Security and Violence: Risk and the Potential for Violence

The ugly scenes of Australian PM Julia Gillard and opposition leader Tony Abbott being whisked away has certainly captured the attention of journalists and commentators. I don’t have much to add to Ben Eltham’s piece in New Matilda except to point out that there is a slippage in the way these events are being discussed around definitions of ‘violence’.
Julie Gillard is reported as describing the event as ‘turning to violence’:

The Prime Minister said she respected the right to protest, but the activists went too far.
“What I utterly condemn is when protests turn violent the way we saw the way we saw the violence yesterday,” she said.

The AFP deals with ‘risks’ however. If they ever had to deal with actual violence, then they would largely have failed in their primary responsibility. This is not a criticism of the work of the AFP at all. Rather it is a description of their work in protecting Gillard and others. You can see the slippage here in this Daily Telegraph piece where the journalist describes it as a ‘violent clash’ but Assistant AFP Commissioner Outram describes the event in terms of an awareness of risk:

Assistant Commissioner Outram said police had begun an investigation into yesterday’s violent clash between police and protestors.
He said some activists could face charges of assault or breaching public order.
“The AFP are looking into whether criminal offences have been committed,” he said.
“And an investigation is underway.”
It’s believed the protestors arrived at the restaurant looking for Mr Abbott after an earlier comment about the Aboriginal tent embassy.
The protestors were angered that he may have wanted their unofficial settlement torn down.
Assistant Commissioner Outram said a risk assessment was conducted before Ms Gillard arrived at the restaurant and police had no reason to believe she was in any danger.
“And in our view when the Prime Minister arrived there was no significant risk,” he said.
“Before the Prime Minister arrived the risk was low.”

To give a better idea of this process of identifying and mitigating the impact of risks, here are some of Outram’s other comments (as reported in the Herald Sun):

“We had no information or reason to suspect there was going to be any problem,” he said.
Police officers had acted appropriately, he said.
“Our first priority yesterday was the security of the Prime Minister,” he said.
Asked whether the Lobby restaurant, which was near the tent embassy, was the most appropriate venue for the prime ministerial event, Mr Outram said: “The AFP doesn’t select the venues – we manage the risks around the venues.”
“The AFP members on the ground yesterday took a decision and formed a view there was a threat and a risk to the safety of the Prime Minister and it was essential to remove the Prime Minister from that threat and risk as quickly as possible and that’s what happened.”

There is a slippage here that collapses ‘threat’ (ie the risk of violence) with ‘violence’ without there being a question of whether or not there was any actual ‘danger’. This observer from the Canberra Times states it clearly:

Neither Julia Gillard nor Tony Abbott were in any direct danger from Aboriginal protesters yesterday, but those concerned for their security must be appalled that they were allowed to be put in the situation they were in.
After a brief siege, security personnel decided, probably rightly, that Gillard and Abbott should be removed from a scene which would probably not calm down and, might get worse. By now they had the advantage of having significant numbers of ordinary police also on the scene. These were quite capable of clearing a way for a dignified exit.
Instead, the appearance was given of the Prime Minister being used as a battering ram by a close security officer. It appears that Gillard’s loss of the horizontal owed more to her stumble and loss of shoe – and by the security officer’s retrieving her as she fell. Yet it – and the faces on some of those around – illustrate an appearance of panic and not of control.
At no stage did it appear that Gillard made contact with any protester, or that any lunged towards her.
The stumble was a function of the extrication , not crowd pressure.
Yet reasonably close behind the Prime Minister was Abbott – at no stage in any appearance of danger.
He was grinning, in what some will claim, probably unfairly, was Gillard’s discomfort. And around him were a number of police, had he been in any danger.

