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Security, Surveillance, and Militarization

Session III-15, 2022 Annual Meeting

On Friday, December 2 at 8:30 am

Panel Description
  • Soon after the 15 July 2016 failed coup attempt in Turkey, the Turkish government announced a new plan for military deconcentration. Major military troops and installations were redeployed from metropoles like Istanbul and Ankara to smaller places in their vicinity. If the plan was motivated by security concerns to preempt the likelihood of another coup, it also had an underlying developmental rationale to boost socio-economic development in smaller settlements through intensified troop concentration. In a period when the public reputation of the military institution had cratered, many inhabitants from across Turkish cities rallied to attract the soon-to-be-transferred troops, competing to become beneficiaries of a new force disposition. Based on 3-year dissertation research in Turkey, this paper discusses the historical vicissitudes and contemporary relevance of ‘militarized development,’ that is, the widespread social belief in militarization as a purveyor of positive social change. Drawing on archival research, semi-structured interviews with civilian and military populations, and ethnographic fieldwork in Corlu, a long-time garrison town with added post-coup forces in Turkish Thrace, it examines the public and political purchase of militarization as a pathway to development from both historical and contemporary angles. Accordingly, it asks: 1) why many urban residents seek militarization as a viable if not an ideal way for the betterment of their lives, and 2) how military forces remold the socio-economic and political fabric of the settlements adjacent to where they are stationed? This paper argues for the centrality of defense allocations in understanding the promise of militarization and host community - base relations in Turkey. It adopts an expansive view of ‘defense allocations’ that goes beyond the mere apportioning of defense funds, defining the term instead as the distribution of people, resources, and materials in space with a view to constant war readiness. Using interviews and a manually-compiled original dataset on local military spending through local newspaper research, the paper provides a window into how defense allocations, in a context of mass-male conscription, high force levels, and relatively low technology requirements, may particularly appeal to middling cities, like Corlu, as a developmental boon. Yet, while defense allocations may tilt regional hierarchies in certain places’ favor, they are also likely to introduce fractured patterns of (under)development on regional and national scales.
  • Carceral Convenience Umm Tarek's house sits nestled on a hill in the Tel Rumeida neighborhood of Hebron’s old city. Palestinian neighbors reach it from the footpaths that wind behind the paved streets, skirting around Israeli military checkpoints and settler compounds. Since the start of 2020, Umm Tarek has stayed home most days. Then, the Israeli military installed three large CCTV cameras on the rooftop of her home; they return every few weeks to make sure it is functioning correctly. The military promises the cameras--connected to the blue wolf biometric database-- enable an efficient and more humanitarian occupation. For Palestinians, the proliferation of new surveillance technologies are experienced as another kind of incarceration. This paper draws from 16 months of fieldwork in Palestine/Israel to provide an ethnographic account of new, so-called frictionless surveillance technologies proliferating across the occupied West Bank and worldwide. I draw from extensive interviews with Palestinians living in Hebron and East Jerusalem and Israeli intelligence veterans and military generals responsible for coordinating and carrying out surveillance. While Israeli authorities hold new surveillance technologies decrease interactions between occupation authorities, I demonstrate how frictionless surveillance technologies exacerbate the carceral effects of Israel’s military rule. While scholarship attendant to Israel’s technologized occupation has proliferated in recent years, few scholars have provided extended studies of how specific technologies are designed, deployed, and experienced across the West Bank. This paper demonstrates how biometric technologies, CCTV cameras, and digital surveillance tools require forms of human intervention that intrude on Palestinians' quotidian lives. AI-powered technologies are subject to a technical malfunction and constant upkeep that exacerbate military rule's violence. As these technologies are exported worldwide, honing in on their effects in Hebron demonstrates the dangers investments in such "security solutions" pose to privacy worldwide.
  • Based on eighteen months of ethnographic fieldwork in war-torn Syria and Lebanon, this paper shows that ordinary people before and throughout the war lived their sect identities through a sense of “security and safety,” and changes therein resulted in a shift in ordinary Syrians’ sect habitus in Bourdieu’s parlance. This paper argues that sect identities are dynamic and in this case are shaped by a sense of security and safety. For example, when military operations overtook the opposition’s peaceful demonstrations, the sense of “security and safety” led some opposition activists and demonstrators to retreat and try to go back to “normal,” and led others to join the Syrian army after sectarian clashes emerged in various places, and even led others who identify as secularist atheists to accept living under Al-Qaeda territories. Different experiences of security and safety in different regions and for different groups and individuals gave new meanings to sect identities which in turn are shaping the struggle in different ways at the popular level. Attention to these dynamics allows us to see how sect identities take on new meanings before, during, and post-war.
