A conference abstract by Stuart Elden which includes reflections on the subject of Foucault, territory and urban space
Originally posted on Progressive Geographies:
This is my abstract for the AAG meeting in Los Angeles next April. It will be part of the ‘Violence and Space’ sessions organised by Philippe le Billon and Simon Springer – call for papers here. I’ll also be part of a panel on Sloterdijk organised by Oliver Belcher and Julian Reid.
I’ve been trying to make sense of the Kano attacks in January which Susan was caught up in, and I’ve been disappointed by the coverage of Boko Haram generally. This paper will attempt to pull together what I’ve heard with what I’ve read. I wasn’t sure I had enough to make a paper, until I hit on the idea of the territorialisation of the urban, and this linked it to the recent discussions of the Territorial Support Group and the literature on urban geopolitics. The Foucault hook came to me when out on the bike.
In the ‘Space, Knowledge, and Power’ interview, Foucault discusses how manuals of police suggested that “the government of a large state like France should ultimately think of its territory on the model of a city… A state will be well organized when a system of policing as tight and efficient as that of the cities extends over the entire territory. At the outset, the notion of police applied only to the set of regulations that were to assure the tranquillity of a city, but at that moment the police became the very type of rationality for the government of the whole territory. The model of the city became the matrix for the regulations that apply to a whole state” (The Foucault Reader, p. 241).
What if, today, the reverse was the case? Instead of urban order being the model for territorial rule, what if strategies previously used to control territory were now being utilised to police urban space? This is not to suggest that territory is becoming urbanised, but that the urban is becoming territorialised. As I’ve argued elsewhere, the linkage between terror and territory is important, as a means by which violence is used to establish, maintain and challenge the control of space. How does this work in an urban context? I disagree with Foucault’s historical theorisation of territory, but his work on rationalities and calculative techniques is extremely helpful in thinking about territory historically and politically. And while I do not think we can straight-forwardly label sub-national spaces as territories, thinking territory as a political technology is helpful in making sense of the techniques of rule used in urban locations.
Writers like Stephen Graham and Saskia Sassen have proposed a notion of ‘urban geopolitics’. Taking up the suggestion of the militarisation of urban space, but relating this more explicitly to the question of territory, this paper tries to work through conceptual and political issues that relate to the panel theme of ‘Violence and Space’. Its examples will be the British police’s Territorial Support Group and the January 20th Boko Haram attacks and government response in Kano, Nigeria.