“Police power is emergency power, always” – profiling, state power, and drones

The title for this post comes from Tyler Wall’s talk at the aforementioned “Reconfiguring Global Space” conference in Bloomington, Indiana. Priya Satia, Tyler Wall, Geoff Boyce, and Mark Neocleous presented in the first session on the first day of the conference. Their papers introduced a theme or line of questions that ran through our discussions in the subsequent days. In what sense are drones distinctive? Are drones better understood as instantiations of a longer running police logic? Wall’s argument – “drone strikes are a genus of police violence” – was most clearly inspired by Neocleous’ publications (e.g., The Fabrication of Social Order). Presenters later in the week would find inspiration elsewhere. For example, Andrea Miller would read Louise Amore’s work on the ontology of association undergirding preemptive governance of the incalculable to put her finger on the “drone logic” of domestic policing.

Across the presentations, I found an echo of what Deleuze and Guattari would describe as the operation of an abstract machine of faciality – a grid of ideal types toward which bodies tend to move or become sorted. This profiling gives the social to being governed. Notable across these presentations, then, was their exposure of the importance of profiling to the exercise of state power. This connects with an argument I brought to the panel on “Contemporary North American Police States” at the 2015 AAG meeting in Chicago, that, in Mexico and the United States, “we should be thinking about how disparate practices of policing consolidate the common-sense categories or ‘profiles’ assumed by people who exert violence on vulnerable populations in the service, if not in the name, of the state.” (I will extend this line of thinking in a short article for an issue of Society and Space that I’m told is set to follow from the AAG panel.) An argument that profiling is endemic to state power suggests not only that (racial) profiling can’t be corrected without a thoroughgoing challenge to state power but also that it may be important to suspend certainties about who, exactly, exercises state power. Indeed, as my article in the current issue of Political Geography indicates, a focus on profiling reveals how even ostensibly anti-state activism can facilitate the exercise of state power. In an excellent, understated article that will inform my future work, Brian Jefferson makes a similar argument about police reform activists’ paradoxical maintenance of a social-spatial order on which rests the violence exerted by officers in uniform.

This attention to ordinary, sometimes ironic, investments in governable order challenges a commonsense representation of police violence as somehow exceptional. Wall’s extension of such arguments to drone strikes, complemented by other interventions in Bloomington, was an important critical geographical maneuver to bring here what is so often understood to happen “over there,” somewhere else.

About nicholasjoncrane

Associate Professor of Geography and International Studies at the University of Wyoming
This entry was posted in My publications or presentations, Policing, Political Geographies of the State, Political Geography, Politics. Bookmark the permalink.

3 Responses to “Police power is emergency power, always” – profiling, state power, and drones

  1. stuartelden says:

    Reblogged this on Progressive Geographies and commented:
    A report from a recent conference on ‘Reconfiguring Global Space’ in Bloomington.

  2. Jeremy says:

    Reblogged this on Open Geography and commented:
    Nick Crane on the Bloomington drone conference I recently attended. Some very useful comments.

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