ASA 2017

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This year, I organized a roundtable for ASA in Chicago:  “Dissenting from Liberal Orthodoxies: A Conversation on Hidden Violences and Unexpected Forms of Resistance.”  I’m really excited to see it come to fruition after months of planning.  Also, I’m really excited that it’s snowing.

hot off the (electronic) presses: my new article on “security glitches” is now available …

… in Science, Technology, & Human Values!  The full title is “Security Glitches: The Failure of the Universal Camouflage Pattern and the Fantasy of ‘Identity Intelligence.'”  The article is available here.

If you’d like to read the abstract beforFigure 2e you click:

Focusing on the paradoxes revealed in the multibillion dollar mistake of the Universal Camouflage Pattern (UCP) and the expansive ambit of a leaked National Security Agency briefing on its approach to “identity intelligence,” this article analyzes security glitches arising from the state’s application of mechanized logics to security and visibility. Presuming that a digital-looking pattern would be more deceptive than designs inspired by natural forms, in 2004, the US Army adopted a pixelated “digital” camouflage pattern, a print that rendered soldiers more, rather than less, visible in the field; it acknowledged this error in 2012. Two years later, “Identity Intelligence: Image Is Everything” visualized the episteme of National Security Agency surveillance with an illustration detailing hundreds of different types of data—biometric, biographic, and contextual—that the agency believes it could exploit to identify and monitor “targets of interest.” These glitches originate in technofetishistic convictions about the nature of digital images and information, limited ways of imagining bodies and lives, and reductive understandings of complex relationships between power and perception. Together, they expose the paradoxes that arise as the state tries to extend its power over the body and the contingency of that power on the smallest of things.

And then I became the person who critiques Sesame Street …

… And I don’t know what to think about that.  But nonetheless I’m looking forward to presenting my research on the webites Sesame Street for Military Families and Military Kids Connect at Console-ing Passions later this week.  Along with Stacy Takacs, Dave Kieran, and Colleen Glenn, I’ll be on a panel entitled “Constituting the Soldier Subject: Masculinity, Militarism, and Family Life.”  My paper, “Stress Monsters and Feeling Flowers: Gender, Innocence, and Affective Pedagogies in Media for Military Families,” considers the competing visions of military childhood and family life operative in SSMF and MKC.

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so my own words were gnawing at me …

In a new post for Reading the Pictures, Wendy Kozol and I reflected on the in/visibility of gendered and racialized trauma that structures the surveillance footage of Diamond Reynolds and her daughter in the back of a police car.   As we were exchanging drafts, Wendy and I noted that we were both feeling somewhat uneasy about the image archive on which we were relying.

I’ve long been concerned with questions of ethics in scholarship on visual culture, and tried a number of times to write  my way through them.  In particular, I’ve written about the ethics of reproducing and analyzing wartime atrocity or casualty photos, and argued against the perceived “right” or “duty” of academics to utilize such images in any way they see fit.  Such claims of ownership, I contend, instrumentalize the images and objectify the people within them.  I’ve never suggested that scholars shouldn’t research or publish about them (though I do think about how my own career, doing that very thing, depends in a remote but ineluctable way, on the misery of others).  But I’ve questioned the methods and assumptions underpinning those actions, and especially criticized the tendency to reproduce photos of people taken on (what I imagine to be) the worst days of their lives, without their consent.

So my own words were gnawing at me, then, as I worked through the video of Diamond Reynolds and her daughter, squinting at surveillance video of them on what was very likely the worst day of their lives.  Going second by second, artificially freezing the image, then reproducing single frames as grainy black-and-white stills … all these actions seemed to me like a kind of violence that could not be readily reduced to the categories of ‘epistemic’ or ‘representational.’  There was something deeply unsettling about the process of detaching the a single image from its accompanying audio, and from the moments that preceded and followed it.

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This situation different from that of the wartime atrocity photos that I’ve written about elsewhere, in that Reynolds herself apparently welcomed spectatorship of the video; her lawyer indicated that she felt strongly about enabling the public to witness this trauma. But I find myself conflicted, still, wondering about the role of the academic in that witnessing.  Wendy and I worked hard to historicize the video, and to consider the complexities that might attend its reception.  We wrote, in short, about all the factors–cultural, political, and visual–that might keep it from speaking for itself.  In the process, of course, of revealing the work that the image could have done or was kept from doing, we added another layer of mediation, in the paradoxical hope that it might somehow make the image appear more clearly.