I am not commenting on the legitimacy of any actions by any party (police, protesters, politicians, etc.), what I emphasising is the way ‘risk’ as perceived by AFP staff on the ground was manifest, how this ‘risk’ became a ‘threat’, and how this ‘threat’ is reported in the news as ‘violence’.
It is a clear example of what Brian Massumi calls the ‘Birth of the Affective Fact’. There are a few version of this paper around, the link is to one online from a conference (edit: link fixed). In his discussion of the overlapping power relations of the mode of governmentality in the War on Terror and ‘security’ as a mode of governmentality, Massumi writes:

[T]he interaction of the modes of power in play are dedicated to managing threat to ensure security, for which there is no objective measure, any more than there is of a mood.
So what is an affective fact? The mechanism is quite simple:
Threat triggers fear. The fear is of disruption. The fear is a disruption.
The mechanism is a capacity that affect itself has to self-effect. Paradoxically, as with command, its self-effecting produces certainty, even when the trigger is the opposite, the looming uncertainty of ill-defined threat. You’re not left cringing, wondering what may come. As soon as there is any sign of threat, its most feared effects have already begun to materialize. If an elaborate security apparatus has already been put in place, drawing the state-of-the-art in disciplinary and biopolitical response, the nascent disruption can be nipped in the bud. The repercussions of the feared event have been controlled. The event as been preempted. Preemption is not prevention. Prevention corresponds to neoliberal Cold War politics. Preemption does not prevent, it effects. It induces the event, in effect. Rather than acting in the present to avoid an occurrence in the future, preemption brings the future into the present. It makes present the future consequences of an eventuality that may or may not occur, indifferent to its actual occurrence. The event’s consequences precede it, as if it had already occurred. It event remains virtual – future-past — but is real and present in its effects. The present reality of its effects mean that it can be responded to pragmatically all the while remaining virtual.
The best way for governmental action to get a handle on threat is to be ready for it by directing where its effects will be felt. This is the function of the alarm. The alarm signals the threat, triggering fear. This induces the affective time-slip that is of a piece with preemption. Governmental intervention in the security sphere is no longer corrective, but inductive — this time in the sense of inducing the event it to which it responds. The emission of signs of alarm become its instrument of choice.
Signing threat to induce fear to control its effects snatches certainty from the jaws of uncertainty. The security equivalent of the logical tautology is the certainty of the affectively self-fulfilling prophesy, falling on secured ground.

The AFP focuses on threats, and so they should! They seem to have no mind for disruption and the danger of disruption. I wonder if this is part of the training? There is a danger in the threat of disruption actualised in the threat presented by possible dangers.
It will be interesting to see how the AFP uses the language of affect in their investigation into these events, using words such as ‘mood’ and ‘feel’, and how this is constrasted with a post-hoc risk assessment in terms of the capacities of polie, the capacities of protesters, the probabilities of various forms of action, the shifting field of probabilities as various forms of action were taken and so on.

What is useful in After Finitude?

Levi has a new post up about temporality and objects. He writes this:

However, while I am deeply sympathetic to the processualists and consider myself a process ontologist– which I don’t take as being synonymous with being a Whiteheadian –this argument only follows if substances are three-dimensional as articulated above. If, in addition to spatial parts, objects also have temporal parts it follows that objects are not brute clods that simply sit still, but that in their endurance through time they are activities or processes.

The obvious point to make is that processes produce objects at various singular points of concrescence (eg condensation, etc). The process is not *of* an object, ie the duration is of relations in these processes and not parts of an object. It also follows if substances are not *in* objects, but in events, with objects being local manifestations of events. The only reason we even think in terms of objects at all is because this is the innate correlationism of human perception.

I agree to a certain extent with your reading of Derrida, but Derrida does not restrict deferral to objects and instead is concerned with the event that is forever actualised through differral (eg ‘to come’ etc.). Reading Derrida in terms of objects is a reduction.

From the physical sciences, water boiled in a closed environment, so all H20 molecules of the water turn into steam, is a version of the Ship of Theseus (SoT) argument. Is it the ‘same’ set of H2O molecules before and after boiling? Yes. So what has changed and for whom? There is no in-itself here. Maybe you don’t think water in such an experiment is an object?

