Academic journal article Environment and Planning D: Society and Space

The Politics of Whitelisting: Regulatory Work and Topologies in Commercial Security

Academic journal article Environment and Planning D: Society and Space

The Politics of Whitelisting: Regulatory Work and Topologies in Commercial Security

Article excerpt

Abstract

This article looks closely at the politics of whitelists in commercial security. It argues that whitelists are essential for the current transformations in regulatory politics in which Codes of Conduct, Best Practices, Benchmarks and Standards are replacing more conventional, legally binding forms of regulation. The article traces how whitelists are tied to these transformations. The account is organized around how the practical, pragmatic and poetic character of lists (Umberto Eco) fashion the work and topological imprint (Manuel DeLanda) of whitelists in commercial security specifically. The article directs attention to the politics of the work and topological imprint of whitelists. This politics is neither hidden nor invisible yet it remains largely unnoted. It is dispersed, mundane and unspectacular. The whitelists are akin to minions whose activities are turning softly regulated commercial security into an infernal alternative (imagery borrowed from Pignarre and Stengers). As minions, whitelists appear insignificant when looked at in isolation. However, by describing their work as a decentralized, disjointed and disorganized group, this article shows their significance for the politics of regulation in commercial security. It advances a conceptualization of this politics and a theorization of its dynamics of relevance for engaging the politics of lists also elsewhere.

Keywords

Lists, commercial security, material agency, topology, new materialism

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This article is about the politics of whitelisting in commercial security. It argues that the whitelists of companies, states and organizations that have signed up to the codes of conduct, best practices, benchmarks and standards now regulating commercial security have far-reaching political significance. These whitelists do core regulatory work, and in the process they leave deep imprints on the regulatory landscape (or topology) of commercial security. Whitelists make soft, voluntary regulation of commercial security practically feasible and difficult to contest. They enshrine and normalize both this form of regulation and the security markets it is tied to.

The politics of whitelists in commercial security has much in common with that of the minions in Pignarre and Stengers' account of the 'spell of capitalist sorcery' (2011). As these minions, whitelists produce the 'infernal alternatives' necessary for the 'spell of capitalist sorcery' to work, that is 'alternatives' that offer no alternative at all because they 'seem to leave no other choice than resignation or a slightly hollow sounding denunciation' (2011: 24). As the politics of the minions, that of the whitelists is easily overlooked and correspondingly hard to engage. As the minions, whitelists operate in a decentralized fashion 'on a very small scale', of which the 'infernal alternatives are an overall result' (Pignarre and Stengers, 2011: 31). Viewed in isolation, the work and imprint of each whitelist/minion is therefore bound to appear innocuous, insignificant and unworthy of attention even if it is neither well intentioned nor innocent. To describe how the dispersed, small-scale labour and imprint of whitelists/minions collectively produce an 'infernal alternative', to name them as the guardians of this alternative, and to highlight their politics is therefore of essence. It is a way of encouraging political disagreement and imagination. In this case, it is about opening up for the contestation of the whitelists that turn soft, voluntary regulation of commercial security markets into an infernal alternative and hence for the possibility of imagining alternative ways of regulating the security.

The politics of whitelisting may be easy to miss. However, discovering it does not require any looking 'behind' or 'beyond'. No hidden centre, capitalist class or elite of security professionals is masterminding the production of 'infernal alternatives' by whitelists in a conspiracy that could be exposed and dismantled. …

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