Book Review: Remote Warfare: New Cultures of Violence

by Rebecca A. Adelman and David Kieran (eds), University of Minnesota Press, 2020, ISBN 978-1-5179-0748-8, 352 pp.

Remote Warfare: New Cultures of Violence is a volume of essays edited by Rebecca A. Adelman and David Kieran, and addresses the contemporary conceptual constraints that surround academic research in remote warfare. In the words of the editors, this volume attempts to “interrogate the cultural and political dimensions” of the reality of remote warfare, and to move “beyond the questions of tactical efficacy and morality that tend to dominate debates” regarding the subject. Throughout the introductory chapter, they outline how the contributions in this book attempt to instead, “contemplate […] how various actors have interpreted and responded to the centrality of violence delivered from a distance” (Adelman & Kieran, 2020, p. 3).

Throughout the volume, the authors argue that there is a problem rooted in the understanding of the complex interaction between physical distance, violence, and its affective properties. This they emphasise is because of an ingrained technological determinism that is diffused across the subject that puts excessive focus on the drone. This produces a conceptual misdirection of how the thresholds of experiencing trauma are multi-dimensional, especially when the affective element is mediated through the technological interface between the ground and the console. 

Across twelve chapters, we see an exploration of the anticipation, imagination and conceptualisation of remote warfare.

Foregrounding their argument through the seminal works of Dave Grossman and Grégoire Chamayou, the editors consider how these authors fail to tackle the issue of trauma at a critical depth. They mention how recent findings regarding post-traumatic stress among drone operators complicates Grossman’s argument that “[a]rtillery crews, bomber crews, naval gunners, and missile crews […] are all protected by the same powerful combination of group absolution, mechanical distance, and, most pertinent to our current discussion, physical distance” (Adelman & Kieran, 2020, p. 5). In the case of Chamayou, who claims similar sentiments, the editors emphasise how his “dualistic thinking may be a convenient foundation for anti drone scholarship and activism, and it certainly accounts for operative power differentials, but it also belies the extent to which both parties to remote warfare are remade (albeit in radically different ways) through the encounter” (Adelman & Kieran, 2020, p. 9).

Adelman and Kieran suggest that these modes of thinking remote warfare repeat previous discourses regarding the distant battlefield, constricting much of the scholarship regarding the subject. Rather than adopt a pro or contra framing, researchers should be foregrounding to a greater extent the cultural entanglements, imprints, and consequences of remote warfare, and illuminating the overlooked histories of remoteness, and to experiment with novel methodologies for critical analysis.

These attempts at novel methodologies are organized into three sections: VisionIntimacies, and Reconfigurations. Across twelve chapters, we see an exploration of the anticipation, imagination and conceptualisation of remote warfare; the unexpected relationships and connections that are engendered by the distant battlefield and the degree of interactivity that is belied by the term itself; and critically, the development of an analysis that contradicts the determinist frameworks for understanding remote warfare, instead tracing forms of resistance, protest and creativity that develop in its gaps. Furthermore, the book includes several case studies that move between personal accounts of active and retired war personnel with extensive quotes from poetry and literature: The critical analysis of series such as Homeland, which open up the relationships between big data and deciphering the archive; drone music as conceptual blueprint to develop forms of resistance; discussions on the role of black humour and parody as an emotional analgesic for the war veterans and; military-grade surveillance embedded and tested within civilian environments which disrupt the citizen’s contract with the state, and the use of architectural art projects as tools to break down the paradigms of contemporary building-development projects.

The strength of this publication is that most, if not all of the texts are intertwined with cross-referencing of material across the three sections. The content of the book as a whole also reflects the research interest of both Adelman and Kieran, which is situated in the realm of the affective, encompassing mental health, memory, spectatorship and ethics. Each text encapsulates robustly the intention of the editors and, although most seem to be discussing very similar topics, enhances the argument put forth in the introductory sections. As Brunck mentions, “the notion of remote warfare also encapsulates ideas about spatial, cultural and psychological remoteness.” which all come into play in affecting interaction with the distant battlefield” (Adelman & Kieran, 2020, p. 179). These “notions”, abstract as they may be, risk “drowning out the actuality and relevance of soldiers’” and non-combatants’, the “very corpo-real experiences of remote warfare”, especially when seen through what Nielsen and most of the authors argue are an “Americanized, techno-fixated, and future-oriented discourse” that “tends to subdue other aspects and experiences” of the distant battlefield (Adelman & Kieran, 2020, p. 202).

[T]his book is an excellent resource for researchers intent on forming a better understanding of the methodological challenges that are reflected in researching trauma in complex environments

Indeed, the extensive discussion of “discourse” is permeating through the whole edition. Except for a small handful of texts, most material in this edited book is using pop culture, political narrative, poetry and literature to investigate the affective properties of remote warfare, which make the thematic sections seem arbitrary. In a sense, the strength of the volume is also its weakness in that although it does push forward a novel methodology to address these issues, that novel methodology is itself somewhat methodologically narrow. This raises the question of whether the effects of the distant battlefield, as producing effects which are psychologically decipherable, are indeed only decipherable within the analysis of texts and fiction and whether there is any possibility to develop instead a materially-bound analysis of the issue. Some texts do however attempt this in minute ways; Tim Jelfs for example proposes a consideration of the relationship between the human and non-human elements of remote warfare, but again turns back to literature as a support. For those interested in alternative breakdowns of the “technological determinism” mentioned through the book, which is deeply tied with the materiality of its effects, the chapters by Richardson, and Ortiz are strong candidates.

