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JasbirPuar:RegimesofSurveillanceCosmologicsMagazine

Jasbir Puar: Regimes of Surveillance


Surveillance is not just about who the state is watching, but about multiple
circuits of collective surveillance: its not just about the act of seeing or
noticing or screening (bodies/identities), but also about acts of collecting,
curating, and tabulating data and affect.

Its tempting to think of surveillance as a purely technological problem. New


imaging devices flood public spaces, recorded conversations find their way onto
government databases, and new software makes the analysis of massive
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amounts of raw information possible. To focus on this aspect of surveillance,


however, neglects its far more disturbing implications. Surveillance is more
than technology: it represents a way of managing populations, creating
identities, and claiming the future.
In much of her writing, scholar Jasbir Puar has sought to unravel the dense and
tangled challenges posed by surveillance. Responding, in part, to the work of
French philosopher Michel Foucault, Puar examines how surveillance enables
the state to create ideal subjects, subjects who discipline themselves and watch
others. Surveillance does not simply monitor, it enforces certain behaviors and
certain identities, thereby excluding others.
As part of our series on religion and surveillance, Cosmologics spoke with Puar
about her work, government monitoring in America, and the future of
surveillance.
Lewis West for Cosmologics

Cosmologics: Key to much of your work is that surveillance is not simply a tool
to maintain security, but is far more productive. Could you expand on this,
and especially on its relevance to the formation of various identities in America?
Jasbir Puar: Much of my work on surveillance has focused on technologies of
surveillance as not only responsive and thus repressive, but also as pre-emptive
and thus productive. And many of these forms of surveillance appear in neoliberal models of security, model-minority racialization, proper modes of
masculine and feminine gender conformity, educational mandates, and
patriotic citizenship. This interest follows from Michel Foucaults basic insight
regarding regimes of security and how they operate in control societies
through an anticipatory temporality: in other words, controlling so that one
does not have to repress. Regimes of security also entail corralling greater
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numbers of populations into a collective project of surveillance.


We have seen, and continue to see, many examples of this post September
11th. The If You See Something, Say Something campaign on NYC public transit
interpellates the general public into service of the greater good; the NSEERS
list impelled pre-emptive repatriation (and sometimes migration to a country of
origin that one had never been to) to South Asia and the Middle East; the
Turban Is Not a Hat campaign sought to educate Americans about the
differences between Muslims and Sikhs by regulating the distinctions between
headwear, turbans, headscarves. Surveillance is not just about who the state is
watching, but about multiple circuits of collective surveillance: its not just about
the act of seeing or noticing or screening (bodies/identities), but also about acts
of collecting, curating, and tabulating data and affect. Surveillance doesnt just
modulate between inner/outer or public/private, but rather upholds the fantasy
that these discrete realms exist, while working quite insidiously through
networks of gaze, data, and more. Even with forms of direct policing such as
Stop and Frisk, the temporality of surveilling is not just reactive, but also
preemptive and increasingly, predictive.
In surveillance studies, the notion of the superpanoptic supplements the
panoptic. The latter is a system through which the subject internalizes the gaze
of surveillance and the behavior of a docile body; the Superpanopticon,
however, supplements and sometimes precedes the Panopticon. It is a system
through which data forms and announces the body, producing a data body that
may well show up before an actual body. After 9/11, the meme Flying While
Brown emerged in response to airport policies regarding Arab or Muslimlooking passengers and as a correlate to Driving While Black. Flyers in U.S.
with great compliance started throwing out their expensive toiletries and, since
the shoe bomber incident, taking off their shoes without reflection, a
comment on the smooth inhabitation of new surveillance tactics.

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This kind of connective analysis links various kinds of


figures that emerge as targets of explicit surveillance to
the on-going systems of surveillance that bubble
underneath.

More recently, Global Entry, TSA Pre, and other pay-as-you-go securitization
programs allow you to pay for your status as a non-security risk or terrorist
threat. Im very interested in these forms of pay-as-you-go surveillance systems
that neutralize you as a security risk. I think they allow for new fissures in the
informational superpanoptic to develop, as people like myself, who have
traveled, for example, to Pakistan, Lebanon, and Palestine, have nonetheless
paid to be certified as non-risky travelers. The data body, composed of
information, of qualitative and quantitative metrics, supersedes the physical
body. The data body does not replace the physical body, but cuts in front of it,
thus allowing a scrambling of class, race, and nation in particular.
Cosmologics: Writers have noted a shift in American surveillance after
September 11th which in part refocused police efforts on religious minorities.
Could you speak a little more to this shift, and perhaps place it within a wider
trajectory of surveillance in America?
Jasbir Puar: Much of the work in Terrorist Assemblages mapped out the
dissolution of public/private divides that have in the past animated feminist
scholarship regarding the state and state intrusion into the private. This
private, as women of color and transnational feminists have pointed out, has
never quite existed given the level of state bureaucratic and administrative
presence in the households of immigrants and people of color. One interest of
mine is connecting the securitization upsurge that occurred after 9/11 with the
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formation of Homeland Security to both earlier and more recent discourses of


