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Weapons of mass participation: Social media, violence entrepreneurs, and the politics of crowdfunding for war

Online First, December 2017. In the European Journal of International Relations.

Since 2012, North American and European civilians have regularly engaged in combat operations against the Islamic State in the globalized and decentralized battlefields of Iraq and Syria. This article focuses on two aspects of this phenomenon. First, I argue that these combatants represent a different kind of fighter from both private military contractors and battlefield laborers profiled in the private security literature insofar as capital is a means rather than an end in the innovation of violence. I refer to these fighters as violence entrepreneurs. The relevance and limits of Schmitt's writings on enmity and his theory of the partisan are examined in the context of these contemporary networks of security, mobility, and killing. My second argument centers on how online platforms for the distribution of small-scale donations to these fighters and their self-crafted missions facilitate hyper-mediated forms of patronage, where individual donors are both producers and consumers of security in ways that further distort distinctions between civilians and combatants. The imagined communities that support these combatants, both morally and financially, through the banal networks of Facebook and peer-to-peer funding platforms like GoFundMe suggest a radical deviation from conventional organizational structures and capacities for waging combat. Crowdfunding congeals these new geopolitical networks in the authorizing of individuals to determine their own singular forms of enmity, mutating the conditions of possibility for the sovereign decision. 

Towards a Beirut School of Critical Security Studies

In Critical Studies on Security, 2018. With Omar Dahi, Samer Abboud, Coralie Pison Hindawi, Waleed Hazbun, Jamil Mouawad, and Sami Hermez.

This collectively written work offers a map of an ongoing effort to work through critical approaches to the study of security and global politics with a focus on the Middle East and North Africa, engaging both experiences and voices of scholars from and working in the region. The unique contribution of the project, we suggest, is threefold. First, we reflect on our commitment to decolonial pedagogy, and how our collective experiences organizing a Beirut-based summer school on critical security studies for graduate students and junior scholars living and working in West Asia, North Africa, and the Levant are shaping the project. Second, we affirm and extend the contributions that postcolonial international relations and critical approaches to understanding security have made to scholarship on the region, and to our own work. Third, we take up the C.A.S.E. collective's interest in 'security traps,' and address how and to what extent security discourse may risk colonizing other fields in the pursuit of interdisciplinary scholarship. The article concludes with a transition to individual reflections by the authors to highlight the plurality of inspirations and approaches to the project. 

The Cartographic Ambiguities of HarassMap: Crowdmapping Security and Sexual Violence in Egypt

In Security Dialogue, Special issue on Questioning security devices: Performativity, resistance, politics. Vol. 46, No. 4, 2015: 345-364

In December 2010, HarassMap was launched as a Cairo-based interactive online mapping interface for reporting and mapping incidents of sexual harassment anonymously and in real time in Egypt. The project’s use of spatial information technologies for crowdmapping sexual harassment raises important questions about the use of crowdsourced mapping as a technique of global human security governance, as well as the techno-politics of interpreting and representing spaces of gendered security and insecurity in Egypt’s urban streetscape. By recoding Egypt’s urban landscape into spaces subordinated to the visual cartography of the project’s crowdsourced data, HarassMap obscures the complex assemblage that it draws together as the differentially open space of the Egyptian street – spaces that are territorialized and deterritorialized for authoritarian control, state violence, revolt, rape, new solidarities, gender reversals, sectarian tensions, and class-based mobilizations. What is at stake in my analysis is the plasticity of victimage: to what extent can attempts to ‘empower’ women be pursued at the microlevel without amplifying the similarly imperial techniques of objectifying them as resources used to justify other forms of state violence? The question requires taking seriously the practices of mapping and targeting as an interface for securing public space.

Facebook Bras and #digitalharems: Fantasies of Mimesis and the Transgressions of Aliaa Elmahdy and Amina Sboui

In Globalizations, Special issue on Insurrectional Politics. Vol. 12, No. 6, 2015: 943-956.

This article presents a horizontal reading of Aliaa Elmahdy’s and Amina Sboui’s corporeal interventions alongside the efficacy of digital platforms in order to consider how algorithmic and normative protocols related to content filtering on social media amplify certain forms of political communication while prohibiting others. I argue that readings of Elmahdy’s and Sboui’s bodily politics through the lens of liberal feminism rely on what I call discourses of mimetic networking, where particular mediated events become reterritorialized as part of an archival knowledge of ‘Arabness’. This is done through the organization of data via hashtagging and content moderation, and through rhetorics of techno-optimism that mirror ‘first contact’ narratives which gender, racialize, and flatten complex and fluid engagements with new media in non-US/European contexts. The article concludes with a consideration of how the persistence of their corporeality relays with both normative and programmatic parameters online to make alternative visions of communication possible.