In summary, this book is an excellent resource for researchers intent on forming a better understanding of the methodological challenges that are reflected in researching trauma in complex environments, such as the distant battlefield, and how contemporary modes of approaching this topic have shifted over time. Readers interested in an overview will benefit greatly from the introductory chapter which delivers a concise round up of some of the critical components of the ongoing debates in the field. This holds true also for those who may not find explorations of literature, poetry and pop culture useful to their more materialist or technological oriented approach. However, the extensive referencing of seminal works in the area of research will surely expand one’s reading list.


Adelman, Rebecca A., and David Kieran, eds. 2020. Remote Warfare : New Cultures of Violence. 1st ed. Minneapolis: University Of Minnesota Press.

Book review: Security as Politics: Beyond the State of Exception

by Andrew W. Neal, Edinburgh, Edinburgh University Press, 2019, 288pp., £80/$US104.00 (Hardback), ISBN: 9781474450928

“How do we know security when we see it?” was the question that remained in my head during the whole time I was reading this book. I went to the kitchen to grab a coffee and my brain started drifting to “How do we know it? How… when we see it? I closed my eyes in my cozy bed and, suddenly, I started asking: “How…but how?”. It was like an ear worm that this genius question lived in my mind, from the first time I read it to the last page of Security as Politics: Beyond the State of Exception by Andrew W. Neal. And although it sounds like that the question was never answered, this is a false assumption. The question was indeed answered by the author in the same chapter it was posed to the reader. Nevertheless, my inner chanting simply represents what I took from the reading of the book and what I will, definitely, continue applying to my academic life: the challenging of the taken-for-grantedness of – apparently tautological – concepts such as security.

Context is the key element is here. Drawing on Ciuta and on Foucault’ problematization, Neal proposes seeing security as a concept of its time, defined by historical context. This ontological stand is derived from a very strong opposition to the developments of the Copenhagen School’s securitization theory (ST). While the ST imposes a strict definition of security to avoid the “everything becomes security” trap (Neal 2019: 45), Neal’s contextual/historical conceptualization of security is compared to a moving target that fits perfectly the constant changes we face in society.

”Security as Politics is a book that not only questions the concept of security and its position within the “spheres” of politics, but it also intends to bridge the gap between theory and practice.”

Security as Politics is a book that not only questions the concept of security and its position within the “spheres” of politics (Neal 2019: 90), but it also intends to bridge the gap between theory and practice. Its central discussion, presented in the first five chapters, revolves around the fact that “security was once an anti-political ‘exception’ in liberal democracies” (Neal 2020)[1], limited to the level of “‘high politics’ and statecraft” (Neal 2019: 4), but now it can be seen practiced in the ‘normal’ political arena. Neal’s argument focuses specifically on the field of professional politics, and the role of politicians such as parliamentarians in the fusing of security with “normal” politics. Therefore, in the last chapters, Neal chooses to represent his conjectures empirically by using the political developments of the UK Parliament as a case study: from a pre-Cold War era, to a post-9/11 paradigm, and addressing the changes happening from 2010 onwards. The case chosen helps guiding the reader through a complex field with a light and easy pace that only mirrors the well thought structure of the book. This can be exemplified during the presentation of its methodology in chapter two, and the explanation of politization and the political game involving security issues in chapters three and four.  

The book starts revising the literature and scholarships on security, and the first chapter introduces a harsh criticism towards securitization and its anti-political nature that endures along the book. Even though his intention was not to refute the ST, this is the inevitable feeling that lingers with the reader. According to Ole Wæver (2011:470), “theory-related insights should be accumulated, while the theory is kept intact as long as it is the best instrument for generating such insights”. Regardless of ST’s failures and gaps, a lot of what we think about security nowadays comes from the constructivist nature of securitization. Dating the ST as not applicable anymore feels like erasing the insights accumulated by a whole scholarship. Additionally, the theory has also evolved, and although the author mentions such developments, they are not acknowledged as valuable analytical tools because they still come from a dated source. At the same time, Neal keeps coming back to securitization to explain concepts and events which might be somehow confusing. Nevertheless, I agree with the book’s main argument that security is beyond the state of exception, and that the contextual definition seems more appropriate rather the strictly defined criteria. I wish only to stress that an evolved version of the ST should be as much regarded as the concept of politization in the book, generating therefore an interesting and more fruitful theoretical debate. 

”the author turns difficult subjects and concepts into smooth and enjoyable learning experiences.”

Criticisms aside, as I mention before, the author turns difficult subjects and concepts into smooth and enjoyable learning experiences. Following the book’s rationale, Neal points to two reasons for the “invasion” of security matters to the realm of the day-to-day of professional politics: first “the widening scope and reach of security policy and practice” (Neal 2019: 273) and second “the declining deference among parliamentarians towards governmental security authority” (Neal 2019: 273). The former reason is presented along the first three chapters of the book, along with the changes that happened overtime on the other side of the coin: the arena of “normal” politics. And I was pleased to see the thorough analysis that the author made sure to include of not only the developments concerning “widening and deepening what it means to speak ‘security’” (Hagmann et al 2018: 3), but also the evolution of what means to practice politics. The later argument for such a merger can be found by the end of the third chapter and on the subsequent ones. One example of this “security failure” that led to a distrust in the Parliament is the UK’s traumatic experiences supporting the decision of the U.S. to invade Iraq in 2003, and consequently denying support during the 2013 crisis in Syria. A subject that would in prior times be strictly delegated to the “royalty” of security professionals, was at that moment held strongly in the hands of politicians. 

Security as Politics: Beyond the State of Exception is a “must read” for critical security scholars and practitioners alike. Neal is very clear in his writing, making the reading experience extremely gratifying, especially for early career academics that are still getting used with the heavy “technostrategic language” (Cohn 1987) of the security field. Hopefully, the question “how do we know… when we see it?” will remain with me, not to be limited to its application on the definition of security, but to other concepts that seem static from a societal point of view as well. Thus, it is addressing theoretical and empirical approaches to security, that the book becomes a great source of knowledge to deconstruct given assumptions and to break dated paradigms.


