Category Archives: Cultural Studies

Initial Conclusions on Public Resistance to the TSA

This serves as a quasi research update. The current dissertation chapter I am working on studies public resistance to the TSA by tracking public and official discourse about videos passengers have shot of their screening process. You can see an example of one such video here. In this video a women claims to have been detained by the TSA, and forced to miss her flight because of her attitude towards the TSA. I have yet to assess the veracity of this video.

One important trend among the videos in my study is that many of them claim in captions, blogs, and stories to show malfeasance on the part of the TSA while there was none or there was inappropriate actions taken by both agents and the passenger. I point this out because as stories of the heavy handed TSA circulate; critiques of the agency must be grounded in actual policy disagreements and agent malfeasance, not a mythos of rumored misdeeds. For example, a widely circulated video claims to show a young child being strip searched by the TSA at Salt Lake City International Airport. In reality, the child’s father took of the child’s shirt in an attempt to expedite the process. I am, by no means, trying to buffer the TSA from criticism, but my research points to a pernicious degree to which videos of this type are often said to show one thing even when they mean another. That said, a number of videos and stories exist that document instances of questionable actions by the TSA.

I offer seven preliminary conclusions based on what my research has found so far. This reads as some tough-love for TSA critics. Please do not assume I am fawning for the TSA, I have much to say to them as well.

1. The larger issue with TSA critics is that they argue privatization is the solution. Why is corporate surveillance preferred to State?

An undercurrent within critiques of the TSA is a specifically anti-government anti-big brother sentiment. Given the TSA’s techniques of surveillance (I discuss their surveillance technology in my dissertation’s previous chapter and their rituals and performances of surveillance in the next chapter), concern over surveillance is not unfounded. However, while I freely admit state surveillance is problematic I cannot accept that corporate surveillance is necessarily a better outcome. First, even in places where the TSA is using private companies to perform security screenings they use the same procedures as the TSA. Nothing has changed and it is unlikely that most consumers or the government would want to relax security restrictions any time soon. Second, a profit motive adds alternative drives for monitoring and data collection. These are different from the state’s desire to watch our bodies but are nonetheless disconcerting.

2. Absent a successful legal challenge, what would motivate Congress to dismantle the TSA?

This issue comes down to a basic burden of proof. The TSA has a remarkable safety record. How do we know that? We don’t. As long as the agency can show an effective record in securing our air infrastructure without large scale resistance from political moderates there is little political will to change the TSA’s mandate. Additionally, many assert the TSA is unconstitutional. While there are legal challenges underway, critics must become more nuanced than to claim it is unconstitutional because I say so. Knowing your rights is absolutely critical, but knowing them as the law defines them is more important than how you think the law ought to define them.

3. Those who call everything the TSA does security theater ignore the agency’s ability to cope with real threats & post 9/11 innovations.

Since 9/11 airport security has undergone a massive change in it techniques for securing our air transportation infrastructure. That said, the TSA is not an impenetrable wall of security and critics have taken to calling its efforts security theater to claim it is more about creating the appearance of security than actual security. I offer a more substantive critique of this in my research, not that I wholly dismiss it but I offer an alternative read. That said, some techniques that have been added post 9/11 may offer more advantages to the screening process. That does not make them inherently good, but it does mean critics need to be more nuanced than it is all security theater. Also, that does not mean the TSA should have unlimited fiat. The conversation must cease to be all or nothing.

4. Critics can’t claim the TSA violates their constitutional rights & demand the agency violate the Equal Protection clause.

Again, the TSA’s actions are not unconstitutional simply because you say so. I am fully sympathetic that most frustrations with the TSA begin with a simple premise: I pose no risk to this flight so why should I face any added scrutiny? However, your knowledge that you pose no risk and the TSA’s appraisal of you are two very different things. Moreover, many critics argue for implementing racial profiling. Not only does this violate the equal protection clause (note the irony for angst about constitutional violations) but it ignores the insurgent and adaptable tactics of terrorism as a technique for violence making.