The Human Chain Is Not About Holding Hands

In the Journal of Critical Globalization Studies, Vol. 5, 2012: 129-131.

For academics committed to deep pluralism, how can we creatively translate the tactics of the Occupy movement so as to bring its concerns to bear upon global studies and the discipline of International Relations? One particularly visible and historically resilient strategy used by protestors is the human chain, which has been employed as more than a mere display of political solidarity - from the Civil Rights Movement to the Baltic Way, and more recently in Tahrir Square where those of different faiths formed circles to protect one another while praying during demonstrations. The gripping of hands and arms does not simply make up a line of interlinked individuals. The individuals in the chain become a whole with properties that are not reducible to the sum of its parts. It is a tactic meant to disrupt what on the surface appears to be the flawless functioning of state-corporate spaces by blocking intersections, access to buildings, and slowing down the flow of arrests – but perhaps most importantly, by politicizing consumer spaces and showing how apparent public space is regularly appropriated by the state for corporate means. Years of aspiring to a climate of tolerance within the field of IR has done little more than sustain a thin sense of inclusion and superficial diversity within a space that is still dominated by militaristic and economized ways of knowing and seeing the world, thus obscuring the political stakes of our research.  Rather than protest the arbiters of knowledge, we should try to foment an affirmative movement that sees politics and ethics as their goal rather than symptoms of biased or polemical research.

Zombie Doctors, Saw-Scaled Vipers, and Other Incipient Swarms: Reading William Connolly in Dubai

Forthcoming (2018) in Contemporary Political Theory, Critical Exchange on William E. Connolly’s Facing the Planetary: Entangled Humanism and the Politics of Swarming.

How should we think about the Anthropocene as something actualized as a means of control, where new forms of data capture and analytics are bent toward the dream of total environmental management through total environmental awareness? Connolly’s engagement with the concept of swarming in Facing the Planetary (2017) has influenced some of my own recent work in the Gulf, and how to think about the ways in which its totalitarian futures inhabit the spaces between unrestrained desires for mastery over the environment, and the realization that contemporary modes of living and consumption are unsustainable to human life. In this project, I use the concept of substrate to describe a form of post-essence political and social engineering, where more purposeful forms of surveillance blend with new aspirational forms of ‘catch-all’ surveillance exemplified in the term ‘big data.’ Here, the data-driven terraforming of the desert, and ultimately Mars, as well as new visions of automated security and policing in Dubai reveal experimental hyper-modern projects that aspire toward an interplanetary system of control built on the total saturation of surveillance and total plasticity of life as substrate. Connolly’s work has enabled me to more deeply engage this research as a ‘multispecies ethnography’ (Eben and Helmreich, 2010), to look for new modes of intransigence when these forms of control fail, as well as how to be attuned to unexpected opportunities for new articulations of politics. 

Playing with the World: The Politics of Miniaturization in the Gulf

Forthcoming in Salter M. and S. Yao (eds.), How to do Popular Culture in International Relations. Routledge.

The term ‘playground of the Middle East’ is commonly evoked to describe Dubai, and more recently, its neighboring emirate Abu Dhabi.  Hyperbolic descriptions of the Emirates as an ‘Arabian-themed Disneyworld’ abound, often functioning as either celebratory decrees about its superlative architecture, prolific leisure spaces for globe-trotting tourists, or as a cynical refrain on the exploitation of imported laborers who build, operate and maintain the UAE’s extensive entertainment infrastructures. This rhetoric also extends beyond discussions of leisure and tourism, bleeding into geopolitics as seen in the diplomatic row with Qatar being discussed as a ‘playground spat’ (see Rabbani, 2017). While the language of fun and play is often invoked in discussions of the Gulf, the actual politics of play remain unarticulated, where it is seen as incidental to other, albeit important analyses of regional politics despite its emergence as an ethos of the nation alongside the development of novel modes of securitization, surveillance, and mobility. In this contribution, I detail one area of my work on miniaturization and geopolitics as part of a broader project on the geopolitics of fun in the Gulf, and the politics of play within highly-variegated spaces of consumerism, elite mobility, and cultural governance. Here I focus on two sites in particular - the first is LEGOLAND Dubai, and specifically Miniland, a miniature Lego model of Dubai positioned in relation to other regional landmarks. The second site, Global Village Dubai, claims to be the region’s “first multicultural festival park.” Originally opened as a group of kiosks in 1996 along the Dubai Creek, it now spans more than seventeen million square feet in its new location, and hosts more than five million visitors per season. Each site, I argue, presents a competing and emergent geopolitics in the Gulf, reflecting different investments and visions for who should determine its futures, and for whom they will be determined.