Cohn C (1987) Sex and death in the rational world of defense intellectuals, Signs: Journal of Women in Culture and Society 12(4): 687–718.

Hagmann et al. (2018) The politicisation of security: Controversy, mobilisation, arena shifting, European Review of International Studies 5(3): 3-29.

Neal A W (2019) Security as Politics: Beyond the State of Exception, Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press.

Neal A W (2020) Security as Politics: Beyond the State of Exception. Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press. Available at:

Wæver O (2011) Politics, security, theory, Security Dialogue 42(4-5): 465-480. Available at:


Governing Border Security Infrastructures: Maintaining Large-Scale Information Systems

Europe is an interconnected space, built upon different kinds of infrastructures that organise the circulation of people and “stuff” – capital, commodities, energy, data, etc. Among these infrastructures are large-scale IT systems that allow state authorities to share biographical information (e.g. names, passport numbers) and biometric data on people crossing borders. For example, French border guards may conduct security checks at airports by consulting digitised information that has been previously collected and stored in a database by German police authorities. Migration offices in Spain may access data files created by visa-issuing administrations in Greece. Dutch authorities may access digitised profiles of asylum seekers that have been created when they first arrived in Italy.

”IT systems are not just infrastructures channelling the power to govern international mobility, but also referent objects of government”

Critical studies on security and borders have explored how IT systems (re)configure the management of international mobility and migration. However, we have largely overlooked the maintenance labour through which such digital infrastructures are made functional; labour that supports the flows of data across the spaces where mobile subjects (travellers, migrants, refugees) become targets of control practices. This lack of attention to maintenance leaves some pressing questions unanswered. Do IT systems always perform as expected by those actors who have previously designed them or do they counter-perform and, potentially, fail after their deployment? If infrastructures, such as IT systems, their components, interdependencies and liveliness become visible when they malfunction and break down, then what does it take to make them invisible – docile machines that operate according to the rules and procedures specified in the documents that lay down their design characteristics? 

In my article “Governing Border Security Infrastructures: Maintaining Large-Scale Information Systems” (Security Dialogue), I seek to answer these questions by presenting in-depth empirical material from my research on eu-LISA. This is the EU Agency entrusted with the operational management (i.e. maintenance and protection) of IT systems deployed for border and migration management purposes. By synthesizing elements of Michel Foucault’s work on biopolitics and governmentality with ideas inspired by the New Materialisms movement, I argue that IT systems are not just infrastructures channelling the power to govern international mobility, but also referent objects of government – both “rulers” that monitor and govern bodies on the move, and unruly infrastructures that are themselves governed through maintenance.

The observation that IT systems require maintenance to function should not come as a surprise to scholars investigating the digitisation of border security and migration management. Perhaps it is the mundanity of maintenance that makes it invisible and unquestioned. Yet, overlooking this process hinders a more a complete appreciation of ongoing “technological work”[1] through which digitised borders are implemented and made functional. This technological work matters politically because it conditions the control and surveillance of subjects on the move, and thus sustains the power to govern international mobility by digital means. My goal is, then, to broaden the research agenda exploring “border security as practice”[2], by directing attention towards a neglected group of actors who, by maintaining IT systems, seek to sustain the continuity of data-based controls that performatively produce the borders regulating international mobility.

Overview of the information exchange environment in the field of EU Justice and Home Affairs (JHA)
Visit link to see larger image
Source: Council of the European Union (2017) Document Number 6253/17

[1] Walters W (2011). Rezoning the global: technological zones, technological work and the (un-)making of biometric borders.” In Squire V (ed) The contested politics of mobility. Borderzones and Irregularity. London: Routledge: 51–73.

[2] Côté-Boucher K, Infantino F, and Salter MB (2014) Border security as practice: an agenda for research. Security Dialogue 45(3): 195–208.

Conflating societal and national security – Resilience and civil preparedness in Sweden

In May 2018, the Swedish government distributed a pamphlet entitled “If the Crisis or the War Comes” to 4.8 million households in Sweden. Both the pamphlet (pictured above) [1] and its distribution may be are unprecedented in the current era. The stated purpose of the pamphlet from the government’s perspective was “to help increase people’s knowledge about how to prepare themselves for various crises, elevated readiness, and, in the final extreme, war”[2]. The title was consciously chosen because of its association with the earlier pamphlet If War Comes, which had been distributed to Swedish households and summarized in telephone directories in the past. If War Comes was first published in 1943, with subsequent revisions appearing in 1952, 1961, 1983, and 1987. After the version in the late the communication on how to prepare and contribute during war situations was put to a halt, only to be reissued 30 years later. Sweden, which has not been at war for over 200 years all of sudden finds it necessary to ensure that all of its citizens are prepared for both crisis and war and are encouraged to stockpile water, food, and other necessities in order to care for their own and their close one’s security. The pamphlet and the Swedish approach to potential crisis and war became international news covered by well-known international media, including The New York Times and The Guardian

At a first glance, the pamphlet may seem to come out of the blue, and represent a return to traditional state security present during the Cold War era. Yet, if we follow the development in Sweden from the end of the Cold War it is clear that the pamphlet is part of wider discourse of building resilience as a way to cope with societal security challenges. In 2015, another layer was added to idea of resilience and responsible/prepared citizens, which includes a return to an interest in national security. This new and encompassing approach to crisis and war also entails radical shifts between Swedish crisis- and security management and the role ascribed to the population and individual citizens for sustaining and supporting the state and the society during hardships. Looking at the front page of the pamphlet we can see at the top how a family is ‘prepping’ food items in a box and at the bottom there is an image that potentially shows a natural disaster situation (flooding) and a war situation side by side, seamless in the same frame. In my article, “Resilience, Morality, and Solidarity in Sweden: Societal and National Security through Civil Preparedness” published with Security Dialogue, I offer a genealogical analysis of how the population and individual citizens are incorporated in the management of societal and national security that expands the notion of total defense beyond war situations and state of exceptions.

