He shows the importance of thinking foreign and domestic together, but I think there is room for further analysis, particularly because participation becomes much more hegemonic after the period his book covers--what I'm trying to do here is think about why, through reference to counterinsurgency. Anyway, there is a lot more in my article, so please check it out.

Speaking of my work with Ananya Roy and Emma Shaw Crane, the journal Progress in Human Geography published a splendid review roundtable of the book Territories of Poverty that they edited, which includes our chapter "Gray Areas: The War on Poverty at Home and Abroad." Included in the roundtable is a review by Gillian Hart, one of my favorite scholars (!), which focuses almost entirely on our chapter. It is an honor to have such an esteemed scholar review one's work. Hart makes a very interesting point, referring to a conversation about the chapter: “I asked what concept of place (and space) they are rejecting, and whether a relational conception of the production of space and place along the lines of Lefebvre and Massey is necessarily at odds with their conception of territories of poverty. It seemed to me that the richness of the 'Gray Areas' chapter derived in part from such a conception.” I would say that my own conception at work in the article is highly Lefebvrian, whereas Roy's and Shaw Crane's may not be. (Also, as editors of the book and co-authors of the chapter, their own positionality in relation to the ideas was mutable.) One of the challenges but also rewards of co-authoring an article is finding ways to braid together different frameworks and ideas that may be not be consonant in every dimension. To have one of the most brilliant Lefebvrian scholars pick up on a latent Lefebvrian framework that I thought was in the article, though my co-authors perhaps did not, is remarkable.

Another article of mine that recently came out is in the NACLA Report on the Americas, entitled "When NACLA Helped Shutter the U.S. Office of Public Safety." As a contribution to the new "From the Archives" section of the recently relaunched NACLA Report, I analyze how activists were able to push Congress to close down the US overseas police assistance program in the 1970s. I show that intensive research by folks affiliated with NACLA, as well as creative street protest and mass cultural interventions, shaped public understanding of police assistance and counterinsurgency. In so doing, these activists were able to destroy the program's credibility and legitimacy. This article is based on research I have conducted for the book (but which probably won't make it in) and on an interview I conducted with Prof. Michael Klare, who was at the center of this activist effort with NACLA in the late 1960s and early 1970s. The article is intended to recalibrate some of our present-day thinking about what methods of protest against state violence are likely to be successful, while also detailing what exactly the modernization of policing during the Cold War entailed.

Finally, I had a short article published in Harvard Design Magazine, entitled "Reading Jane Jacobs in the Era of #BlackLivesMatter." Only 1000 words and written--with great editorial assistance--for a popular audience, this article was challenging but fun to write. Members of my fanclub will recall that I wrote an article in The Brooklyn Rail called "Reading Eugene Genovese in the Age of Occupy." I wonder what next nationwide protest movement will cause me to rethink a canonical writer. Anyway, this article is not online (yet?), so please seek out the incredibly good-looking issue of Harvard Design Magazine in print to check it out. In the article, I argue that there are conscious affinities between the theory of broken windows policing and Jane Jacobs's urbanism, which pivot on racial difference. 

In a sense, all three of these publications offer what I would consider a radical and immanent critique of community as it is deployed on the Left in the US. There is a deep and abiding link between community and social control via police, which bridges the foreign-domestic divide. Community is not an antidote to authority, state violence, or racism but rather is the primary means through which these proceed and achieve legitimacy.  

Needless to say, if you don't hve institutional access to the NACLA Report or Humanity, contact me and I will send you the pdfs of these articles. 

* I've been making my way through From the War on Poverty to the War on Crime by my friend and colleague Elizabeth Hinton over the past few weeks. It's an excellent and necessary book. One point it makes is that the Kerner Commission itself put forth the argument that defunding the US war in Vietnam could make money available for the remediation of poverty and racial inequality at home. The Commission wasn't the only source of this type of argument, but the fact that it made such a case fits perfectly with the point I'm trying to make in this article. The Commission's recommendations around poverty received (and continue to receive) a lot of attention, but the Johnson administration ignored them. Instead, the administration adopted its recommendations around policing, particularly concerning riot control, which is something I detail in my book manuscript. In this article, I'm showing how we should pay attention to the linkages between poverty alleviation at home and overseas. If we think of the US war in Vietnam in this way, the rhetoric about ending a shooting war to fight a poverty war becomes untenable. They both used the same techniques. Today, it is extremely common to hear protesters and activists argue that defunding the police (and military) would make money available for remediating poverty. In some narrow and technical sense, this may be true. Yet the shared political objective of both would remain unchanged. A look at how police (ie, counterinsurgency) and poverty alleviation have been deeply intertwined through the mechanism of participation should give us pause about thinking that a reconfiguration of budgetary priorities might actually end state violence and coercion. Further, the point is that the United States cannot achieve a cessation of repressive and violent policing at home without ending its imperial counterparts overseas.  

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