… which is not to say that opacity is better …

Just published a short piece in The Conversation about transparency, spectatorship, and the detainee photos released by the DoD two weeks ago.


It’s a little uncomfortable to critique transparency, especially because I think the argument is so easily misread as a defense of secrecy or tacit endorsement of the conduct being pictured.  But part of the problem with the discourse of transparency is that it equates the act of exposure with the work of protest, so that arguments against exposure start to look like advocacy for what is being exposed.  From my perspective, the most urgent task is to find an alternate path toward accountability, one that detours widely around the question of what is happening ‘in our names.’  The difficulty of thinking about accountability in the absence of transparency reveals the extent to which the framework of transparency has itself become hegemonic.

re-conceptualizing cultures of remote warfare (what could be more fun?)


I’ve been interested, for awhile now, in how we might think better about the cultural implications of remote warfare.  I’m working on a project about the discourse of recognition in anti-drone politics, specifically wanting to explore the widespread belief that if only drone operators could see the consequences of what they were doing, they’d stop doing it.  I’m interested in all the assumptions (particularly about visibility, empathy, and subjectivity) that underpin this idea.

But I’m also interested in what other people think about remote warfare, so I’m just over the moon to be co-editing a special issue of the Journal of War and Culture Studies with my good friend Dave Kieran.

Here’s the CFP:

Re-conceptualizing Cultures of Remote Warfare
Special Issue of The Journal of War and Culture Studies

We are now into the second century in which aerial warfare is commonplace in a range of forms, and the second decade in which drone warfare is routinized. As paradigm, strategy, and tactic, violence-at-a-distance has become a predominant model of military engagement.  Even a partial list of its manifestations reveals its reach and diversification: the initial use of weaponized aircraft during the First World War; the bombing of Guernica in the Spanish Civil War; the firebombing of Tokyo during the Second World War; Richard Nixon’s efforts to use sustained bombing to compel negotiations during the Vietnam War; the ‘smart bombs’ fetishized during the 1991 Persian Gulf War; and the embrace of drones as the solution to the challenges posed by the twenty-first century’s non-linear and unbounded battlefield.  War at a distance requires, and prompts the development of, new types of weapons, including the atom bomb, the Minuteman Missile, Napalm, Cruise missiles, and the Predator and Reaper drones.  The significance of these inventions, and their casualties, extends beyond the historical and political frames, resonating into the domains of environment, ethics, and culture.

Activists, artists, and scholars across the humanities and social sciences have taken these forms of warfare as objects of criticism, inspiration, and study.  Beyond the rehash of now-familiar critiques of remote warfare and its potential for dehumanization and indiscriminate lethality, however, what is left to be said?  We invite essays for a themed special issue of The Journal of War and Culture Studies that develop new, more substantive and productive ways of thinking about remoteness in warfare by opening up uncharted critical spaces in which to reflect on it and, more specifically, its cultural origins, consequences, and enmeshments.

Among the questions that this issue will explore are: What are the cultural preconditions for remote warfare?  How does remote warfare transform the cultures that engage in, and suffer under, it? What sites of cultural production capture or obscure the experiences of remote warfare’s perpetrators and casualties?   How do producers of culture understand their obligations during remote wartime, and what roles do audiences and spectators play in these exchanges? How might cultural productions enable or critique this violence? Articles for this special issue may pursue answers to these questions by illuminating overlooked histories and cultural products, developing methodologies suited to studying these issues, identifying conceptual frameworks that need to evolve to keep pace with new developments, making ethical claims, or clarifying the role of theory in times of remote warfare.  Given the centrality of U.S. doctrine, technologies, and conflicts in the propagation of remote warfare, we are especially, but not exclusively, interested in articles that consider these issues in an American context, broadly construed.

This special issue of the Journal of War and Culture Studies will appear in 2018 – a moment that marks the fifteenth anniversary of the U.S.-led war in Iraq and the fiftieth anniversary of the final months of Operation Rolling Thunder in Vietnam.  These anniversaries create timely opportunities for reconsidering remote warfare, and tracing both historical continuities and disjunctures.  JWACS emphasizes the critical study of connections between warfare and cultural production, broadly construed to encompass the arts, all forms of popular culture, journalism, documentary, institutional media, and more.  Successful abstracts will clearly indicate how the proposed paper contributes to the overall project of the journal and the objectives of the special issue.

To propose an article for inclusion in this special issue, please submit a 500-word abstract and a 2-page CV to its editors, Rebecca A. Adelman (adelman@umbc.edu) and David Kieran (dkieran@washjeff.edu), by May 15, 2016 for a decision by early June.  Draft manuscripts will be due January 15, 2017, and final manuscripts on June 1, 2017.  We also welcome queries in advance.

please don’t do this in my name, either

My name, apparently, has been besmirched again.   And so has yours, if you’re an American citizen.  198 more times, at least, once for each of the abuse photos released yesterday by the Department of Defense.  This is part of the logic underpinning the ACLU’s long struggle for the release of a large cache of photos documenting the mistreatment of prisoners by U.S. military personnel in Iraq and Afghanistan.  The common refrain is that Americans are entitled to know what kinds of harms have been perpetrated in our common name.  In turn, this implies that the photos have been released on my behalf.

And I don’t want that.  I have been arguing fowarningr years, in various ways, that Americans do not own these photographs, have no substantive entitlement to see them, no matter how incensed they might be by the content.  If anyone has a claim over these images, it is the people who are pictured within them.  Absent any indication that those people authorized the online release of these images, I don’t feel I have a right to see them.

This places me in a predicament.  I don’t have a right to see them, but I do feel an ethical (and intellectual) urgency to make a claim against this form of transparency, and in order to know what I’m talking about, I need to look.  And I have, and so exercised the same sort of sovereign authority – howsoever remotely – to exercise my interests, and felt obligations, over the rights of the detainees.  The choice not to look might be a principled one, but it doesn’t do anything to redress the harm either of the abuse itself or of the release of the photos.  In this way, by establishing looking and not-looking as functionally equivalent, the release of the photos nullifies them at the site of their reception, short-circuiting any politics of spectatorship.