5. Both critics & the TSA must cope with the fact that threats innovate, thus children, the elderly, etc become attractive means for terror.

This may seem redundant with the previous point, however, the people and means by which threats are brought to airports and aircraft are malleable. This is why profiling is ineffective.

6. While criticizing the TSA critics need to, at some point, address the number of weapons routinely found at checkpoints. Threats persist.

I am fascinated by the number of reports of handguns found by the TSA each week. You should follow @TSAblogteam on twitter if you don’t already. While the strange items they find attract the most attention, the number of weapons they find as a matter of course is surprising. While there is an argument to be made that these can be found without enhanced pat downs and whole body imaging technology, or without the TSA altogether, something is driving the desire to arm the friendly skies. As a side not, I am not saying guns are inherently bad.

7. We need robust discourse about the TSA across our society and it’s value in securing our transportation infrastructure.

We are just passing the ten-year anniversary mark for many airports ramping up their TSA operations. TSA security has become a fixture in contemporary American airports and they largely dictate how we fly. The conversation about the TSA has been largely driven by official PR work, a scattering of news stories dictated by that PR work and by legitimate issues within the TSA, and by a great many critics who trend towards the hyperbolic rather than the substantive.

A polarized debate driven by the issues I have identified above is rather unproductive. For example, those who argue that the TSA is “proudly molesting grandma’s & little kids since super-lez napolatino took office” delegitimize resistance. Aside from the personal attacks and the hate speech. I point to this tweet in particular because of the continued, and perplexing, argument that the TSA is associated somehow with advancing a homosexual agenda (See here & here). Whatever that argument means. Critics of the TSA need to engage with the agency in less hostile, personal, and hyperbolic ways that make use of material harms and congressional channels. Such efforts can maximize passenger angst and moderate dissatisfaction over fringe anti-state assumptions and hostile rhetoric.


Leave a comment

Filed under Cultural Studies, Research, Rhetoric, TSA, Uncategorized

What are We Supposed to Do With Student Evals Anyway?

This post is not to exalt evaluations as the pinnacle of student assessment. First, the hunt for great evaluations sped on by grade inflation and student pressure for good grades can negotiate a tacit contract between instructors and students-a kind of quid pro quo agreement. Second, response rates are notoriously low on student evaluations and often the two types of students who complete evaluations are those most & least satisfied with our ourses. This leads to a Janus-faced discourse that is unhelpful to instructors. Third, student evaluations are always already burdened by systems of patriarchy and racism and exist to support systems of white, male, heterosexual privilege. For example, see this excellent annotated bibliography on Gender and Student Evaluations. The race, gender, and age of the instructor prejudices student perceptions of instructors before they ever begin to teach.

Moreover, even beyond these factors, subject expertise does not always translate to expert teaching. Meaning that the most qualified person to deliver content to students is not always the best at that task–so we should not assume that poor evaluations automatically assumes that learning is not occurring. Also, to some degree, evaluations are a test of the affective response lingering by students towards the instructor, instructors who may come off as misanthropes at times, may be great in the classroom and are not perceived that way by students.

Feel free to skip the breakdown below and jump to the tips on reading evals at the very end.

Watching my inbox, twitter, & Facebook feeds it seems it is student evaluations time now that the semester has come to a close. Student evaluations make for tricky reading for instructors because they are documents that can have some weight on current and/or future promotion, retention, or job prospects. Also, no matter how much we urge and desire student feedback during our classes, many students use evaluations, for a variety of reasons, rather than talking to instructors directly about their experiences in a class.

I know many of my peers and myself, especially those of us early in our careers, are eager to see student feedback for a number of reasons. Because of that urge, I want to explore the usefulness of qualitative student feedback on course evaluations.

First, we want to know about major flaws in our course design. This is a genuine desire: was a unit particularly unhelpful? Was a unit too easy? Was an assignment particularly unclear? Grade data can help provide this information, but the evidence is particularly damming when it corresponds to student feedback.