”The new normality is the preparation and resilience for future events.”  

A key finding of the article is that citizens and their behavior becomes a focal point in the emerging societal security schema after the end of the Cold War in Sweden. However, as Sweden rediscovers the need for national defense and security, it merges societal and national security into a new total defense discourse. This discourse includes elements of societal security, resilience, and neoliberal governmentality, and places threats, crises, and wars on a single continuum. This reconfiguration shifts the state-citizen relationship with citizen-citizen relations in current security discourse it and dissolves war/peace and crisis/security distinctions. Thus, while war preparedness in previous eras was an exceptional aspect of human life and citizenship, the wider conception of security now evolving bind together societal and national security such that civil and war preparedness are merged into a dimension of everyday existence. The new normality is the preparation and resilience for future events.  

The resulting new security approach and accompanying new image of an ideal citizen give rise to a moral dimension of security that resides upon and operates by means of voluntary actions, even though it is framed as constituted through solidarity with one’s fellow citizens. This development has implications for the social contract and follows from a logic of “better safe than sorry” that sustains expanding securitization, growing fear and growing social control to sustain societal resilience beyond the state. 

[1] MSB (2018) ”If Crisis or War Comes” Pamphlet.

[2] The Swedish Government 2017 Uppdrag till MSB att öka människors kunskap om förberedelser inför kriser och höjd beredskap. Stockholm: Regeringskansliet, Justitiedepartementet.

Conflicting visibilities of migrant-squatters on the northern border of Chile

The inhabitants of the squatter settlements in the border city of Arica, mostly indigenous migrants from the Peruvian-Bolivian highlands, feel the effects of the racialized geography of northern Chile through social discrimination, economic exploitation, and deprivation of their political rights.

In these settlements, migrant residents make palpable the pervasive tension between a mode of visibility that I in my recent article in Security Dialogue analyse in terms of a ‘politics of presence’ and another kind of visibility that is created by the state’s ‘legibility’ techniques.

Granaderos camp (foreground) and Granaderos brigade (background). Photo by the author.

How do we understand the emergence of unauthorized settlements at state borders? The ethnography of these places, which are mostly inhabited by migrants, often leads to a contradictory description as formations that are simultaneously constrained and made possible by border regimes. I argue that such tension may create the conditions in which political relations—as a driving force for community—emerge, generating new social actors and political worlds. The struggles of migrants living in unauthorised camps to become legitimate urban actors creates unprecedented citizenship practices, which in turn produce new political subjectivities.

In borderlands such as the far north of Chile, a visibility neither framed by the police order nor driven by biopower emerges through the refusal of border migrants to be dispossessed of the lands they occupy. Their commoning practices shed light on our understanding of how politics could emerge from non-citizen actors as a force capable of transforming subjects and places.

Young mother with her children leaving the camp. Photo by the author.

The experiences of camp residents on Chile’s northern border provide clues to understanding what the collective act of becoming present from the margins involves. On the basis of such experiences, we have realized that presence, in its urban expression, reveals a point of political potential that opens up spaces for new forms of engagement in urban life. Through this phenomenon, we find a form of politics of presence that is expressed both in the refusal of the migrant squatters to become a mass of uprooted people and in their perseverance toward state recognition of their settlements. 

The visibility achieved by the politics of presence of migrant squatters and its translation by the state into a differential inclusion within the nation revealed the gap between the democratic as the enactment of egalitarianism and the police order. In this persistent struggle between the political logic of equality and the police logic of domination, the residents of the unauthorized camps in Arica forge cunning and rebellious political subjectivities that challenge the border regimes by questioning the basis on which rights, and the boundaries of citizenship, are defined. 

Unauthorized camp on the outskirts of Arica, northern Chile. Photo by the author.

Book review: Disordered Violence: How Race, Gender, and Heteronormativity Structure Terrorism

by Caron Gentry. Edinburgh University Press, p. 216. Hardback: 9781474424806

The best question I have been asked about my work was ‘if you were to use this text to teach, what would you like to students to learn?’. This is a useful question for establishing your own argument but also for thinking about what you take from another’s contribution. If I were Caron Gentry answering that question, I would say: how we study global politics—in this instance, terrorism and the use of violence—is deeply rooted in gendered, racialised, sexualised, and classed structures. These power structures organise and order how we talk about and research global political issues. And they are beholden to and reproduce IR’s Westphalian story. What Gentry shows in Disordered Violence: How Race, Gender, and Heteronormativity Structure Terrorism is that these structures are often willingly (re)produced in ways that benefit a state-centrist organisation of global politics underpinned by European colonial imaginaries, white supremacy, misogyny, and heterosexism. 

Disordered Violence is a timely contribution that deepens our understanding of the racialised, gendered, and sexualised structure of (academic) debates on and representations of terrorism and violence.”

Disordered Violence is a timely contribution that deepens our understanding of the racialised, gendered, and sexualised structure of (academic) debates on, and representations of, terrorism and violence. The book outlines how race, sexuality, and gender are implicated in security discourses and shows why security studies must take an intersectional, feminist, queer, and critical race analytic seriously. Gentry shows us how to do this by drawing on Matsuda (1991) to describe how ‘asking the other question’ (e.g., when confronted with misogyny ask how race functions, too) allowed her to see and explore the connections between race, gender, and sexuality as they relate to terrorism. While focused on terrorism, this book is relevant to scholars researching international security issues more broadly. 

