What I’m reading, January 2013

I am going to try to do a reasonably regular round-up of books on surveillance and security that have come across my desk.

First up is Harvey Molotch’s new one, Against Security (Princeton, 2012), published just at the back end of last year, which is an excellent and wise demolition of contemporary US security culture. Wisdom is a quality that I am rather wary of attributing to any work, but Molotch’s book really has the intelligence, consideration and compassion that constitute wisdom. Plus he’s a lovely man in person, who I had the pleasure of meeting for the first time last year at the Association of American Geographer’s Annual Conference in his native New York.

Second is Zooland, by Irus Braverman (Stanford Law Books, 2013). Just out is this great book from one of the most uncategorisable and free-roaming young scholars around. Irus has written on all kinds of things from the use of trees in the Israel-Palestine conflict to the surveillance and security dimensions of automated public washrooms, and in this book, she deals with zoos, but from a governance perspective, dealing with the management and global flows of human and animal bodies, materiel and increasingly importantly, data, that make them up. There will be a glowing review of this by Kevin Haggerty in the next (double) issue of Surveillance & Society 10(3/4), out very soon.

I’ve just received a copy of Surveillance on Screen, by S├ębastien Lefait (Scarecrow Press, 2013). He’s not someone I had ever come across before, but this looks to be the most comprehensive and wide-ranging study so far of surveillance cinema. I’ll be reviewing it for Surveillance & Society

As someone who was originally a historian, I am still always drawn to approaches which take a long view. Endless Empire, a collection edited by Alfred McCoy, Josep Fradera and Stephen Jacobsen (Wisconsin, 2012). A set of essays by leading historians of imperialism which adds to the longstanding debate about whether the USA is in decline as an imperial power and they are very much on the ‘decline’ side. McCoy has become one of my favourite historians largely due to Policing America’s Empire (Wisconsin, 2010), his work about US neo-imperialism, surveillance and control in the Philippines.

My other favourite working historian is Mark Mazower, and I’m just finishing his recent book, Governing the World (Penguin 2012) a major synthesis which examines the intellectual and political history of attempts to create global governance in the modern period. This was published just as I was starting to revise my article for Geoforum on global surveillance and it has helped a lot with how I have been thinking about my revisions. Among the gems in the book for surveillance studies scholars, or indeed anyone interested in government – Jeremy Bentham’s design for the Panopticon is pretty much unavoidable in this area, but I hadn’t paid much attention to the fact that he also invented the word ‘international’…