Second, teaching is a deeply performative art. Students often provide feedback on our personality. This can be painful to read. We learn the good and the bad. It was in course evals that I learned I like to make a fist and pound on the white board when I get fired up about a topic. It is also here, that we can learn that we are communicating things to our students we never intended. For example, from time to time students will report on my course evaluations that I am intimidating, arrogant, or difficult to approach. I struggle with this description, not because I lack the capacity to be arrogant, intimidating, and difficult to approach, but because I work hard in the classroom to craft a persona the is open and approachable–even begging students to visit me during office hours if they have questions, or by lingering after class to speak with students and arriving early to chat informally with students. Moreover, I know this is a performative issue because the students I develop deeper relationships with describe me in much different terms.

Third, evaluations are these bizarre blind exercises. There is this deep temptation to try and figure out who said what about you. Sometimes you have a sense about which student said what by their tone and writing style, particularly if the semester demanded you attend to their writing in detail. This may be the most consumptive and least useful part of reading student evaluations. When I was a young boy I heard a story about my grandfather; who was a minister in a Presbyterian church in Florida. Each year the congregation would take an anonymous vote to retain or dismiss him. Each year the vote would be something like 68-2. For the rest of the year my grandfather would relentlessly obsess over who the two people were that sought to cast him away. I wonder with some irony, if we engage in those same exercises. It is as if we tell ourselves: If I can correlate the negative comments with students who performed poorly, perhaps I can excuse their force. Even though that means we may be dismissing a very important correlation, a student’s poor experience and their poor outcome may be crucially related.

How, then, do we use qualitative feedback on student evaluations?

First, the feedback will be personal, but don’t take it that way. One semester is a snapshot in your career and teaching is an act of becoming. It is a work in progress, not a reflection on who you will always be.

Second, no comment in isolation merits significant change, but every comment can, and perhaps should, generate reflection. If one student says assignment expectations were unclear, then perhaps they were to them. If four or five evaluations say that, it may be time to revisit that assignment’s description. Especially if those comments correlates with the class’ average score on that assignment.

Third, even when statements correlate, that does not mean that that you need to take action. I have four years of student evaluations that suggest that the reading material in my classes at the University of Utah is too difficult (not every eval says this, but about six students per class will say this). I recognize that many of the readings I assign push at my students. However, I have yet to find a case where the difficulty of the readings was the cause of a lack of student success. Does that make my class hard? Yes. Demanding? Yes. Will I ease up on my syllabi? No. In this case I recognize the triangulation on evaluations, but see the educational merit in reading difficult, but applicable, material for the educational opportunities it offers. Moreover, I have not chosen the material just to be difficult, it simply happens that when you deal with complex and abstract ideas you need complex and abstract readings. In essence, even when students routinely object, if you have taken a principled stand, don’t let evaluations pressure you into backing down. I have recently started sharing some of the thoughts on difficult readings & reading difficult theory collected by Robert W. Gehl with my classes and I saw less of those comments this last semester, you can find his thoughts here.

Please share your thoughts on course evals, as a student, instructor, or interested/apathetic party below or with me via twitter @acaguy


Filed under Cultural Studies, Feminisms, Grad School, Teaching

Rape Culture, Rape Prevention, & Masculinity

This was an invited talk at Your Community Center in Ogden, UT on April 14, 2012 to address the connection between masculinity, rape, & culture during a Take Back the Night event. They titled the presentation “How Not To Be a Rapist,” which I was not entirely comfortable with but working off that theme I addressed the need for to intervene in boys male teens, and men’s lives as part of rape prevention strategies. [Apologies for the poor sound quality]

1 Comment

Filed under Cultural Studies, Feminisms, news and Culture, Rhetoric

TSA Agent Nabbed in Child Porn Sting, Fear of TSA Increases

Consumerist, owned by Consumer Reports, keeps a healthy eye on the TSA and picked up this story by the Boston Herald that a TSA Agent was among the 55 individuals caught in a child pornography sting. Consumerist reports:

The Transportation Security Administration keeps getting hit with scandal after scandal — from thieving agents to employees with ridiculous demands, or those who leave creepy notes in passengers’ bags. And now, in an even ickier development, a TSA agent who worked at Boston’s Logan International Airport has been nabbed as part of a sweeping child pornography crackdown.

