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Policing Dissent: Social Control and the Anti-globalization Movement

category international | imperialism / war | review author Wednesday September 09, 2009 14:51author by Deric Shannon - University of Connecticut Report this post to the editors

Review of the Luis Fernandez book

With this book anarchist sociologist, Luis Fernandez, writes on his studies of policing protests (broadly speaking). At first glance, the references and style of the book might make one think it is written for other academics–dispassionately studying the behaviors of our political masters and their domestic army, the police. A close read, however, makes it clear that Fernandez has fighters for social justice in mind, taking a critical approach to studying police and conceiving of policing processes broadly to demonstrate the ways that our ruling relations are protected in western “democracies”.

Policing Dissent begins by defining our terms and operationalizing the categories of analysis for this ethnographic study. Next, Fernandez gives a review of the existing literature on the control of dissent. Interestingly, here (and throughout the book) Fernandez shows some of the radical political uses of post-structuralists like Michel Foucault. Indeed, any volume on dissent would be remiss not to mention the ways that discipline, discourse, and regimes of knowledge are implicated in domesticating desire, including the desire to rebellion. This frees us from looking at power as only being located in specific institutions (such as the state, or capitalism), but also gives us ways to analyze productive power that disciplines us, often times in complex ways that are not reducible to capitalism and the state. This conceptualization of power is becoming much discussed in contemporary militant movements, as queer theory and other recent perspectives have taught us that sometimes hierarchies and oppressions develop out of the ways that we invent social categories and essential corresponding roles, attitudes, actions, etc.–in short, we create docile, disciplined, and domesticated bodies, both individually, but also, as Fernandez demonstrates, docile social bodies. This is something of concern to all people who hope for a radically different future and a revolutionary social body to carry out the task of bringing this future about.

Another item of interest in this book is Fernandez’s analysis of the uses of police psychological control. Through the creation of images of violent “anarchists”, the police frame the debate in ways that both delegitimize anti-authoritarians and demonize them. This involves a process through which our rulers actually hire public relations experts to give them the proper public image and persona before spraying us with teargas and clubbing us in the streets (demonstrating their actual contempt for us, the subjects of their rule). Fernandez shows how they court the media to help them frame public opinion on their terms, or to use Herman and Chomsky’s famous phrase, the ways that they “manufacture consent”.

Fernandez has clearly been on the front lines in social justice struggles. As more and more militants move beyond summit-hopping politics to organize within their workplaces and communities, these lessons from the anti-globalization movement can serve as warnings for what might come as we battle in new areas (and continue to practice our legitimate right to protest). May we win our battles and the larger war!

[First published in Political Media Review, 8 Sept., 2009.]

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