The SoT is an event involving the ship, concept of a ship and a proper name ‘Ship of Theseus’. The comparable singular points for the SoT are predominately *social* in character, just as the examples of your own identity and the physiological seven year cycle. Singular points for identity include complex actualisations across socio-physiological assemblages, such as marriage, sex-change, civil rights changes to legislation, and death. Non-human assemblages are produced around the affective affordances that give them consistency as a kind of non-conscious pan-affectivism (as compared to a pan-psychism), such as the affective character of a planet’s geology and events of tectonic movement.

I’d be interested to see how you deal with creation, Levi. Is ‘creation’ possible in OOO? Is ‘creation’ for you a local manifestation of an object that doesn’t exist yet (ie quasi cause, and belonging to a parent event)? Or is it the local manifestation of a series of lower order objects that combine into a new object? If so, what is the temporality of ‘newness’ for this ‘new’ object then? If anything is useful out of After Finitude, which QM frames in terms of the question of temporality of being out of non-being, it is this question.

Heuristic of Passion: Michael Polanyi and Enthusiasm

I’ve been reading Michael Polanyi‘s book Personal Knowledge (1958). Some aspects of Polanyi’s work have been popular in organisational studies primarily due to his conceptualisation of ‘tacit knowledge’. I have been reading Polanyi’s work for the purposes of the article I am currently writing on an ‘economy of know-how’. Maybe I’ll write another post engaging with how organisational studies have used Polanyi’s ‘tacit knowledge’, at the moment I need to finish this article I am writing.

The subtitle of the book Towards a Post-Critical Philosophy indicates Polanyi’s general program of locating affirmation as a central element of the discovery and development of scientific knowledge. Indeed, instead of a heuristic of doubt or a suspension of belief, Polanyi argues for a heuristic of passion premised on belief. Although deployed in any number of occasions in his argument the character of passion is a given and is nearly always described in terms of its function. In those occasions where Polanyi does discuss the character of this passion it is largely through analogy with what he calls the inarticulate intellect of animals and also in the context of instinctual drives. Silvan Tomkins’s work on the ‘analog’ ontology of affect as compared to the ‘digital’ ontology of drives enables contemporary readers of Polanyi’s to explicate what Tomkins calls a “co-assembly of affects” as characterizing the motivational drive of the ‘passion’ he describes.

For Polayni, ‘intellectual passion’ is an integral element in the process of scientific discovery and development of scientific knowledge. He argues that “into every act of knowing there enters into a tacit and passionate contribution of the person knowing what is being known, and that this coefficient is no mere imperfection, but a necessary component of all knowledge” (329). The passion coefficient of knowledge is necessary for the process of discovery. In his discussion of explorers , Polanyi describes commitment to belief as an integral element of intellectual passion that is satisfied by discovery. The explorer enjoys a “daring anticipation of reality” (327). He isolates this as the creative dimension of scientific progress, and this creative dimension relies on ‘heuristic passion’:

“We have to cross the logical gap between a problem and its solution by relying on the unspecifiable impulse of our heuristic passion, and must undergo as we do so a change of our intellectual personality. Like all ventures in which we comprehensively dispose of ourselves, such an intentional change of our personality requires a passionate motive to accomplish it. Originality must be passionate.” (151)

Polanyi argues that the gratification of instinctual appetites (hunger, sex and fear) is a manner of verification. There is a parallel to intellectual passions in that “all passions animating and shaping discovery imply a belief in the possibility of a knowledge of which these passions declare the value” (183). That is, Polanyi suggests, a (not infallible) ‘competence’ of intellectual passions is to recognise truth. The satisfaction of intellectual passions is a kind of verification of discovery, as discovery “terminates the problem from which it started” and “leaves behind knowledge” (183). The knowledge is expressed as part of the ongoing development of an “articulate framework” (183).