Now this entire issue is somewhat ridiculous, I say that because the TSA is being spotlighted while the employment status of the other 54 people arrested has not been released. Thus, it is easy to see how this story plays into TSA paranoia while others being charged could have had more direct and regular contact with children and the general public. That said there is some interesting material to explore here.

This article is fascinating for its link into the inherent anti-TSA paranoia propagated across the web. There are two tones of criticism of the TSA present in this story: one useful and the other that contributes to the ongoing conspiratorial rhetoric against the TSA.

The Boston Herald notes:

Periodic arrests of TSA agents on sex charges across the nation have fueled criticism of the agency’s screening of its own employees, tasked with patting down the traveling public and keeping the airways safe. At least two other TSA officers assigned to Logan have faced sex charges in the past two years. Sex charges against others have been reported in Virginia, New Hampshire, Nevada, Georgia and other states

While, The Boston Herald fails to establish any basis for knowing if this case, and these other periodic cases, when contextualized among the 50,000 TSA officers who have regular contact with the public. It is nonetheless important to consider the standards, or lack thereof, used in hiring and training TSA employees. Given my own research into the TSA’s use of pat-downs and performances of bodily contact, it does suggest that for jobs that regularly require rituals of bodies in contact more clarity of hiring standards could be needed. That said, it would be mistaken to assume that more stringent hiring standards would have automatically precluded this person from being hired by the TSA.

Having said there are legitimate concerns, the standard anti-TSA talking points come in full force in the comments section of the two publications. For example, “Cowboyesfan” wonders “Could looking at the porno scanners all day long have caused this?” “Toadboy65” offers a cogent explanations, “What kind of people do you expect to apply for a job where you are required to fondle people of all ages all day…” and an anonymous poster at the Herald asked “Was he strip searched like all the good TSAs do to the flying public?”

While ignorant internet comments are nothing new (understatement of the decade), discourse of this type shows the disconnect between public discussions of the TSA and the actual TSA itself. As long as this gap persists and the public is lodged in a paranoid vision of the TSA as a mass of pedophiles desiring to see and feel nude bodies, constructive criticism of the agency is unlikely to emerge.

Leave a comment

Filed under Cultural Studies, Rhetoric, TSA

#Kony2012: Rhetoric of Retribution & Refusing to Address Incisive Criticism [Updated]

[Update] Via @KirtWilson on twitter USA Today is reporting on the first screening of the Kony 2012 in Uganda has lead to a disastrous response from Ugandans. Criticism was immediate and harsh. They report:

If people in those countries care about us, they will not wear T-shirts with Joseph Kony for any reason… That would celebrate our suffering.

You can see Al-Jazeera’s report on the screening below that ended in the crowed throwing rocks at the screen and scattering into the night. One viewer explains, “These are all white men, these are villains different from northern Uganda.” Clearly not the reception Invisible Children desired.


Kony Founders and Maturity Via my twitter account @AcaGuy I have been following the huge viral spread of the Kony 2012 video and the controversy that has surrounded the Invisible Children organization since the film’s release.

The 30 minute film, to its credit offers a compelling narrative that seems geared to a social media generation and aimed at getting audiences in high schools and colleges who screen Invisible Children’s films on the topic to passionately engage with, and care deeply about, stopping Kony.

After the video was released Invisible Children faced a firestorm of criticism and even felt the need to release a second video defending their organization:

The video ends on the right note, perhaps, “There is one thing that everyone agrees on and that is that Joseph Kony Should be stopped.”

As you may notice the video does take on some of the substantive criticisms of the group while simultaneously adding more fodder for some of the core critiques of Invisible Children.

