Starr, Amory, Luis A. Fernandez, and Christian Scholl. Shutting Down the Streets: Political Violence and Social Control in the Global Era.
Shutting Down the Streets offers a fresh perspective on the dynamics of protest policing and the control of dissent generally based on the three authors' experience in 20 anti-globalization demonstrations between 1999 and 2009. The authors, who "studied social control with [their] own bodies" (p. 19), use some dramatic anecdote to break up the theoretical and empirical discussions in the text. They critique the framework within which the "policing of protest" has been studied previously and offer a more generalized notion of "social control of dissent." Three basic ideas flow through the text. First is the notion that legitimate grievances expressed at global summits can threaten the legitimacy of global institutions and motivate those institutions to control expressions of dissent. The second is that dissent is increasingly controlled by social means, along the lines of what Foucault named "technologies of the self" and through a process Chomsky calls "manufacturing consent." Finally, the context for this dynamic of control and dissent is based on a historical precedent of domestic policing as counterinsurgency, exemplified by the FBI's record of targeting such groups as civil rights leaders, muslims, environmental activists, anarchists.
In Shutting Down the Streets, dissent consists of collective, disruptive processes, operationalized as social movements. The cases presented in the book consist of international summit protests, so both the long-term planning and the actual protests are considered. The authors claim to observe a relatively complete cross-section of social movements at summit protests. While this may be the case, the degree to which summit protest is representative of dissent generally remains questionable. People who travel from summit protest to summit protest (known colloquially as summit-hoppers) do constitute a distinct subgroup of dissenters and are obviously over-represented in the book's sampling frame, in comparison with local dissenters. This dynamic is not lost on the authors, who show that intimidating, coercing, and dissuading people from participating in protests is not a byproduct of "protest policing" but is actually the intended result of a broader process of criminalizing dissent.
Shutting Down the Streets broadens the scope of study beyond protest policing to include control mechanisms that are deployed against social movements over many years. The new framework is necessary they argue, because the existing notion of "policing is inadequate to describe the temporality, spatiality, complexity, and diversity of social control tactics" they witnessed (p. 146). Based on their experience and research, the authors conclude that a new form of low-intensity warfare has been replacing previous paradigms of policing. In the new paradigm, dissent itself (rather than particular speech acts) is effectively criminalized and punished through an array of public relations campaigns, extensive intelligence operations, intimidation of sympathetic observers, and comprehensive military involvement. Ultimately, all these technologies of control (as well as deterrence measures like cameras and threats of violence) manifest in physical space as fences, barricades, and police lines. These "protection" measures are increasingly expensive and extend far beyond the sites of summits and protests to spaces of dissent, where they act as "mass and individual psychological operations, serving to marginalize, isolate, delegitimize, and demonize dissenters and dissent" (p. 21). The repression of dissent at these summits has more in common with totalitarian regimes of terror than with supposedly legitimate efforts to ensure public safety. In fact, since the publishing of this book, the repression of dissent surrounding international summit protests (for example the Chicago 2012 NATO summit) have only been more severe, adding disappearances of demonstrators to the established routine of police raids. The authors apply the accepted reality of mass terror regimes to the supposedly democratic societies where these summits occur.
Published the same month as the beginning of the Arab Spring and less than a year prior to the Occupy Wall Street movement, this book provides a useful theoretical framework and historical context for understanding the conditions that led to the recent social movements and why they unfolded as they did. For example, the authors anticipate the increasing significance of computer "hacktivism," and even paraphrase what would become a motto of Anonymous hackers worldwide ("the multitude is ... legion,") from Hardt and Negri's 2004 volume, Multitude: War and Democracy in the Age of Empire. Shutting Down the Streets is a valuable text for academics, activists, public servants of all stripes, and anyone stuck in traffic wondering who to blame for shutting down the streets.
Bill Vassilakis., M.A.
Independent Scholar of Urban Policy and Planning
Forks of Salmon, California
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|Publication:||International Social Science Review|
|Article Type:||Book review|
|Date:||Mar 22, 2013|
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