He argues that the interpretative framework built upon previous discoveries is changed by future discoveries; hence it is “logically impossible to arrive [at future discoveries] by the continued application of our previous interpretative framework” (151). This insight is troubled, however, by his use of ‘recognition’ in the process by which problems are identified:

“To see a problem is a definite addition to knowledge, as much as it is to see a tree, or to see a mathematical proof—or a joke. It is a surmise which can be true or false, depending on whether the hidden possibilities of which it assumes the existence do actually exist or not. To recognize a problem which can be solved and is worth solving is in fact a discovery in its own right.” (127)

There is a contradiction of discovery based on ‘recognition’. This is not a question of mere semantics, but relates to the functioning of ‘intellectual passion’ itself. Useful here is Deleuze’s development of a post-Kantian philosophy of the Idea as essentially ‘problematic’ instead of ‘regulatory’. That is, without regulatory universality ideas become problematic, and ‘recognition’ in the way Polanyi discusses it here is no longer straightforward. Polanyi himself argues that radical manifestations of this process of breaking with conceptual frameworks dissolves a “screen” between us and things and in doing so dissolves the subjective into experience itself as a form of radical contemplation distinct to our normative experience of experience: “as observers or manipulators of experience we are guided by experience and pass through experience without experiencing it in itself” (209). Perception itself is co-assembled though experience…

Polanyi is primarily concerned with the freedom of intellectual passion necessary for scientific discovery. There is an “essential restlessness” of the human mind expressed through the scientist in terms of pondering new problems and discovering solutions to them (209), but it is not only the scientist that enjoys that satisfaction of discovery. The scientist, in Polanyi’s analysis, is concerned with the “natural order,” while another, for example, the technician or technologist, although working within a similar framework of discovery, has a far more focused heuristic passion.

“He follows the intimations, not of a natural order, but of a possibility for making things work in a new way for an acceptable purpose, and cheaply enough to show a profit. In feeling his way towards new problems, in collecting clues and pondering perspectives, the technologist must keep in mind a whole panorama of advantages and disadvantages which the scientist ignores. He must be keenly susceptible to people’s wants and able to assess the price at which they would be prepared to satisfy them. A passionate interest in such momentary constellations is foreign to the scientist, whose eye is fixed on the inner law of nature.” (188)

The constellation of interests organized around the focused heuristic passion of the technician is in part determined by the set of material advantages afforded by a technology; what Polanyi calls a technology’s “operational principle”: the rules by which a technology “teaches us actions undertaken for material advantages” if we “imputed [in the technologist] the purpose of achieving the consequence of this action” (186). My interest is in ‘know how’ which describes a form of knowledge that engages with such ‘operational principles’ and their material instantiation in a particular technological state of affairs. Unlike the knowledge of qualified technicians however, ‘know-how’ is the accumulation of partial understandings, but full appreciations of such “operational principles”. I call ‘enthusiasm’ the heuristic passion that is in-acted as a constituent element of the experience of discovering the operative principles of technology.

Creative Process of Events

Currently finishing off a paper titled ‘Towards an economy of know-how’ based on PhD work. Extending Negri and Hardt’s arguments regarding the subsumption of the social and the way the ‘general intellect’ is used as a resource from which to extract rent I explore how print magazines have lost their monopoly rentier position on know-how produced through the cyclical valorisation of products of know-how in cultures of enthusiasm.
Anyway, I found this footnote in my PhD. Yep!

With reference to an ‘Aristotelian logic’, Whitehead (1978: 61-82) critically summarises the ‘error’ of mistaking the potentiality of the extensive ‘time and space continuum’, which he agrees is very useful for everyday living, for the ‘reality’ of the ‘creative process’ of events. What Whitehead calls an ‘actual occasion’ (of a realisation in a spatiotemporal state of affairs) is a “limiting type of event”(80).

Goodbye to the News?