Ben Keesey talks directly about the companies finances and attempts to take on the critique that roughly only a third of donations go to direct action. He emphasizes that about 87% of donations go to their mission and emphasizes their three fold mission:
1) They are a media company that makes people care about Kony
2) They ask for advocacy so that people contact their government
3) The organization is taking direct action on the ground in Uganda

The central issue here is that they are calculating their percent of donations on mission to include their media production budget and roadshows which dominate their finances and those efforts do very little to actually answer the question of how this stops Kony. They say they make “compelling movies and films” to create a narrative to get investment from people so they get involved and contact their government. However, with few answers on what more international action looks like (for them military intervention) there is little to suggest that these efforts achieve much success or make use of local resources. In fact, the only part of the response video that makes much of an impact is when they actually give a chance for local voices to be heard (despite their constant use of subtitles even when these voices speak in clear english). We can diagram the problem with Invisible Children’s model rather succinctly (borrowing from South Park):
1) Launch Massive Expensive Media Campaigns Making Movies and Films
2) ???????????
3) Stop Kony

A second more troubling critique of Kony 2012 has been its mobilization of the white man’s burden. One Ugandan blogger provided a fairly direct critique of Invisible Children’s outdated information and desire to go to Uganda and fix their problems:

Her argument is well articulated and ignored in the response by Invisible children. All of this comes to the main substantive critique of Invisible Children and their desire for (military) intervention in Uganda and in the search for Kony in neighboring African countries:
1) Why is it their job to solve this issue?
2) Who are they to dictate how Ugandan’s deal with their internal politics?
3) What drives their need to go elsewhere, ignoring the needs of the invisible children in their neighborhoods and communities that need help as well?
4) What was so bankrupt in Keller’s life that he had to travel the globe to find meaning for his life.

Some of the answer may lie in the colonizing and paternalistic discourse dripping from their campaign rhetoric and personal narratives of discovering Kony as the uncivilized other that must be stopped by the white knight. As Jezebel describes Keesey’s moment of conversion, he:

turned down a cushy job at a big accounting firm after he graduated from UCLA because he was so “deeply moved” by the low-production value of an earlier Invisible Children video that he just had to join in the fight to defeat Joseph Kony’s fading Lord’s Resistance Army”

Keesy needs to solve this problem because it is easier to deal with problems there than here and as has been pointed out by a mass array of critics, notably Visible Children, Invisible Children does this through a systematic oversimplification of the situation in Uganda. Be sure to check out the video, read up on Invisible Children, and ask questions. Keensey even says he is answering questions via twitter so shoot questions @Invisible #askICanything and maybe he will answer you. Anything can happen.

Leave a comment

Filed under Cultural Studies, Rhetoric

The Limits of Argumentative Reason: Rhetoric Advocating War with Iran

Last August my colleague Nicholas A. Russell at CSU Long Beach and I presented a paper at the 17th Biennial Conference on Argumentation held in Alta, Utah. That paper titled “Dangerous Desires: The Limits of Argumentative Reason in Public HIV/AIDS Health Campaigns,” was subsequently published in the conference proceedings Reasoned Argument and Social Change. In the essay we undertake a sustained attack on the usefulness of reason and rationality as a mechanism for judgement in contemporary argumentation. While historically reason has long been the standard of proper debate, we find ample reason to find it suspect. In our essay we draw upon a group of men who intentionally contract HIV/AIDS as a case study for the failing of rationality in typical AIDS prevention discourse aimed at this population.

