Didier Bigo explains the Ban-opticon

Recently I discovered a very interesting blog (http://thearchitectureofcontrol.blogspot.com.br/) focusing on „Understanding Mystical, Sovereign, Disciplinary and Control Societies in the 21st Century“. Among other things it includes a number of bibliographies on such important concepts as Pan-Opticism, Social Physics or the Banopticon. Being familiar with the panopticon-concept after having read Michel Foucault’s Discipline and Punishment (one of the books that „opened my mind“ when I started studying) I got intrigued by the idea of a banopticon and wanted to find out more about it.

According to the author of the blog, „The most important theorist is Banopticon power in surveillance studies has been Didier Bigo“. So I decided to read his book chapter called „Globalized (in)security. The field and the ban-opticon“ published in a volume edited by Bigo and Anastassia Tsoukala and entitled „Terror, Insecurity and Liberty. Illiberal practices of liberal regimes after 9/11“ and published by Routledge in 2008 („The opinions expressed in this book engage only the authors“ lol).

I can’t say that I agree with everything he says (especially concerning the question of exceptionalism, I tend to side more with Agamben on this topic) and I was missing some important points like the distribution of power between the different actors in this field of (in)security but in general I consider it to be an important work of contemporary critical sociology. That’s why I decided to invest a bit of time and produce a proper thesis-paper instead of just copy-pasting the important points. Enjoy!

1. Hauptthese:

„The discourses that the United States and its closest allies have put forth asserting the necessity to globalize security have taken on an unprecedented intensity and reach. They justify themselves by propagating the idea of a global ‘(in)security’, attributed to the development of threats of mass
destruction, thought to derive from terrorist or other criminal organizations and the governments that support them. This globalization is supposed to make national borders effectively obsolete, and to oblige other actors in the international arena to collaborate. Author of the blog, „The most important theorist is Banopticon power in surveillance studies has been Didier Bigo (…) it is this convergence of defence and internal security into a ‘field’ of professionals of the management of unease that lies at the heart of the transformations concerning global policing“ (p. 10)

1. Nebenthese:

„Three key events are taking place: a dedifferentiation of professional activities as a result of this configuration; a growth in struggles to redefine the systems that classify the social and cultural
struggles as security threats; and a practical redefinition of systems of knowledge and know-how that connect the public and private security“ (p. 12)

2. Nebenthese:

„we can no longer distinguish between an internal order reigning, thanks to the police, by holding the monopoly on legitimate violence, and an anarchic international order which is maintained by
an equilibrium of national powers vis-à-vis the armies and diplomatic alliances“ (p. 14)

3. Nebenthese:

„Domination has been de-coupled from the state’s territorial form and its traditional political classes.“ (p. 14)

2. Hauptthese:

„ a field should be defined in terms of four dimensions: (…) 1) field of force (…), 2) field of struggle (…), 3) field of domination vis-à-vis another field (…), 4) as a transversal field“ (p. 22 f.)

3. Hauptthese:

„the ‘field’ [of (in)security] is determined by the struggles between police, intermediaries and military agencies about the boundaries and definition of the term ‘security’, and around the prioritization of the different threats, as well as the definition of what is not a threat but only a risk or even an opportunity.“ (p. 24)

4. Nebenthese:

„The field of (in)security is thus at the heart of the field of power, as a bureaucratic field composed of experts having the capacity to claim that they know better than others“ (p. 25)

5. Nebenthese:

„the agents of the field of (in)security, despite their apparent diversity, can be defined as professionals of the management of threat or unease“ (p. 30)

4. Hauptthese:

„The boundaries of the field are not subjective and they are not solely intersubjective; they are a ‘figuration’, a relational effect structuring the intersubjective ‘agreement’ or doxa. They are always moving and are not framed by the dominant agents. They depend also on the resistance inside
and beyond the field.“ (p. 26)

5. Hauptthese:

„We can identify for the field of security eight field-effects that frame the practices of the agents. 1) the systems of representation of agents who previously did not share these systems converge (…), 2) professionals in the field of (in)security place all global social transformation that affects society and to which politicians are unable to respond under the heading of threat (…), 3) security agencies recognize … that any standpoint … can stabilize or destabilize the whole body of relations that the agency maintains with others (…), 4) some security agencies that formerly appeared as marginal to the worlds of the police and the military (customs, immigration, national guard, police with military status, etc.) now modify their images and appear, whether rightly or wrongly, to be at the core of the surveillance and control dispositif, 5) professionals of politics favour a differentiated allocation of
missions and budgets that benefits these ‘intermediary’ agencies and lessens the authority of more traditional agencies (…)“ (p. 26 f.)

6. Nebenthese:

„The set of field effects I mentioned above does not stem only from the processes and relations between the agents of the field. It is also the result of their relations with other fields. These relations are formed by the dispositif that crosses between institutions“ (p. 31)

6. Hauptthese:

„The ban-opticon is then characterized by the exceptionalism of power (rules of emergency and their tendency to become permanent), by the way it excludes certain groups in the name of their future potential behaviour (profiling) and by the way it normalizes the non-excluded through its production of normative imperatives, the most important of which is free movement“ (p. 32)

7. Hauptthese:

„Liberalism has tried to legitimate its own domination
through the idea of the separation of powers by which power is supposed
to limit itself, particularly through checks and balances, with the
effect that the population finally actively consents to be an accomplice of
its own domination and to rely on ‘justice’ and lawyers for its ‘freedom’.
(…) Exception works hand in hand with
liberalism and gives the key to understanding its normal functioning, as
soon as we avoid seeing exception as a sole matter of special laws.“ (p. 33)

7. Nebenthese:

„The main [police] activity, rather, consists of keeping the poorest foreigners at a distance, through controlling the flux of mobile populations.“ (p. 18)

8. Nebenthese:

„the police, therefore, do not form a single, unique and homogenous network. We would be better served by thinking of an ‘archipelago of policing’,“ (p. 19)

9. Nebenthese:

„the border controls within Europe are not dismantled as was promised by the rhetoric of free movement and its checks and balances.“ (p. 21)

10. Nebenthese:

„the surveillance of everyone is not on the current agenda but that the surveillance of a small number of people, who are trapped into the imperative of mobility while the majority is normalized, is definitely the main tendency of the policing of the global age“ (p. 32)

11. Nebenthese:

„It is this ‘suspension’ of juridical categories and the possibility of inventing new ones at the same time in order to fill the ‘hole’ that create uncertainty and doubt.“ (p. 34)

[The whole chapter can be found here: http://www.ces.fas.harvard.edu/conferences/muslims/Bigo.pdf%5D

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