PPWG Panels at ISA 2016, Part I: ‘Popular Culture, Everyday Experiences and World Politics’

We at the PPWG are delighted to announce that a PPWG panel,
‘On the Government of Peaceful and Violent Life’, has been
selected for British International Studies Association
sponsorship at ISA 2016. The PPWG hopes to convene two panels
at ISA 2016, a panel on ‘Popular Culture, Everyday Experiences
and World Politics’ and the above mentioned ‘On the Government
of Peaceful Life’. Below is the abstract for the panel on
Popular Culture Everyday Experiences and World Politics’. We
hope to see many of you at these two panels!

Proposed ISA Panel from the Poststructural Politics Working Group

Convenors: Tahseen Kazi and Elisa Wynne-Hughes

Popular Culture, Everyday Experiences and World Politics

Chair: Jutta Weldes (University of Bristol)

Discussant: Matt Davies (Newcastle)

This panel draws upon the narrative turn and the focus on popular culture in International Relations. It builds from the premise that traditional causal methods are insufficient to analyze the relationship between popular culture and world politics. Textual and visual methods also cannot account for significant elements of this relationship, especially when it comes to more lived and embodied aspects of popular culture. This panel will discuss how stories can be employed as a method to understand the connections between popular culture experiences, people’s everyday lives and world politics concerns. To do so it asks contributors to tell a story about an experience they have had with popular culture (tourism, a film, television show, form of education, food, dance, music, sport) and to highlight how it relates to their lives in a way that reinforces and/or resists dominant ideas, identities and practices in world politics.


International Schools and the International

Elisa Wynne-Hughes and Chiziwiso Pswarayi (Cardiff University)

In this paper we tell stories of our experiences at residential international high schools in Canada, Norway and China, whose mission is ‘to unite people, nations and cultures for peace and a sustainable future’. We use these stories to discuss how these schools shape the international. We came to understand the international as a site where cultural differences (food, dance, songs, clothing) can be shared and international affairs discussed. We came to believe that good international leaders are those who appreciate these differences, who promote human rights, and who provide humanitarian assistance to those in need, while recognizing their privilege in the international system. What our experiences tell us, we argue, is that these schools use cultural tolerance and humanitarianism to conceal how the philanthropic international leaders they produce are implicated in the suffering of the global majority by sustaining elite (financial, mobility) privileges. The type of international produced is therefore premised on a narrowly defined understanding of cultural differences that are accepted as long as they do not challenge Western liberal values and the capitalist economy. This paper explores how such stories are key to making connections between everyday experiences and the production of the international.


Loss of a Loss: Ground Zero, Manhattan

Jenny Edkins (Aberystwyth University)

In the paper I present an account in narrative form of a visit to the site of the World Trade Center in New York. At the time, the 9/11 Memorial was open, but the rest of the site, with its hotels, shopping malls, transport hubs and office blocks, remained under construction. I examine how the process of rebuilding has thoroughly obliterated the traces of what happened in 2001. I explore the layout and policing of the site, and recount the route I took as a visitor through security checks and building works to arrive at the memorial. What has been thoroughly forgotten, I argue, is the trauma of the days immediately after 9/11, when an injury to the fabric of our social fantasy threatened (or promised) to open new political possibilities. The Trade Centre has been rebuilt higher and the memory of what happened gentrified and commodified. However, it is not so much what the site has become that disturbs, I find, but the lack of a sense of loss. The paper calls into question the idea that there could be memorial practices that remain faithful to the traumatic event, and thus embody the potential for political change.


Like beads on an abacus designed to calculate infinity

Alister Wedderburn (King’s College London)

The narrator of W.G. Sebald’s novel Rings of Saturn, peering out of the window of an aeroplane, sees a line of cars strung out along a motorway. They look, he says, ‘like beads on an abacus designed to calculate infinity’.

Transport and travel are pillars not only of our personal lives but also of a globalised economy: goods, people and electronic signals circulate the world at extraordinary speed and in extraordinary quantity. In these contexts, transport and travel are often associated with security, wealth and freedom. Yet they can also be provoked by precarity, poverty and/or terror.

In all its forms, as Sebald’s abacus metaphor suggests, movement can be subject to ‘calculation’; to attempted incorporation into discourses of rationality, surveillance and security. If an everyday emblem of these processes of ‘calculation’ were needed, one might suggest the Oyster card.

The Oyster card is a cashless, computerised payment system used on London’s transport network. It was developed in partnership with TransSys, a consortium of companies including well-known private military contractors such as Cubic Corporation and Fujitsu.

This presentation will use narrative-political methods to interrogate the Oyster card, a piece of blue plastic that presses upon issues of security/precarity, wealth/poverty, exchange/coercion, ‘native’/migrant.


Affect, Governmentality and Geopolitical Walkthroughs

Mehmet Evren EKEN (Royal Holloway, University of London)

How does a human-being turn itself into a geopolitical subject? Despite the conceptual interventions often made into the realms of everyday life, popular culture and affect through the Foucauldian lexicon, the absence of a clear methodological approach is yet to be addressed. In order to fill this lacuna, the paper suggests the deployment of Ian Bogost`s “procedural rhetoric” to devise a “visual rhetorical analysis” as a methodological toolkit to elicit the traces of affect and governmentality through the experiences of the subject. In this aim, by pinpointing the methodological flaws in the literature as “power-centric preliminary analyses”, first, the paper will show how the concepts of power, governmentality and affect are mainly focusing on the “king`s head”, rather than “chopping off” it. Second, a personal story based on an Oculus Rift experience will be discussed to instantiate the possibilities of a practice based methodological approach which encompasses the subject, visuality and popular culture through the concept of technologies of the self. Hence, the main aim of the paper is to provoke a methodological debate to trace the ways in which popular culture is governmentalized and to offer a framework through which subjective experiences are narrated and decoded.


What can Robocop(s) teach to critical security studies? An “amateur” reading of violence and (dis)order; human/non-human relations; and critique

Rocco Bellanova (PRIO)

Harry Potter, Battlestar Galactica, zombies and other popular culture ‘products’ are no longer bizarre objects of research. Still, the attention mostly focuses on their role as representations of something out-there. Their potential agency is recognized in relation to world politics, but there is little interest in their ability to challenge and complement researchers’ representations and methods.

In this contribution I argue in favor of charting the multiple ways in which popular culture advances its own framing of politics. The aim is not only to understand how specific products support or question security practices, but also how a popular culture experience can originally contribute to critical security studies.

I engage with two Robocop films (1987 and 2014). I claim no expertise in cinema studies: I rather adopt an “amateur” perspective (to quote Rancière). Through a back and forth between my story as researcher and as spectator, I re-engage with these two movies in relation the following themes: violence and (dis)order; human/non-human relations; and critique. I present the security practices and the strategies of description adopted in the movies. Then, I juxtapose Robocop(s) to my experience of critical security studies, highlighting what, and how, we may learn as spectators of popular culture.