Nikki Usher‘s 2010 article in New Media & Society “Goodbye to the news: how out-of-work journalists assess enduring news values and the new media landscape” examines the goodbye letters, emails, speeches, columns and blog postings — “final musings” — of journalists who have been laid off, taken a ‘voluntary buyout’ or who have left the industry. Usher’s piece is somewhat polemical in tone at times, not that this is necessarily a problem, it just needs to be taken into account when digesting her arguments:

[A]ll these goodbyes reveal a silver lining – those that are being let go may be let go for business reasons, but they may also be the people failing to see the opportunities for new media and those who are unable to help newspapers be entrepreneurial in their attempts to come through the crisis they face. (924)

Usher analysed 31 ‘final musings’ as presented on the blog by Jim Romenesko. The terrific irony of this for anyone following the current state of journalism in the US is that Romenesko resigned from the Poynter Institute late last year after being accused of improper attribution by allegedly not using “quote marks” appropriately. The Romenesko blog was rebranded Romenesko+ and is now simply Media Wire. It is a brilliant example to use in my first lecture for my Online News unit this semester, in concert with Usher’s piece as a set reading, as we introduce and explore with students the role of ‘online news’ in the tensions of the current journalism industry.

Usher’s piece is a useful way to frame traditional understandings of journalism in the context of structural change. The analysis is useful for locating the prevailing culture of legacy print journalism in terms of the relation between individual experiences and the structural shifts that in part form their context. From a Foucaultian perspective Usher is isolating a ‘discourse event’ in the point of inflection between two discursive regimes and correlative compositions of power relations (dispositifs). Usher draws on Fredric Jameson’s conceptualisation of ‘nostalgia’ and Barbie Zelizer’s notion that rather than ‘profession’, US journalists should be understood as belonging to an ‘interpretive community’.

Usher’s use of Jameson’s ‘nostalgia’ begins with her arguing that journalists now work in a ‘post-modern news era’ (914). (What would be absolutely fascinating for me would be to revisit the so-called ‘Media Wars’ of the late-1990s in light of such a description. On the face of it, Keith Windschuttle and his ‘traditionalist’ supporters have lost.) She is mostly describing the shift Fordist modes of news production, which includes changes to reliable occupational routines of ‘newsroom’ work practices and changes to the status and function of the audience. The inherent double movement of Jameson’s nostalgia is that it is backwards oriented and forward directed. Nostalgia produces collective memories of the past while at the same produces a potential of a better future. The nostalgia of journalists, Usher suggests, also masks reality in that bias, corporate control and so on are not constitutive elements:

They are nostalgic for a time when journalism meant stability and economic security, and deeply believe that traditional print journalism contributed to democratic discourse and public service – masking the reality, perhaps, that their work may have helped sustain and perpetuate power structures. The old way of doing newspapers is threatened, and journalists are uncertain about the future. But significantly, they also fail to be forward-looking even as they are backward-looking: their nostalgia is self-limiting because it fails to produce a vision of the future that catapults traditional journalists into the new media world and new media economics. (923)

The current transformations to the legacy news industry serve as an example of what Zelizer calls the ‘interpretive community’. Usher writes:

Discourse about the changes in the news industry creates a discursive community of journalists. This, then, shapes shared meanings about the trials and tribulations journalists face and takes on the collective memory of ‘professional journalism’ in a pre-web, pre-blog, pre-newspaper slump era. (915)

Usher’s analysis is structured around four main areas of journalists’s discourse functioning as an ‘interpretive community’: 1) ‘Journalism as an ideal’ (916-9), 2) ‘New Media Economics’ (919-21), 3) confusion around what is being challenged or changed, mostly in terms of technology (921-2), and 4) a failure to be ‘forward thinking’ (923-5).

The basic tenets of journalism as an ideal are that journalism works in the public interest, it remains impartial, serves the voiceless and provides a crucial link in democracy (916). The ideal of journalism is to serve as ‘public service journalism’. Mark Deuze defines public service journalism as:

Journalists share a sense of ‘doing it for the public’, of working as some kind of representative watchdog of the status quo in the name of people, who ‘vote with their wallets’ for their services (by buying a newspaper, watching or listening to a newscast, visiting and returning to a news site). (447)

Deuze (2005: 448) notes that journalists can learn to have more responsive attitude to their ‘publics’ and therefore use this “age-old ideological value” as a wau to maintain the power relations of the status quo while learbing how to adapt to changing conditions. As Usher describes it, in the context of ‘prestige papers’ (such as the LA Times or New York Times), “these individuals want to reassert their claims to defining the public interest and determining what public service journalism is, rather than creating a more open conversation with a newly engaged audience of news producers and consumers” (917).