The book opens with several examples of how immensely political acts—whether we call them ‘terrorism’, ‘protest’, or ‘political violence’—are constituted through racialised-gendered-sexualised logics. Opening with this, Gentry prompts us to ask how events might have unfolded differently had the wielders of violence been differently racialised, differently gendered, and so on. I use the ‘racialised-gendered-sexualised’ formulation (Cooper-Cunningham 2020) because it supports Gentry’s argument about their inseparability. In chapter one, Gentry asks us: “Why are mass shootings in the US not seen as an act of terrorism if they are perpetrated by white men, but are when they are perpetrated by brown men?” (38). This is a point Gentry returns to in the conclusion when exploring how Black Lives Matter co-founder Patrisse Khan-Cullors was constituted as a ‘terrorist’ and the movement compared to the Ku Klux Klan. Why is it that the terrorism/terrorist labels only stick to certain (gendered-racialised-sexualised) actors? 

Gentry concludes that “[t]errorism as a label works because it makes sense given the historical legacies of whose violence is legitimated, whose lives matter more and whose bodies are seen as expendable. This is the ordering of violence, in which state violence is legitimated and terrorism is always seen in opposition” (195-6). If IR, a Western-centric discipline, is founded on the Westphalian ideal where legitimate authority and wielding of violence are “tied closely to white, Western liberal democracies” then we must problematise and deconstruct those structures, asking qui bono? One lesson that is reiterated throughout, it is that we must dig into the concepts that we use: how do they (re)produce gendered-sexualised-racialised power structures and discourses?

Unpacking the gendered-racialised-sexualised foundations of key concepts in terrorism studies, Gentry deconstructs the dichotomies at the core of current and historical discourses about terrorism—West/Islam, counter-terrorist/terrorist, developed/undeveloped, rational/emotional, progressive/radicalised, moral/immoral, reasoned/pathological, legitimate/illegitimate violence to name a few—rendering them more complicated and less coherent. It is this destabilisation of the dichotomies structuring the field that makes Gentry’s contribution novel and incredibly important; the queer logics of this could, however, be emphasised more. Not only does this destabilisation force terrorism scholars to think deeper and more critically about the concepts they use and the power structures their work (re)produces—after all, knowledge is power—it also forces us to question the larger assumptions IR as a discipline is founded on. This book can, therefore, be read as a deconstruction of the gendered-racialised-sexualised dichotomies through which terrorism and international security are written about.

”Global order, politics, and the study of it, are rooted in convenient ‘forgettings’ of colonial history, misogyny, and heteronormative structures that support the way the world is ordered.”

One of the key concepts Gentry brings into terrorism studies—or more broadly, security studies—is ‘forgettings’. ‘Forgettings’ (re)produce global political orders by (re)inscribing the “divisions of the world and power between European whites and people of colour” (27). Gentry argues that a definition of terrorism is futile and always reliant on (and reproductive of) gendered, racialised, imperialist, a heteronormative ‘forgettings’. Global order, politics, and the study of it, are rooted in convenient ‘forgettings’ of colonial history, misogyny, and heteronormative structures that support the way the world is ordered. Addressing these ‘forgettings’ Gentry asks: Who/what is represented? How are they represented? In whose interests are these representations? What is invisibilised, sought silent, and pushed out? These questions bring what is invisibilised and/or actively sought silent into focus: that is, the racialised-gendered-sexualised machinations of discourses about ‘terrorism’ and how they enable a particular world order to be (re)produced in a way that favours Western norms and structures. 

Nevertheless, no book is perfect. While the book is intersectional in its theoretical and methodological set up, sexuality often drops out. This is perhaps because heteronormativity “is one of the hardest forgettings to see” (48). While Gentry acknowledges this limitation, there was space for a deeper engagement with sexuality and its structuring of international politics. Noting the important work of feminism in identifying the dichotomies that structure social and political life, Gentry argues that feminism has not offered a way beyond them, whereas Queer theory does. This is a call for feminist and queer security scholars to build on this book. 

There was also a missed opportunity to draw on queer theorising and expand the argument about misogynistic terrorism. Heteronormativity is founded in an essentialist ideology around sex/gender, it is often violently enforced (conversion camps, murder, beatings), it has a wide audience in the general public (conform or be punished), and it aims to coerce into (heteronormative) action. To see the work of heteronormativity in ‘the West’ as terroristic would develop Gentry’s point that “see[ing] violence against women as a form of terrorism within the West means seeing those who are typically aligned with counter-terrorists as suddenly aligned with the terrorists themselves [the counter-/terrorist dichotomy]” (166). Analysing Anders Breivik’s manifesto, Gentry points to his desire to sustain the privilege of “native Christian European heterosexual males” (167). Like ‘misogynistic terrorism’, heteronormativity is a sociopolitical power structure that controls all bodies and enables the surveillance and punishment of individuals for sexual/gender deviance: it is systematic and intentional. 

If the label ‘terrorism’ is rooted in colonial, racists, gendered, and sexualised discourses then it is not a leap to view the enforcement of a particular form of sexual behaviour as terrorist. If misogyny is used to uphold patriarchal order, homophobia is used to uphold heteronormativity (173). It is political, coercive, and there is always a threat of (state) violence. 

Putting these minor points aside, as with Gentry’s other work, this book provides a thorough and critical engagement with terrorism studies, feminist IR, critical race, and queer. It serves as a provocation for scholars to do better and more intersectional work that attends to the racialised-sexualised-gendered foundations of international relations; both small and large caps. It is a lesson in how to do outstanding intersectional feminist work that should be emulated. Disordered Violence reiterates how it is no longer acceptable to say ‘I am not asking the gender (or race, or sexuality) question’ when these are baked into (the study of) international politics.


