New Paper: Circulations beyond Nodes: (in)securities along the pipeline – Mobilities

I’m pleased to announce that my first single-authored paper has been published. It forms part of a special issue edited by Matthias Leese and Stef Wittendorp, entitled ‘Old Securities, New Mobilities’. In it, I draw attention to the opportunities that mobilities approaches can offer for studying security beyond the circulatory ‘nodes’ in which its’ analysis has been recently confined. The paper and its’ abstract can be accessed here, but if you do not have access through your institution, please get in touch via email – I have a limited number of free copies that I am very happy to share.

If you are interested, make sure that you also check out the other articles that are part of this special issue – two of these are currently in early access and have been linked below. More are to come.

Old Securities, New Mobilities – eta. February, 2018

Glouftsios, G. (2017) Governing circulation through technology within EU border security practice-networks http://www.tandfonline.com/doi/full/10.1080/17450101.2017.1403774

Leese, M. (2017) Standardizing security: the business case politics of borders http://www.tandfonline.com/doi/full/10.1080/17450101.2017.1403777 

 

Advertisements

Guest Blog: Hard to Follow Things – Natural Gas

@Followthethings has just published my post on the methodological challenges of following natural gas. You can check it out here:  https://followtheblog.org/2017/08/21/guest-post-hard-to-follow-things-natural-gas-by-peter-forman/

While you are at it, why not also check out Ian and his students’ work on their other website, www.followthethings.com?

Review: Dobraszczyk et al. (2016) ‘Global Undergrounds: Exploring cities within’

This book review was written on behalf of the RGS-IBG Urban Geographies Research Group, and is reproduced here with their permission. For more book reviews, and for an overview of their current work, please go to: http://urban-geography.org.uk/

Dobraszczyk, P., López Galviz, C., & Garrett, L. (2016) “Global Undergrounds: Exploring Cities Within.” London: Reaktion Books

ISBN: 978-1-78023-576-9

Reviewed by Peter Forman

Depth is currently proving a popular dimension for geographical analysis (Elden, 2013; Bridge, 2013; Graham, 2016; Squire 2017). Dobraszczyk et al.’s (2016) edited collection, ‘Global Undergrounds: Exploring cities within’, published by Reaktion Books, contributes to geographers’ efforts to document the relationships between underground – and often unseen – environments, and typically more familiar social formations on the surface. Their book consists of an extraordinarily extensive collection of ethnographic accounts that vividly narrate experiences of underground sites from across the planet. From sewers, storm drains and built-over waterways in cities such as Istanbul, Bogotá, Las Vegas, Cape Town and London, to tunnels, caves, catacombs, mines, metros, data centres, bunkers, and nuclear storage sites, the breadth of accounts is matched only by the diversity of the collection’s authors (which include cultural historians, urban geographers, geographers of art, history, politics and culture, sociologists, archaeologists, journalists, artists, and scholars of literary studies and the history of science). Indeed, the book comprises the single largest collection of subterranean stories to date. Illustrated with over 75 full-colour photographs, it invites its readers to repeatedly dip below the surface, guiding them on a series of fleeting, but evocative, below-ground excursions.

This emphasis on the affective forcefulness of subterranean environments, and the ways in which undergrounds assert themselves on human bodies (both corporeally and cognitively), is a unifying theme in this collection. Dobraszczyk et al.’s principal aim is not just to emphasise the connectedness of ‘above’ and ‘below’ ground spaces, but to dispel any notion that the underground is a purely technological domain; a linear site/surface that simply supports ‘above-ground’ structures. Readers are called to appreciate the astonishing multiplicity of ways in which subterranean environments and urban existence have been, are, and increasingly will be, mutually constitutive. Undergrounds are presented as sites of analysis that can help us to better understand what it means to ‘be’ in the world: a question that drives the broadly phenomenological approach of these accounts. We are invited to travel alongside the writers as they make their descents; to vicariously experience these below-ground spaces, and along the way, to ‘remain mobile’ in our imaginations (p. 16) so that we might become sensitive to new connections between the surface, subsurface, matter and human practices, and so that we might develop new appreciations for how urban life is fundamentally entangled with the dynamic and vital worlds beneath our feet.