In the context of smaller, local newspapers this public service ideal is described in terms of a newspaper being a (more paternalistic than patronizing) ‘caretaker’ helping a public “interpret difficult ideas” and also sustaining local community by reproducing existing routines of newspaper communication and correlative power relations. Usher’s point is that this does not take into account those on- and off-line practices that reproduce ‘community’ that do not have the newspaper at the centre (918). Newspaper in general are seen to be arbiters of democracy in the idealized practice of highlighting the power relations that underpin existing governmental and market-based power relations. There was a general lament, Usher notes, that transformations to journalism are understood in terms of catering to the ‘market’ rather than ‘democracy’. ‘New media economics’ (and ‘new media technologies’) therefore become a threat to the democratic role of public service journalism. Political writer Michele Jacklin’s final column captures a sense of this when she writes, “As a substitute for hard news and insightful analysis, readers are served up a steady diet of splashy graphics, celebrity gossip and stories with the heft of cotton candy.”

In the Australian context, this tension between hard news and insightful analysis versus forms of content designed to increase website visitors and ‘hits’ is represented from the other side of the conflict by’s online news editor Hal Crawford in his commentary about the Australian Federal Government’s Independent Media Inquiry posted to

Real time data tell you exactly how popular a story is, and to maximise your audience size you need to weed out stories that no one wants to read. This kind of brutal treatment can be hard for an old school journalist to take.
Initially you may get upset that no one is reading the ‘important’ stories, but that arrogance fades quickly. Truly important stories rate. If some piece of news is going to change lives or become socially necessary or is just plain interesting, it gets traffic.

The NineMSN submission to the inquiry similarly seeks to problematise ‘quality journalism’:

The traditional view is that a key role for the news media is to be an independent monitor of government power and therefore quality journalism requires truth, accuracy and independence. We think it’s also important to acknowledge that that news media serves diverse roles. […]
For ninemsn the most important indicator of quality content is that it is trusted. Trust is the key concern for our news team because trust equates to brand reputation which drives of audience. […]
The traditional media are no longer small elite who serve as the gatekeepers of the news. Value in the digital news media is increasingly generated by interactions with users including the use of social media to provide commentary, share stories and drive traffic. News produced for digital platforms has to be a quality product if we want people to engage with our stories, to contribute their own insights and to participate in their dissemination.

The discourse surrounding ‘new media economics’ in Usher’s analysis is less important to my Online News unit this semester, but will be central to the second semester unit organised around ‘innovation’ and ‘entrepreneurial journalism’. The second semester unit is designed to prepare students for a more market-oriented, audience-driven form of journalism at the level of producing individual stories through to the level of creating standalone ‘online media enterprises’. Usher’s analysis notes that individual journalists generally take structural shifts personally, and see their respective departures as a failure of ‘owners’ or ‘Wall St’ to recognise talent. This is important in an educational context because ‘talent’ is still recognised, of course; it is more a question of the character of the ‘talent’ and of the mechanisms of ‘recognition’.

Jacklin’s comments are also interesting in the context of the socio-technical practices and technologies that Usher suggests will assist journalism. She lists a number of “recommendations as the possible salvation for traditional journalism’s problems: increased social networking, conections with the audience, more multimedia platforms, crowd-sourcing, better forums, flash-graphics, newspaper-hosted community blogs and hyperlocal reporting, to name a few” (922).

Lastly, Usher notes that the article odes not mean to say that other journalists are not reconsidering with the public and “are deeply engaged in trying to understand what such things as user-generated content, blogging, comment boards, data-mining, crowd sourcing and the like might mean for their newsrooms” (924-5). She ends with a provocative question: “to what extent are non-traditional journalists concerned with the discourse about traditional news values and the idea of what it means to be a journalist?” My response, shared with other educators, is to work on developing units that hope to empower students when they hit the job market.