Optics of Capture: Platform Desires in an age of Intervention
My first book, Optics of Capture: Platform Desires in an Age of Intervention, considers how digital infrastructures and the production of user-generated content in the Middle East are appropriated by states, markets, and international organizations alongside gendered logics and practices of securitization and intervention to produce novel geographies of women’s rights, sexual violence, and political participation. Specifically, the book considers how interventionist ethics are actively integrated into appeals to greater information access for women, and in bridging the so-called ‘digital divide’. I address a number of cases in the manuscript, including the use of mobile apps and crowdsourcing as techniques of sexual security in Egypt; the animation of colonial archives of sexuality and ‘Arabness’ through content filtering and visual arrangements of data on social media; and the political and libidinal economies of digital image production and consumption among women soldiers in the IDF. Rather than simply champion new opportunities for women’s participation in politics and public dialogue through platforms and programs developed by proprietary networks, I consider the circuitous routes by which the region continues to function as a laboratory for new technologies of capital accumulation, security, and gendered and racialized discipline, while also creating novel spaces for more pluralist politics that resist commonsense overtures toward cultural and religious explanations of agency and change.
'Where awesome never ends': Security, Play, and Convergence in the Gulf
I recently completed six months of fieldwork divided between the UAE and Qatar for my second major research project, funded by a 2016-2017 Fulbright Award in the Middle East and North Africa Regional Research Program. Drawing on original research and interviews conducted at dozens of theme parks, entertainment complexes, fun zones, convention centers, gaming hubs, parks, and heritage sites, the project explores how 'fun' organizes the security politics of the Gulf at multiple spatial and temporal scales, as well as the politics of play within highly-variegated spaces of consumerism, elite mobility, and cultural governance. I have a forthcoming book chapter and two articles currenlty in progress based on this work. The first article considers how Legoland Dubai, and specifically Miniland -- which centers the Dubai skyline among popular landmarks in the 'Middle East and Asia' -- functions as a site for theorizing the larger geopolitics of verisimilitude in the Gulf through its chosen sites, its particular arrangements of scale and detail, the temporality of history and discontinuity, and in the pixelization of everyday life through scenes that depict unique arrangements of consumerism, global labor relations, piety, security, and mobility. The book chapter details my research methodology at Legoland, and is forthcoming in an edited collection on methods in popular culture and IR.
The second article considers the performative politics of policing in Dubai, the relationship between crime and police training, and the different security dispositifs that emerge within the training worlds of virtually-engineered criminality. Drawing on interviews with the Dubai Police and the UAE Ministry of Justice, as well as official government documents, police training manuals, and virtual training simulations, I argue that the ‘crisis of security’ in Dubai that justifies its massive investment in police resources and 'smart' infrastructure is not crime itself, but rather centers on the problem of generating enough crime to justify and train its massive surplus of police labor. Training simulations like 3D SWAT, Passenger Screening, Snipers, and VIP Protection provide insight into Dubai’s unique relationship to crime; rather than address what crimes do persist within the structural economies of the sponsorship (Kafala) system, including human trafficking and the abuse of temporary and domestic workers, these simulations are meant to demonstrate the emirate’s security infrastructure as on par with, and even exceeding the capabilities of countries in North America and Europe, while also signaling that forms of criminality and terrorism that tourists and foreign investors are most concerned about exist only virtually.
CROWD TECHNOLOGIES AS MODES OF NON-STATE VIOLENT ORGANIZING
My third area of research focuses on how crowdfunding platforms, social networking sites, and other forms of participatory media are changing what it means to 'go off to war' in profound ways. Today sites like GoFundMe, IndiGoGo and Facebook allow former military, private contractors, and citizens with no military training to engage in recruitment efforts for modes of non-state violent organizing, to facilitate the purchase of plane tickets, weapons, and armor through individual small-scale donations, and to solicit monetary support upon their return as payment for these self-crafted missions. As part of this research, I've been considering three examples of this emerging phenomenon: 1) US civilians' use of crowdfunding platforms to travel to Iraq and Syria and engage in combat operations against the Islamic State (ISIS) group outside the purview of US government and military operations and oversight; 2) the use of crowdfunding by Sons of Liberty International, which claims to be the first non-profit security contractor for 'vulnerable populations'; and 3) the People's Project, a volunteer group which allows individual donors to provide financial contributions online to Ukrainian battalions for combat operations against Russian-backed separatists. These activities provide unique insights into contemporary shifts in interpretations of domestic and international laws of war, which I argue can only be partially understood through the literature on the use of private contractors in theaters of combat. Moreover, the use of crowdfunding applications to transcend the ‘collective action’ problem of national security raises important questions about the increasing militarization of so-called ‘citizen’ responses in Europe and the United States to perceived security threats.