Our argument suggests that reason should be subject to increased criticism for several reasons. First, drawing from Deleuze and Guattari we argue:

“Reason,” they argue, “is only a concept, and a very impoverished concept for defining the plane and the movements that pass through it” (Deleuze and Guattari, 1994, p. 43). For them, reason is a problematic concept because of its association with state politics: “realized reason,” they argue, “is identified with the de jure State” (Deleuze and Guattari, 1987, p. 375). Reason is summoned to serve the interests of State politics, which in turn erase subjectivities (and desires) that are at odds with the state.(Russell and McHendry 640)

Reason is controlled by the state and the state, almost always, comes to determine what is and is not reasonable. We offer instead an alternative concept for understanding argumentative disputes: desire. We argue:

In its place, Deleuze offers a version of ethics based in the question: What modes of living do they facilitate? As such, by centering desire, as opposed to reason, we can see that bug chasers would avoid the question of “‘What must I do?’ (which is the question of morality) but rather… How can I go to the limit of what I ‘can do’?” (Smith, 2007, p. 67). In essence, this line of thinking asks what the body is capable of but these ways of living do not “depend on an object or belong to a subject” they are ways of living (Deleuze, 2001, 26). (642)

Desire offers the ability to trace out competing ways of living in an array of conflicting ethics in a complex world. Moreover, because desires are multiple, contradictory, and can overlap it allows for more ability to clash than chasing a singular definition of reasoned argument.

It seams clear, sadly, that many in both the professional right and left are beating the drum of war with Iran. As Israel increases its posturing (and feelings of legitimized threats from Iran) the U.S. seems poised to, perhaps, enter into another conflict in the Middle East. Given our over commitment of defense resources abroad and the fragile state of our recovery another military engagement hardly seems rational, but Iran has long been a target of desire: A rogue state, part of the axis of evil, and a budding nuclear power. Iran makes the perfect target for the United States of America to desire a conflict with. Its status as a stable state makes up for all of the inadequacies over the muddled and complex conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Underscoring the difficulty of using reason as a standard for assessing the drum beat of war with Iran is this exchange between Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Martin Dempsey and Rep. Tom Price (R-GA):

The central point of contention is whether or not Iran is a rational actor. Price is “stunned” and requests that Dempsey support his assertion. Dempsey offers a few bits of argumentation: (1) “The alternative is that we attribute to them that their actions are so irrational that they have no basis of planning.” (2) “The key is to understand how they act and not trivialize their actions by attributing to them some irrationality.” (3) “I don’t understand their rationality but I’m not them.” Price interjects “You believe it to be rational on their part to seek nuclear weapons?” Dempsey responds, “Absolutely not on my terms?”

Here we have a beautiful case study in the failing of rationality and the exercising of desire. Dempsey is expressing the limits of an official statist view of rationality being applied to Iran. Stated simply, viewed from the perspective of the interests of the United States of America there is no way to call Iran’s actions rational, but to force those standards upon them as a weighing mechanism for military action runs the risk of trivializing “their actions by attributing to them some irrationality.” Price clearly wants to have a singular view of rationality, his, and is stunned that any other standard of argumentation would be applied to considering military action with Iran.

Here is where desire is important. We can trace Price’s desire to see Iran as irrational, Dempsey’s desire to recognize them as a rational military actor, Iran’s desire to become a military actor, and so on all coming out as this conversation begins to cycle up in the public domain. Each actor is exercising multiple sets of desires, desires that likely are driven by a savage bloodlust and could end in military conflict, but we should be clear that any outcome is unlikely to be rational-what ever that means.

Price’s failure is not his desire to see Iran as irrational or for war with Iran if that is his true desire. The mistake is to expect a single standard of rationality to be a demarkation of the proper in contemporary argumentation.

Leave a comment

Filed under Cultural Studies, Deleuze, Rhetoric

The Becoming-Nomad of the #Occupy Movement

This post is the second in a series of three using some concepts from the work of Deleuze and Guattari to chart some lines of flight through the #Occupy movement.

I want to deal directly here with the tension between sedentary ways of living and the figure of thought of nomadic resistance. Deleuze and Guattari argue that nomadic resistance exists outside, beyond, and in excess of the State and as a result poses a threat to the stability of the State and has the ability to make social relations otherwise. In this post, I argue that there is a dangerous tension at work between the desire in the occupy movement for sedentary territories (encampments across the country) and their mobilized potential as a nomadic war machine that can escape the reach of the state by avoiding remaining sedentary.