  • The past decade has seen marked declines in social trust alongside the growth of generalized suspicion globally. While the macro-level implications of these trends are increasingly evident—from the spread of conspiracy theories to the deterioration of democratic institutions—the reasons that generalized suspicion thrives in widely varying social environments and its effects on how people live their lives remain open questions. I explore these questions in the context of Turkey, a country with a long history of low social trust. Building on interviews with ethnographers whose fieldwork spans more than three decades and every major region of Turkey, this research integrates ethnographers’ accounts of their own experiences of suspicion, conspiracy theories, trust-building, and vulnerability with historical research into the contexts and communities where these ethnographers conducted fieldwork to advance important insights into the origins and quotidian consequences of generalized suspicion.
  • Previous research on military interventions emphasizes that coups and coup-prevention reforms undermine the military’s warfighting performance and demographic diversity due primarily to ethnically, religiously, or ideologically motivated interventions on the military’s internal affairs, specifically its recruitment and promotion processes (Quinlivan 1999; Brooks 2003, 2006; Biddle and Long 2004; Pilster and Bohmelt 2011; Talmadge 2015; Narang and Talmadge 2017). However, my preliminary research on the Turkish case challenges existing explanations by, first, evincing a puzzling increase in merit-based promotions and drastic revisions in officer education programs in the immediate aftermath of military interventions between 1960 and 2007, each of which was accompanied by a comprehensive purge in the officer corps; second, revealing that post-coup purges fail to alter the ethnic and geographical composition of the officer corps. I argue that counterintuitive post-coup promotion patterns in the Turkish officer corps result from military leaders’ performance-sensitive self-coup proofing strategies that recognize the importance of officer corps’ quality for the military’s effectiveness, especially in the face of major security threats, an uncommon approach in civilian dictatorships where concerns over regime security often outweigh external threats. I base my findings on an individual-level analysis of the relationship between academic performance—the military academy and general staff college rankings—and the likelihood of career advancement—the highest rank and office achieved— in the Turkish officer corps. Through an event-history analysis, I trace each senior officer’s ethnic background and career path in the Turkish army, navy, air force and probe the influence of six military interventions between 1960 and 2007 on the promotion and retirement decisions about approximately 17,000 general staff officers and generals using the original HOCA (Historical Officer Career Advancement) Dataset I created. The HOCA data has been drawn from military academy registries, yearbooks, and Supreme Military Council decisions during three-year fieldwork in Turkey. I also conducted about 100 interviews with retired officers, scholars, journalists, and politicians of military background.
  • This paper explores Israel’s securitization of COVID-19 in the occupied Palestinian territories (OPT) from the onset of the pandemic to the present through its robust and expansive security state. The paper considers the securitization theoretical framework as developed by the Copenhagen school to investigate how an epidemiological situation has been used for political purposes (Buzan et al., 1998; Williams, 2003; McDonald, 2008; Olesker, 2014; Mabon, 2018; Kirck & McDonald, 2021). Using primary and secondary sources, the paper addresses the following key research questions: (1) What is the historical context for the state’s securitization of the pandemic; (2) How has COVID-19 been securitized in the OPT; and (3) What tools have been used in this securitization? The paper begins with an overview of the weak and unstable pre-pandemic healthcare system in the OPT that has existed under Israeli military occupation since 1967. The paper then investigates how the state has securitized the pandemic, thereby advancing militarism and surveillance especially through the use of technological tools. I argue that while the COVID-19 pandemic has been securitized by Israel and used by the state to further expand its control over Palestinians in the OPT, the state already had mechanisms in place that made it easy to deploy to a new (public health) security threat. I then illustrate how places like the OPT pose a challenge for Western-originated securitization theory as even prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, Palestinians’ everyday life had been securitized. I conclude by suggesting that the OPT and other similar places experiencing sustained state (e.g. military, border control, etc.) and non-state (e.g. Israeli settlers) violence can shed light on how to better understand the complexity of securitization, particularly outside Western liberal democracies that exist in our contemporary world.