Academic journal article Alternatives: Global, Local, Political

A Model for Homeland Defense? the Policing of Alterglobalist Protests and the Contingency of Power Relations

Academic journal article Alternatives: Global, Local, Political

A Model for Homeland Defense? the Policing of Alterglobalist Protests and the Contingency of Power Relations

Article excerpt

This article analyzes the policing of the protest against the Free Trade Area of the Americas agreement in Miami in November 2003. Specifically, it uses the case to develop a theoretical understanding of the contingencies, weaknesses, and unpredictable consequences of ostensibly repressive applications of power in transnational summit spaces. It then evaluates participants' modes of resistance to critique ongoing assertion among academic and activist circles concerning the unity of activists in alter globalist space, in favor of a view of power relations as constitutive of complex forms of social identity, and which require greater reflection on the part of activist circles in order to translate the experience of repression into a source of activist commonality. KEYWORDS: alterglobalism; power, resistance, analytics, violence


Within critical security studies, there is a growing concern with the intersection of security strategies and everyday public environments: the heavy policing of alterglobalist protests during transnational ministerial events; the use of increasingly strict passenger searches and biometric data evaluations within airports; the increasing powers of arbitrary detention of both migrants and suspected religious terrorists.

Many theorists, particularly from the historical-materialist angle, view such practices as consistent with the repressive means by which an unaccountable, transnational, capitalist elite devoid of public support or trust rules through the cultivation of a climate of intimidation and fear at an everyday level. (1) Such theorists have investigated what they view as the embedding of US-dominated capital imperial interests in everyday life through the disciplining and surveillance techniques famously identified by Foucault in the context of the Panopticon, and in his theory of governmentality as the dominant mode by which bureaucratic power is exercised. (2) However, rather than a "productive" form of power, this mode of neoliberal-imperial rule is instead viewed as being applied with blunt duress in both North and South, disciplining miscreants in violent and systematic fashion for the benefit of a bloc of political and economic interests that has little concern for its social legitimacy, (3) Such work, combining the Foucauldian with the Gramscian, claims to deepen the perspective of earlier approaches concerned with the changing basis of international power, and the growth of national and supranational agencies dedicated exclusively to the protection of transnational capitalist actors, at the expense of the wider human security of the general global population. (4)

However, rather than acting as a supplement for Marxian understandings of the exercise of power, I contend that Foucault's work points toward contingencies, limitations, and ambiguities in the exercise of power that are lacking in this literature on neoliberal-imperial "supremacism." I argue that the viability of a bloc of neoliberal-imperial interests that enslaves its subjects through the cultivation of fear is thrown into question by critical questions concerning the unpredictable unfolding of both power and resistance in concrete micropolitical contexts. By opening a dialogue between these different approaches, and by applying them to a specific case in point (the protest in Miami against the proposed Free Trade Area of the Americas agreement in 2003), I argue that the complex and asymmetrical relationship of intense security to variegated modes of resistance must be understood as necessarily incomplete and open-ended processes that both open space for more critical, reflective praxis on the part of activists and poses major challenges that dominant activist imaginaries have failed to adequately address.

Neoliberal-Imperial Power: Systemic and Repressive?

The neo-Gramscian work associated with Robert Cox, Stephen Gill, and Mark Rupert theorizes violent policing as the work of an increasingly coercive and socially illegitimate neoliberal-imperial form of globalization, of which "New Constitutionalist" trade agreements and institutions are emblematic. …

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