what would 330 suicide car bombings look like?

Figure 1

Earlier this month, Critical Studies in Media Communication published my article on ISIS and infographic visual practice.

The article is part of a special issue, edited by the Mehdi Semati and Piotr M. Szpunar entitled “ISIS Beyond the Spectacle: Communication Media, Networked Publics, Terrorism.”  I was eager to contribute not only because Mehdi and Piotr sent me a very flattering invitation, but also because their project coheres with my methodological commitment to looking past the most obvious visual artifacts and practices of militarized violence.

Here is the abstract:

Compared to the more spectacular elements of its media repertoire—the slick recruitment campaigns on social media, the artfully composed battlefield footage, the grisly executions—I.S.I.S.’s infographics may seem dull, even trivial. Indeed, these data visualizations have gone largely unremarked, eliciting more bemusement than serious consideration. Against the tendency to discount these images, however, I argue that when I.S.I.S. turns toward charts and diagrams to represent its operations, it launches a stealthy but substantial epistemological challenge to media outlets that depict it as backward and irrational and rely on command of information as an index of Western power. Comparing infographics produced about I.S.I.S. and those produced by the group, I demonstrate that, despite their obvious differences, both types of infographics evince common preoccupations. Like Western news sources, I.S.I.S. creates infographics to map attacks, plot territorial gains, tally and categorize casualties, and track the types of weapons deployed. News media and I.S.I.S. infographics diverge primarily in their affective resonance, as similar information signifies in radically different ways. Ultimately, by producing and circulating these infographics, I.S.I.S. renders simultaneously renders itself more and less intelligible to outsiders: encapsulating its story while confounding prevailing representations as it weaponizes information.


the limits of style

New year, new post in Reading the Pictures – this time about a New York Times ‘Style’ section feature on fashion in South Sudan.  The images, I think, dramatize the necessity of seeing victims of militarized violence as more than victims of militarized violence; at the same time, they highlight the dilemma inherent in photos of survival, namely that they might license us to overlook suffering.

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.