Cooper-Cunningham, Dean. 2020. “Drawing Fear of Difference: Race, Gender, and National Identity in Ms. Marvel Comics.”  Millennium: Journal of International Studies 48(2):165-97.

Gentry, Caron. 2020. Disordered Violence. Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press.

Matsuda, MJ. 1991. “Beside My Sister, Facing the Enemy: Legal Theory out of Coalition.”  Stanford law review 43(6):1183-92.

Book review: Data Justice and COVID-19. Global Perspectives

Edited by Linnet Taylor, Gargi Sharma, Aaron Martin & Shazade Jameson. Meatspace press. 306p

Data Justice and COVID-19 questions how the widespread deployment of digital technologies to fight COVID-19 has affected data governance and data justice. Written in ‘real-time’ during the first wave of the pandemic, the volume brings together 38 essays – comprising 28 “dispatches” from individual countries or regions and 10 commentaries problematizing the dispatches. Contributions stem from scholarship on data justice, defined in earlier work from Linnet Taylor (2017) as examining “fairness in the way people are made visible, represented and treated as a result of their production of digital data.”

”[T]he book’s main strength is to provide …useful pointers for future analytical research that go beyond data justice scholarship – and make this book relevant to a wider audience… .”

The geographic diversity and topical breadth of the contributions provide a valuable snapshot of the deployment of digital technologies during the first three months of the COVID-19 pandemic. But the book’s main strength is to provide at least three useful pointers for future analytical research that go beyond data justice scholarship – and make this book relevant to a wider audience, including the general public and scholars working in the fields of critical security studies, information technology, humanitarian studies and global health. First, it documents the expansion of state surveillance in the name of public health, or what the editors call ‘the epidemiological turn in digital surveillance’. Second, it problematizes the hype around technological fixes or ‘techno-solutionism’ by exploring its consequences for inequalities and social justice. Third – and this might be the book’s most original contribution – it questions the entanglement of state and corporate power by unpacking the cooperation between public and private-sector actors that makes the deployment of digital technologies possible.  

The ‘epidemiological turn’ in digital surveillance

The volume offers a damning account of how governments around the world have taken advantage of the pandemic to expand digital surveillance of citizens without appropriate legal basis and adequate democratic oversight. Accounts from Argentina (Ugarte), China (Wang), Hungary (Böröcz), Mexico (Cruz-Santiago), The Philippines (Lucero) and Poland (Brewczyńska) all raise deep concerns about the potential misuse of digital surveillance technologies such as contact tracing apps for repression and human right violations within a wider context of (rising) authoritarianism and/or a track-record of state-power abuses. Even more troubling, the dispatches reveal similarly hasty and legally dubious deployment of surveillance technology in democratic societies such as Norway, where the government ultimately abandoned its pilot contact-tracing app after much public debate and an enquiry from the data protection authority (Sandvik).

Whereas security and the fight against terrorism have traditionally been invoked to justify digital surveillance, the COVID-19 pandemic – the editors argue – provides a radically new set of justifications to legitimize and expand digital surveillance in the name of public health. This ‘epidemiological turn’ in digital surveillance could have deep and long-lasting effects on democratic and authoritarian societies alike that will undoubtedly be analyzed by critical security studies in the years to come.

Techno-solutionism’ and inequalities

Many contributors problematized the hype surrounding the digital technologies deployed to fight COVID-19 pandemic as ‘techno-solutionism’ (Marda; Arroyo & Luján; Appelman, Toh, Fathaigh & van Hoboken; Cohen) or what Sean McDonald calls ‘techno-theatre’, which is a way for politicians and companies to focus “public attention on elaborate, ineffective procedures to mask the absence of a solution to a complex problem” (McDonald, p23). 

Glossy tech solutions distract us not only from the deficiencies that have led to inadequate pandemic responses in the first place, such as broken public systems, lack of trust, or social inequalities: the overwhelming focus on their hyped-up potential also conceals their limitations (Marda). Several of the commentaries (Marda; Edwards; Yeung; Keyes; Daly; Sharbain & Anonymous II) warn that digital solutions will inevitably reinforce inequalities by excluding vulnerable groups; those excluded from the digital world due to poverty, techno-illiteracy, or other reasons. Moreover, many of these digital solutions, such as contact tracing apps, are being used experimentally, without evidence of their efficiency, nor appropriate reckoning of their inherent trade-offs – including private companies’ long-term commercial interests. 

Public-private cooperation for the deployment of digital technologies 

For me, this volume’s most exciting contribution is to direct attention to the interaction and cooperation between public authorities and private tech companies during the pandemic. Big Tech companies like Google, Apple and Facebook, which already wielded unprecedented power pre-Covid, have seized the opportunity offered by the crisis to considerably strengthen their positions and advance their interests – what Naomi Klein coined ‘disaster capitalism’.

Big Tech’s contribution to the fight against COVID-19 has often been framed in terms of social corporate responsibility, undertaken pro-bono in the name of social good. Google-Apple developed for instance a common exposure notification system to use free of charge in contact tracing (Veale; Appelman, Toh, Fathaigh & van Hoboken); Amazon pledged to make no profit in its contract with the Canadian government to supply medical equipment (Wylie); and Facebook helped the Australian government develop a chat bot on its platform WhatsApp to facilitate public health communication (Johns). 

”The editors have impressively, and in record time, gathered a diverse group of scholars, and they have succeeded in setting out a promising research agenda.”