Let’s begin by addressing the central problematic of all of culture summed up in one remarkable word: difference. Despite our claims to the contrary, culture is not homogenous and we cannot get over or ignore difference, there is no post-race, post-class, post-sexist (this list could be so much longer) society to get to. Culture is a
heterogenous play of forces that struggles to negotiate flows of power
through and over difference. The occupy movement is one of many social movements to struggle over the way power has been distributed across
nodes of difference.

The force of their visibility comes from the State’s inability to process or create strategies to deal with the #Occupy movement in any successful way. It is a movement that emerges and reproduces like a rhizome and seems to make about as many demands as a rhizome. From the perspective of the State the movement must appear altogether perplexing. Take for example Deleuze and Guattari’s stringing of
Nietzsche and Kafka together to describe the sudden appearance of
nomads in the city:

“‘They come like fate, without reason, consideration, or pretext…’ ‘In some way that is incomprehensible they have pushed right into the capital. At any rate, here they are; it seems that every morning there are more of them.'” (Deleuze and Guattari, A Thousand Plateaus, 390

We can see that the bewilderment Deleuze and Guattari pick up from
Nietzsche and Kafka is likely remarkably similar to that found in the
stammering rush to justify State aggression and evictions of
protestors from their camps. The encampments in Zuccotti Park and in
Oakland, and so on, were simply not going away. At the start of the occupy movement folks smugly gave it a few days, then a week or two, then the eviction of Zuccotti would put a stop to this mess, and yet here we are and “every morning there are more of them.” However, the movement’s identity in its twitter hash tag #ows and its sense of belonging to community formed in places like Zuccotti represents its greatest liability. #OWS cannot risk becoming a sedentary movement and let the State dictate the boundaries of its cultural expression. it
cannot afford to have its identity dictated for it by geographic boundaries, instead it must reticulate the mate retrial force of those

Let’s parse out two terms. States are striated sedentary ways of living that plant roots and hierarchies, chains of command deliver official pronouncements that use centrifugal force to compel bodies to the center of structures of power. The nomad is cast out from the State, wandering beyond recognized culture, beyond recognition at times. Yet, they can traverse vast amounts of space and arrive in the
city “like fate, [seemingly] without reason.” The nomad is at war with
the State because they refuse to have their bodies subjected to inherently unequal systems of human relations.

Now to be clear, the majority of the folks who enter the #OWS movement
are not nomads, either in the traditional or in the Deleuzian sense. However, they are experiencing what Deleuze might call a becoming-nomad. That is to say that these geographically dispersed movements are sharing an intellectual, affective, and aesthetic
experience that need not be tied to any one place to make war with economic inequality and injustice despite geographic distances and to, at times, gain power and force because of those distances. The danger is that the movement cannot become a sedentary one. The last week has revealed some troubling questions about the exercise of free speech and protest in the United States. The clashes between police and protestors are doubly heartbreaking because they are avoidable and they have the potential to shift the conversation from income
inequality to protest rights. To be clear, we need both conversations, there is no doubt about that. However, if this movement, that is a kind of becoming-nomad, gets consumed with its right to this territory or that territory it ceases to make war with the economic injustice it
seeks to battle in the first place.

None of this is to say give up on Zuccotti or any of the other encampments, Deleuze reminds us to always have a small plot of land,
for without it we may lose our sanity. However, the occupation of these places is a tactic of confrontation that enables a making of war against economic injustice and cannot exhaust the creativity, energy, resources, and bodies of the movement. That is the strategy of the State and is the status quo. “Invest in defending your space. Pay your legal fees, pay for goods to protect you from our riot gear. Pay your taxes to buy our riot gear.” When these movements march in the lines the State provides it has become a sedentary movements and it’s creativity has been folded back into the desires of the State. At
that point little large scale social action seems plausible. All of this assumes, of course, that the becoming-nomad of #OWS can achieve some plausible social change if it presses on through the cold winter months.

Leave a comment

Filed under Cultural Studies, Deleuze, news and Culture