A second objective, and one that is particularly relevant to urban, rural and cultural geographers, is to expand the sites understood to constitute urban life. Many of the locations discussed here exceed the spatial limits of what is traditionally thought of as ‘urban’. From the mushroom-shaped bunkers strewn across Albania’s rural landscapes, to a proposed nuclear storage site 100 miles outside Las Vegas; or to the Svalbard global seed vault, located far from any centre of human population, the authors present us with a variety of underground environments that appear distinctly removed from urban life. Yet these disparate spaces are shown to be intimately linked. Urban existence is shown to be predicated upon distanced undergrounds, and these sites are revealed to be products of urban ways of life. The authors consequently offer an account where what it means to be ‘urban’ is significantly expanded.

The book is unusual however, in that it does not try to rigidly group these accounts, nor does it try to neatly tie together the numerous loose threads that multiply along the way. It is purposefully open-ended. Its thirteen thematic sections are loose and overlap, and there is no conclusion through which these tangled stories are folded into a coherent narrative. Instead, what the underground is, and what its relationships with the surface are, frays and multiplies. As the editors reflect, the aim was to create a book that is ‘less documentary and more aspirational’ (p. 20); one where readers can make their own connections, and are inspired to join in in documenting the underground. It is an exercise in opening up, not closing down.

This is not to say that connections are not explicitly drawn. Indeed, the book is at its strongest when it grapples with social inequalities and threats to human life rendered visible through studying these spaces. Highlights include accounts of how undergrounds illuminate the violences of socio-political structures on the surface, from the forcing below ground of left-wing political advocates and impoverished inhabitants in Bogotá (who shelter in city sewers to avoid death squads), to homeless people in the USA, who are forced underground by neoliberal policies, finding shelter in places such as the bottom of Whacker Drive, Chicago, or in the storm drains of Las Vegas.

Yet ‘Global Undergrounds’ is not flawless. Whilst the editors claim to depart from the exoticism present in existing accounts of undergrounds, they are only partly successful in this endeavour. There is a familiar language of mysticism and otherness that liberally peppers these stories, and the book presents the reader with a vision of multiple subterranean worlds waiting to be explored, ready to be mined for scholarly profit. When combined with the book’s many photographs, its grand geographical scope and its journalistic style, the result is a pervasive sense of voyeurism that is reminiscent of well-known accounts of early explorers. Perhaps this is not surprising, given that many of the writers self-identify as explorers themselves.

Yet whilst this might seem significant, it is not a substantive critique. This language is often communicative of the existing myths and imaginaries that surround these spaces, and it is testimony to the way that these environments make voluble utterances. Whilst geographers might question the nature of the subterranean gaze promoted in this book, the underground is not reduced to a speechless and passive ‘other’: it speaks loudly through its ever-present materialities, and through the ways that it draws in its narrators.

Perhaps most significantly, one of the book’s great successes is also the way that it consistently illuminates alternative narratives that would otherwise remain buried. From the lives of the present-day homeless living in sewer networks, to the forgotten histories of cities past, or the stories of exploited workers who constructed these spaces, care is taken to avoid privileging the narratives of those ‘who have the power to plan, transform and manipulate urban space’ (p. 17). As such, whilst I am wary of the language accompanying these accounts (and the necessity of this must be reflected upon), its negative consequences are not immediately clear. It may simply speak of the significant allure of these environments, or perhaps more cynically, of its value for promoting an underground research agenda. If so, then the authors have certainly achieved their goal: I aspire to know more. Reading ‘Global Undergrounds’ is an invigorating experience – one that raises far more questions than it answers, and one that urges its readers to continue the work its authors have begun.

References

Elden, S. (2013) ‘Secure the Volume: Vertical geopolitics and the depth of power’ Political Geography 34(1) pp.35-51.

Bridge, G. (2013) ‘The Hole World: Scales and spaces of extraction’ New Geographies 2 pp.43-8.