Such initiatives, contributors note, provide an efficient PR campaign and useful “reputation laundering” for companies accused of exploiting their employees (Amazon); spreading fake news (Facebook); abusing their market position and extracting and commodifying our data (Google, Apple, Facebook & Amazon). Moreover, many of the authors also note that Big Tech is consolidating and expanding its market power, making important moves towards the highly promising and profitable healthcare market. The digital solutions offered during the current crisis may also potentially create new needs and forms of dependency for the state; as illustrated by the contact-tracing app developed pro-bono by a consortium of public-private entities in France, but carrying relatively high maintenance costs (Musiani). Finally, the entanglement of state and private interests raises questions about the secrecy surrounding their involvement. Several of the dispatches document a worrying lack of accountability and transparency in the contracts awarded to tech companies.

What about ‘the digital turn’ in public health? 

The book explicitly stems from scholarship on ‘data governance’ and ‘data justice’. The editors have impressively, and in record time, gathered a diverse group of scholars, and they have succeeded in setting out a promising research agenda. At the same time, the book would have benefitted from engaging with scholars working not only on the governance of data, but also on the governance and politics of global health. 

The volume does not address, for instance, how digital solutions may originate in and be integrated into the public healthresponses to the pandemic. It remains unclear how the widely discussed issue of digital contact tracing differs from ‘traditional’ contact tracing; and how what we may call a ‘digital turn in public health’ will affect the public health response. While the volume interrogates how public health may legitimize the digital surveillance of citizens, it fails to acknowledge that population and disease surveillance is precisely a key function of public health and a necessary tool to prevent, prepare for and respond to pandemics. Similarly, the book does not contextualize the use of digital technologies in earlier disease control efforts and pandemic preparedness initiatives; nor does it unpack the politics underpinning the deployment of digital technologies within global health security (see for instance: Roberts and Elbe 2017; Bengtsson, Borg, and Rhinard 2019). 

The COVID-19 pandemic offers a unique opportunity to start interdisciplinary dialogue across various scholarships, including data governance, critical security studies and global health politics. Scrutinizing the coming together and cooperation of the public and private sector in the deployment of digital technologies in the health sector offers one promising avenue to do so, as we also have found through our projects and conference organized by the Independent Panel on Global Governance for Health at the University of Oslo.            


Bengtsson L, Borg S and Rhinard M (2019) Assembling European health security: Epidemic intelligence and the hunt for cross-border health threats.  Security Dialogue 50 (2): 115-130. 

Roberts SL and Elbe S (2017) Catching the flu: Syndromic surveillance, algorithmic governmentality and global health security.  Security Dialogue 48 (1): 46-62. 

 Antoine de Bengy Puyvallée is a PhD Fellow, University of Oslo’s Centre for Development and the Environment. 

Navigating vulnerabilities and masculinities – how gendered contexts shape the agency of male sexual violence survivors

A persistent cliché about survivors of wartime sexual violence is that they are helpless and ever-vulnerable victims in need of white and patriarchal protection. This stereotypical view is particularly visible for male victims of conflict-related sexual violence, who are typically thought to be indefinitely stripped of their manhood and, as a result, to have lost all agency in the aftermath of their victimisation. 

Our recent article in Security Dialogue is grounded in our mutual frustration about these and other wrong assumptions that underlie the limited yet growing body of literature on wartime sexual violence against men. Fortunately, the topic has received increasing attention in the last decade, both in scholarship and policy-making. However, much of this growing body of research is not based on empirical data and does not sufficiently take into account the survivor’s point of view. This, we feel, leads to a one-dimensional and often reductionist view of male survivors and their lived realities. One of the central problematic assumptions we tackle in our recent article is that men who were sexually abused in conflict zones are ever-vulnerable, helpless victims. As some of our previous research documents, men who are sexually violated are frequently seen (and at times see themselves) as deprived of their masculine identities. In this process, it is assumed that with this ‘loss of manhood’ comes a loss of any agency, which is typically coded as a masculine trait. A related assumption is that these men hardly ever talk about their experiences and only seldom seek help. 

”One of the central problematic assumptions…is that men who were sexually abused in conflict zones are ever-vulnerable, helpless victims.”

Contrary to that stereotype, the survivors we worked with during our fieldwork in Croatia and Uganda exercise numerous forms of agency, including actively navigating the complexities around silence and disclosure. For instance, they choose when and where to reveal what happened, and when and where to remain silent about it. We found that survivors in Uganda and Croatia often maintain a protective silence surrounding their experiences in certain spaces, for instance within their own homes and communities, while ‘breaking the silence’ and talking about their experiences in other spaces, for instance in forums mediated by non-governmental organizations. Our insights did not emerge from pointed questions about their agency, but rather unfolded throughout the course of our repeated and lengthy interactions with survivors and their testimonies over time. This, we argue, points to the importance of conducting research with sexual violence survivors over extend periods of times, following a relational approach and with utmost sensitive and attention to its methodological and ethical implications and challenges. 

Our findings also point out that the opportunity structure of the local gendered and socio-political context significantly shape the ways in which male survivors exercise agency. The Croatian survivors who were mostly veterans (from the victorious army) for example could apply for reparations, and could access medical care. The Ugandan male survivors, on the other hand, were civilians and belonged to an ethnic minority. Instead of being able to access public forums or reparation schemes, they engage in peer-support in groups on a micro-level, where they are enabled to re-negotiate their gender identities, re-build previously broken relationships and advocate on behalf of male survivors’ needs and demands. These and other examples, explored more fully in the article, paint a differential and more nuanced picture of male sexual violence survivors’ lived realities and of the complexities of gendered experiences in armed conflict more broadly. One-dimensional depictions, as prevalent across the existing literature, cannot do justice to the complexities of male survivors’ lives and realities. Our analysis therefore seeks to break the dichotomies of victim or agents, and of vulnerabilities versus agency, through which male sexual violence survivors’ experiences are usually viewed. Our research therefore contributes to more nuanced and holistic examinations of the gender dynamics of armed conflicts in general, and of sexual violence survivors’ lived realities in particular.