security that revolve around the home, and in particular the home as
something private, national, and safe. So before the War on Terror we had the
War on Drugs: this rationalized policing in the name of safe homes, in Black
communities in particular. The War on Drugs no doubt provided a domestic
blueprint for the foreign deployment enacted after September 11th. This is one
connective point to 9/11.
Another connective tissue to 9/11 is the financial crisis of 2008, which was not a
break from the securitization of the home and homeland, but a manifestation
of one of its tactical failures, that of securing the home economically. I think
2008 marks the end of the post 9/11 moment and re-complicates the Muslim
terrorist as the predominate target of surveillance technologies and
discourses. Surveillance happensobliquely, but it happensthrough the
instrument of the sub-prime mortgage, whereby once again the security and
safety of the home is determined through the surveillance of those subjects
deemed financially suspect. In this case, predominantly Black and Latino
populations were subject to foreclosures. Surveillance and securitization
economies work through a sort of monetization of ontologycertain bodies are
intrinsically risky investments via a circular logic of precarity whereby these
bodies are set up as unable to take on risk in the very system that produces
them as risky.
This kind of connective analysis links various kinds of figures that emerge as
targets of explicit surveillancein the case of 9/11, a religious figure, the
fundamentalist terroristto the on-going systems of surveillance that bubble
underneath. One analysis that I offer in Terrorist Assemblages is the irony of the
decriminalization of sodomy in the Lawrence decision of 2004, a ruling that
pivoted around the privatization of anal (and thus homosexual) sex within the
sanctity of the privately-owned home. This was at a time when Homeland
Security was requiring registration of men from Muslim countries, infiltrating
mosques, enacting home deportationsjust generally disrupting and halting
the construction of any kind of private home. One interpretation, then, of who
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exactly the Lawrence decision protects is: not so much the lesbian or gay or
homosexual or queer subject, but rather one whose private home has no
reason to be suspected and is not suspicious. The construction of intimacy, as
it is anchored in the private, becomes instrumentalized within the calculus of
biopolitics, a measure of ones worth to the state.

The democratization of surveillance through networks


of control demands we pay even greater attention to
the uneven distribution of disciplining, punishment, and
pleasure.

Cosmologics: What frameworks have you found the most compelling for
understanding the experience of surveillance in ways more sensitive to lived
reality, especially given the many ways we ourselves participate in surveillance?
Jasbir Puar: I have always been bemused about the debates regarding social
media and privacy. Outrage over the intrusion of privacy practices on Facebook
and Twitter erupt with regularity. But rather than merely expressing discomfort
and nostalgia about a long-gone protected realm of the private, these debates
also obfuscate an uncomfortable truth: that Facebook taps into our innerstalker, taps into the pleasures we revel in by surveilling others and by living out
our own privates in public. There is a kind of affective, technonationalist
embrace of surveillance.
So I think there is a conversation yet to be had about pleasure and surveillance
in relation to governmentality, policing, and biopolitics. This pleasure is both
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afforded and sublimated in the directive to surveil on behalf of patriotism, the


War on Terror, and America. Given the ubiquity of surveillance in our everyday
liveswe think nothing of pulling out cell phones to capture on video any
number of events that may unexpectedly unfold in front of us, from car
accidents to incidents of police brutality to weather phenomena to gang rapes
it then is hardly a stretch for a university administration (in this case, Rutgers
University) to present the possibility of installing cameras in classrooms as a
protective measure and as the natural course of the normalization of
surveillance.
Of course, the inhabitation of such pleasures is uneven and linked to the
differential effects of surveillance upon different bodies and communities. So
the questions in front of us toggle between who is being surveilled, and based
on the assumption of what political/dissident/deviant qualities? to is everyone
being surveilled, and if so, what is done with the surveillance? How are the lines
drawn between pleasure and punishment? The democratization of
surveillance through networks of control demands we pay even greater
attention to the uneven distribution of disciplining, punishment, and pleasure.

Gaza will be purportedly be uninhabitable by year 2020


according to whose metric, and by which predictive,
prehensive algorithms?

Cosmologics: How do you understand surveillance as having changed recently,


and what do you see as the challenges it will pose in the future?

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Jasbir Puar: One tendency I have also been tracking is the move from
responsive to pre-emptive to prehensive securitization. The prehensive is a
way of thinking about calculations of risk and the functioning of surveillance
that considers more than how surveillance potentially pre-empts unwanted
outcomes through the disciplining of some as a warning to all, and through the
recruitment of the general populace in the task of watching. Rather the
prehensive is about making the present look exactly the way it needs to in
order to guarantee a very specific and singular outcome in the future.
I am most interested in how this works in Gazahow mathematical algorithms
are deployed to fix calorie intake, water supplies, and electric currents, among
other infrastructural elementsto create an asphixatory regime of control, in
which the Palestinians can breathe and not breathe according to the desires of
the Occupier/Israel. This to me seems to be yet another manifestation of
surveillance which is indebted to Foucaults regimes of security, but which also
mutates it. It is not just an attempt to eliminate unwanted entities through a
paternalistic discourse of protectionism, but an actual predictive economy that
is much more deliberate in its targeting. Gaza will be purportedly be
uninhabitable by year 2020according to whose metric, and by which
predictive, prehensive algorithms? How is this inevitability procured? The
prehensive is about putting into place a set of predictive facts-on-the-ground, in
the terms of the language of risk, which extends itself to a projected
apocalypse. This set of constructed facts then lends itself easily to the
representation of Gaza as a natural disaster likely to happen. This kind of
surveillance, in the name not only of securitization but also of controlling the
future, is one, I believe, with which we will increasingly have to grapple.

Jasbir K. Puar is Associate Professor of Womens & Gender Studies at Rutgers


University. She received her Ph.D. in Ethnic Studies from the University of California
at Berkeley in 1999 and an M.A. from the University of York, England, in Womens
Studies in 1993. Puar is the author of Terrorist Assemblages: Homonationalism in
Queer Times, which won the 2007 Cultural Studies Book Award from the
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