Durham Geography Charlie Hebdo Event

February 10th, 2015

Today I spoke at a Durham Geography workshop on Charlie Hebdo organised by Angharad Closs Stephens

Here’s a summary of what I said:

1. The January attacks on Paris are representative of a form of violence that is urbanised. A form of urban insurgency that is increasingly common in cities around the world – Mumbai, Madrid, London, Boston, Nairobi. It exploits urban technologies/infrastructures – cars, rails, roads – and urban morphology – enclosed spaces, crowded spaces – for maximum effect. It is not new, but it’s effective. Military doctrine has warned of the complexity of urban space for a while, but this urban insurgency demonstrates a lack of effective response – partly because, as I will discuss in a minute, the proposed responses erode the core attributes of the urban environment that we value – freedom, plurality and so on.
2. Like all insurgency this violence is both symbolic and yet rational – metaphoric and yet practical. It adopts the logic of effects based warfare – the form of nodal targeting that was deployed in the shock and awe campaign of 2003. EBO is both communicative – sending a message to wider constituencies (governments, populations, supporters) – and yet tactically instrumental – exploiting urban technology and form to achieve force multiplication. Above all EBO is an affective form of violence, seeking to achieve a sensation of sudden arrest that will shatter routinised patterns of behaviour and thought. It is supposed to have a non-conscious effect on its audience.
3. We should recognise that this is not an urbicide in the sense of a deliberate attack on the fabric of the city in order to eliminate heterogeneity. Indeed, in a perverse way, we could argue that this is a violent attempt to stake the claim for plurality, to stake a claim for an antagonistic other to puncture the concensus about tolerance of offence. That said, this violence is related – in a roundabout fashion – to the urban counterinsurgency campaigns in Iraq, Afghanistan as well as Gaza. The widespread use of high explosives in civilian space and the massive military presences required to pacify complex urban terrain have, via the global media, played their own role in nurturing grievance and sharpening insurgent practice.
4. Our reponse is not promising. Too much of the discussion has focused on the transnational nature of terror. Of course training on the Syrian battlefields matters, but Lee Rigby shows that it is not necessary. To attribute the attacks to a shadowy network is to foreclose the uncanny sense in which these attacks are of the city not from beyond it. They are attacks borne out of grievances nurtured in what Mustafa Dikec has referred to as the ‘badlands of the Republic‘. The attacks are disquieting insofar as they are uncanny in Freud’s sense of disclosing the repressed grievance at the heart of western urban environments.
5. Finally, the militarisation of the physical and virtual infrastructures of the contemporary urban environment – the hardening of urban spaces and the increasing surveillance of the communications that are the substrate for the urban public realm will not, in the end, neutralise this type of violence. Rather they are a militarisation of everyday life that diminishes the very thing that #jesuischarlie calls for – a vibrant public disensus.

Critical War/Military Studies: A Workshop

May 8th, 2014

I am pleased to be able to announce details of a workshop I have organised to take place later this month – 29th May – at Newcastle University. The workshop highlights the important agenda of critical war and critical military studies. The workshop will highlight some of the excellent work being conducted in this growing field of study. Participants will discuss what it means to study to study war and the military critically and the issues and problems this entails. Email me (martin.coward@ncl.ac.uk) if you would like to attend.

The program for the workshop is as follows:

Continue reading Critical War/Military Studies: A Workshop»

Job Advert: Lecturer in International Politics – Newcastle University

January 30th, 2014

Newcastle University

Lecturer in International Politics

Newcastle University -School of Geography, Politics & Sociology


Grade F: £32,590 – £36,661 per annum

Grade G: £37,756 – £45,053 per annum (with potential progression to £50,688)

Closing Date: 14 March 2014

Applications are invited for a Lectureship in International Politics, based in the School of Geography, Politics and Sociology. You will join a growing Politics unit that is committed to achieving excellence in both research and teaching as demonstrated by our very strong performance in the most recent research assessment exercise and our outstanding National Student Survey scores.

Applications are welcome from candidates with an excellent record of published research or outstanding research potential in any area of International Politics. You will be expected to contribute to the teaching of our undergraduate and postgraduate programmes and to participate in the supervision of research postgraduates.

Informal enquiries may be made to the Head of Politics, Dr. Nick Randall, (tel: +44 (0)191 222 6997; email: nick.randall@ncl.ac.uk.

Further details  here: http://www.jobs.ac.uk/job/AIB738/lecturer-in-international-politics

Special Issue: Security and the Politics of Resilience

November 5th, 2013

Politics has just published a Special Issue on ‘Security and the Politics of Resilience’. The Special Issue is edited by James Brassett, Stuart Croft, and Nick Vaughan-Williams (Warwick University) and focuses on the nature and complexities of the concept of resilience. In recent years the concept of resilience has come to frame security discourses particularly – though not exclusively – in the UK context. Taken as whole, the volume focuses on the politics of resilience in diverse empirical settings and addresses questions such as: How we should understand resilience? What is stake in the rise of resilience? Who benefits from resilience and what are the political effects of its societal cultivation? The collection features an agenda for resilience research in Politics and International Relations, covering issues as diverse as cyber-security, international state-building, and the 2011 UK riots. Additionally, the Special Issue features an interview with leading resilience practitioner Helen Braithwaite OBE, head of the resilience and emergencies division of the UK government’s Department of Communities and Local Government. The volume will be free to access until February 2014 and can be accessed via this link: http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/ponl.2013.33.issue-4/issuetoc.

Table Of Contents follows: Continue reading Special Issue: Security and the Politics of Resilience»

Rights Fit For a Networked World

October 30th, 2013


photo: twicepix

I have written a new post on the politics of networked life for the Newcastle Politics Culture, Security, Identity blog at e-IR. In it, I look at the questions raised by the idea of a right to the internet and the way in which recent NSA spying has revealed the way in which our discussions about such rights are insufficiently developed. Here’s an excerpt:

The assumption of a right to connection and the reduction of discussion of its dimensions to practical concerns about access mask a deeper set of social and political dynamics. On the one hand, the conjunction of Facebook and the UN around a right to the internet shows the way in which the idea of a networked world has penetrated our thinking of contemporary global life. Life itself is no longer understood as individual, but rather as a constellation of relations. While relations with others have always been important, rights have generally been possessed by individuals thought of as single autonomous units of social and political life. However, the right to the internet reveals a different model of social and political life. Instead of individuals, we are nodes in networks (both physical and virtual – wires and relationships). Indeed, we can only achieve our full potential by connecting, that is by abandoning the idea of an autonomous individual and becoming enmeshed in the network.

As I have written elsewhere, in a networked world we cannot avoid being exposed virtually and physically: we are exposed to ideas and relationships; and we are exposed to a dependence on connecting infrastructures. Our life is characterised by being able to expose ourselves; to withdraw from exposure is to have no life at all. And yet there is little discussion of the politics of this exposure.

You can read the full piece here: http://www.e-ir.info/2013/10/29/rights-fit-for-a-networked-world/