Book Review: Digital Punishment: Privacy, Stigma and the Harms of Data-Driven Criminal Justice

Sarah Esther Lageson. Oxford: Oxford University Press 2020 pp. vii-242. $34.95 cloth. ISBN 9780190872007

Critical studies of security have long examined the role of information technology, databases, dataveillance and predictive risk technologies in emerging security infrastructures. These studies will be immeasurably aided by Sarah E. Lageson’s new book on criminal records in the United States, Digital Punishment: Privacy, Stigma and the Harms of Data-Driven Surveillance.  Ambitious, highly readable and replete with both high-level analysis and intensive subject interviews, Digital Punishment provides a ground-up view of the United States criminal records system and the often maddening constellation of agencies, data brokers, and private citizens involved therein.

The United States has an opaque and fragmented criminal records management “system.” The word system deserves the quotation marks because, as Lageson effectively demonstrates, criminal record keeping is “disordered” and broken up across myriad public databases and private data brokers. In addition, as Lageson explains, the proliferation of private data brokers and self-appointed ‘digilantes’ make it even more difficult to determine what information is available about one’s criminal history. As she points out, an individual will rarely know what is in their ‘rap sheet’ until they are being denied jobs or housing. Unable to speak of a criminal record as a singular object, Dr. Lageson instead refers to the “criminal record canon.” “Cannon” is an effective shorthand that captures how, for example, different versions of someone’s rap sheet may exist on multiple public and private database, while that person’s mugshot may appear on a local ‘crime watch’ website operated by a local citizen who wants to keep their community ‘safe.’

”Using subject interviews and wider collection from news sources, government reports, and legal cases, Dr. Lageson pithily but thoughtfully examines every level of the United States’ criminal records infrastructure”

Criminal records in the United States are, Lageson writes in her introduction, “disordered,” “commodified,” a form of “surveillance” and “disparate.” (pp. 7-9). Disordered in the sense that supposedly authoritative criminal records may come from one of many official government sources, or from a data broker operating in the market for personal data. Also disordered in the sense that individuals looking for criminal record information are able to circumvent legal barriers in order to access supposedly sealed criminal histories using the internet. “Commodified” because, owing in part to the publicly available nature of most criminal histories and governments’ need to contract with private data providers, criminal records are now a sought-after goldmine for data brokers, security firms, and credit rating agencies. “Surveillance” in the sense that they are effective not only for their “real and profound consequences” but also because “the broader gaze of digital punishment hangs over a person like a cloud, marking them with suspicion and distrust even if they were not convicted of a crime.” (p. 8) Finally, they are “disparate” because a subject’s ability to weather and overcome this “broader gaze” is contingent on their access to resources and wherewithal to navigate the often opaque process of expunging a record, or optimizing a search engine to ensure that an old or inaccurate record is not publicly available.

Using subject interviews and wider collection from news sources, government reports, and legal cases, Dr. Lageson pithily but thoughtfully examines every level of the United States’ criminal records infrastructure. Sections explore law enforcement and judicial databases themselves as well as individuals impacted by a digital criminal history and their legal representatives. In perhaps the most interesting part of a fascinating study, Dr. Lageson introduces us to two “digilantes” who public criminal histories in the name of “public safety,” often demanding money in exchange for removing harmful information. The study allows an exploration of how people manage their own criminalization, how political populism fuses with digital records to produce a digilante, and how bureaucratic mismanagement can lead to the irresponsible release of thousands of records.

Digital Punishment illustrates the kaleidoscopic nature of the criminal record, which sometime behaves like a risk-management tool, other times as a commodity, still other times as police data and yet again as a police public relations tool. The criminal record canon’s diverse, opaque and sometimes frankly contradictory nature is one of its most interesting and devilish aspects.

It is difficult of write about areas where Dr. Lageson ‘falls short’ in Digital Punishment. Theorists of security studies may wish for a clearer theoretical framework. But Dr. Lageson’s thick descriptive approach is what is needed. Digital Punishment is only the second book-length scholarly treatment of criminal records in the United States, so description is sorely needed. Dr. Lageson does provide some interesting avenues for future theorizing, particularly in her treatment of stigma, where she goes so far as to suggest that the digitization of criminal records may call for a rethinking of sociological conceptualizations of stigma and its management. Care work is missing from this study, which is probably the only real gap. Scholarship dating back to at least Michel Foucault have pointed out how ‘security,’ ‘control’ and ‘care’ overlap.

”Lageson provide interesting avenues for future theorizing, particularly in her treatment of stigma, where she suggest that the digitization of criminal records may call for a rethinking of sociological conceptualizations of stigma and its management”

Only in the last five years have scholars moved from studying the effect of a criminal record to attempting to understand its role in society more broadly. It was only about six years ago that James Jacobs’ The Eternal Criminal Record grappled with the extent to which criminal records have become implicated in almost every aspect of U.S. social life. Dr. Lageson’s book represents the most thorough analysis yet of the United States’ criminal records infrastructure.

Scholars interested in the role of databases, information technology, predictive threat management and related fields would do well to avail themselves of Dr. Lageson’s intensive and accessible research. They will not be disappointed.


Jacobs, James B. 2015. The Eternal Criminal Record, Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press

Lageson, Sarah Esther 2020. Digital Punishment: Privacy, Stigma and the Harms of Data Driven Criminal Justice, Oxford: Oxford University Press

Miller, Reuben Jonathan and Forrest Stuart 2017. “Carceral Citizenship: Race, Rights and Responsibility in the Era of Mass Supervision,” Theoretical Criminology