Graham, S. (2016) ’Vertical: The city from satellites to bunkers’ London: Verso

Squire, R. (2017) ‘’Do You Dive?’: Methodological considerations for engaging with volume’ Geography Compass 11(7) pp.e12319. <https://doi.org/10.1111/gec3.12319&gt;

Teaching: Student Debate

IS SECURITY MORE IMPORTANT THAN PRIVACY?

This post previously appeared on the student-run blog for my course ‘Critical Security Studies’. The course ran over the summer semester of 2017 at the Institute for Political Science at the University of Tübingen. To access this site, please click here.

This week marked the final seminar of our summer semester course on ‘Critical Security Studies’. To round things off, students took part in a class debate that looked at the tensions between the imperative for security in a period of increased instability and the need for personal privacy. Students were tasked with representing a number of societal interests, including those of government, commerce, and members of the public. Representatives from each group began by first preparing a 5 minute outline of their position, after which the floor was opened for discussion. Challenges were then made across the represented organisations regarding the political implications of different stances.

Topic highlights included: challenges over who/what the referent objects of security were (national security, personal security, economic security, environmental security, etc.), as well as what the threats perceived to necessitate particular security measures entailed; questions over the capacity of governments and regulating bodies to keep up with technological change and adequately legislate/regulate the behaviour of corporations and intelligence agencies; the capacity of these organisations to protect personal data from hackers and state-supported cyber-attacks; fears over the marginalisation and vilification of certain social groups through these methods; the lack of transparency and accountability within the processes of sovereign decision making (including in the formation of security algorithms, the collection of data, and the enforcement of these decisions); the implications of the position ‘you have nothing to worry if you are not doing anything wrong’; and the distinction between ‘feeling secure’ and ‘being secure’, which entailed a fascinating and detailed student critique of what it actually means to ‘be secure’. Discussion was brisk and light-hearted (albeit with a meaningful punch), and the debate topped off what has been a thoroughly stimulating and enjoyable set of conversations that have taken place over the previous thirteen weeks of this seminar series.

New Paper: “A Material Politics of Citizenship” – Citizenship Studies

Our article for Citizenship Studies is now out in early access! Entitled ‘A Material Politics of Citizenship: The potential of circulating materials in UK immigration removal centres’, this paper forms part of a special issue edited by Gaja Maestri & Sarah Hughes on contested spaces of citizenship.

In this article, Sarah Hughes and I explore the ways in which acts of citizenship are mediated through the actions of diverse materials. Drawing on doctoral research conducted by Sarah Hughes (Durham, UK), we describe how the materials circulating out of UK immigration removal centres can hold within them the potential for the making of new claims to citizenship, and how certain materials consequently become subjected to different kinds of governance practices. We also draw attention to how the political entanglements that these materials may form in the future may exceed our understanding, potentially opening up unexpected future claims to citizenship as well as troubling the notion of human intent within every kind of citizenship act or practice of resistance.

To view this paper, and other papers in this special issue, go to Taylor & Francis’s website: http://www.tandfonline.com/doi/full/10.1080/13621025.2017.1341659

If your institution does not have access to Citizenship Studies, please contact me on peter.forman[@]wiso.uni-tuebingen.de. I have a limited number of free codes, so first come, first serve!

Teaching: Contemporary (In)Securities – A student-run course blog

Contemporary (In)Securities - Critical Security Studies at the University of Tübingen

As part of our ‘Critical Security Studies’ course at the University of Tübingen this semester, students have been tasked with critically applying different approaches to security to contemporary political events. Check in regularly for new posts covering a broad range of topics, including security discourses in the so-called ‘EU migrant crisis’, the governance of Ebola, the visualisation and rendering actionable of climate futures, and performances of cargo security in European ports!

www.exploringsecurity.wordpress.com

Update: eThesis available now – Securing Natural Gas

Exciting times. My thesis, entitled ‘Securing Natural Gas: Entity-Attentive Security Research’ is now available via the Durham eTheses service!

Thanks again go to my supervisors, Louise Amoore and Ben Anderson for their help in getting this out, and also to the insightful comments from my examiners, Jason Dittmer (UCL) and Gavin Bridge (Durham).

It can be accessed via the following link:

http://etheses.dur.ac.uk/12139/