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Luis Fernandez: On Arizona's immigration laws and policing as counter insurgency

We talked to our comrade and colleague Luis Fernandez, author of "Policing Dissent" (2008) and co-author of "Shutting Down the Streets" (2011), in mid-November 2011 about these two books and the current state of policing dissent in Arizona, and the United States more generally.

Image showing: Zones of political activity, from Dissent to Protest
Zones of political activity, from Dissent to Protest

What the Police are Doing is more akin to Counter Insurgency than to Protest Policing

Policing Crowds: Luis, during the last years, you worked a lot on global protest movements. Your new book Shutting Down the Streets is out on the market now. What is it about? And how does it differ from your former monograph, Policing Dissent?

Luis Fernandez: First I want to say thanks to my two co-authors, Amory Starr and Christian Scholl for all their support and collaboration.

Regarding your question, I think the two books compliment each other well, dovetailing into a broad argument explaining how law enforcement functions to control dissent. Both books attempt to understand and delineate police strategies in mitigating, pacifying, and managing political dissent, particularly the control tactics aimed at radical formations.

The first book, Policing Dissent, is rooted in the tumultuous political activities that made up the anti-globalization Movement (also known as the Global Justice, Anti-corporate Globalization, or Alter-globalization movement). The book originates from my involvement in North American from 2000 to 2005, when I was a full participatory observed. I think of the book as analyzing control mechanism from the point of view of the rubber bullets coming my way, rather than from the other side, from the police perspective. So it was my intention to become both a full activist and a researcher simultaneously, placing myself in the middle of intense political actions to understand how control mechanisms manifest themselves on the body and mind of the protestor. This is a little unorthodox, but it does have some precedent in criminological literature, for example in the work of Jeff Ferrell (1) and Randall Amster (2), as well as early sociologists and ethnographers.

So I entered the movement and participated, which allowed me to notice how police form tactics to blunt and possibly destroy network-based movements. In the past, organizations (such as labor unions) required a centralized, hierarchical structure to operate. The person at the top made an announcement and this was spread through the labor lieutenants and eventually to the workers at the bottom of the ladder. The alter-globalization movement rejected this hierarchal scheme. Instead of a centralized system, the participants adopted a decentralized, network-based approach to political organizing and political protest. Even though we (both activists and scholars) now know the impact of new technologies on protest and organizational structures, at the time the police were just starting to understand the full impact of cell phones, texting, e-mails, listservs, and now Facebook – the impact that network technologies have in producing rapid mobilizations.

This technological impact is now clearly visible all over the world, including in the mobilization that resulted in the Arab Spring, the Spanish encampados and more recently in the Occupy Wall Street formations that spread from New York City, to Oakland, Portland, and a hundreds of smaller cities all over the United States. At the time I wrote Policing Dissent, these types of mobilization were just emerging, but more importantly, the police were starting to think about how to control them. The book, then, focuses on how the State (through Law Enforcement) deploys specific techniques to control a network-based social movement.

While this network-based form of organization was effective early in the cycle of the alter-globalization movement, the police soon made important counter moves: including closing off public spaces, deployment of mass military equipment, and use of media campaigns. To fully understand the policing of protest, the book argues, we must go beyond current ideas of repression and embrace a more dynamic view of control and policing, including three separate (but interacting) fields of control. These are the legal, the physical, and the psychological fields that form (in time and space) around each protest. As these fields applied to the alter-globalization movement, they also apply to the Arab Spring, the case in Spain, and other network-based movements. There are lessons in the book that should be useful to current protesters.

Regarding police repression, less visible to the public are strong currents of control that operate in more subtle forms. When it comes to protests, these subtle forms of control include permit negotiation, channeling of mass demonstrations into protest zones, and the legal application of rules aimed to subdue protest. In the case of the IMF protests, for instance, law enforcement promoted fear through warnings about dangerous protesters, deploying police in riot gear, and other tactics. They also used harder, more obvious forms of control, such doing mass sweeps and arrests of protesters. In Policing Dissent, then, I examine how the state, through various law enforcement agencies, controls dissent, looking not only at direct, street-level repression but also at emerging strategies for regulation and pacification of free speech and radical thought above and beyond street demonstrations.

Shutting Down the Street is a slightly different book. My co-authors and I wrote it at a different moment, after the initial wave of the alter-globalization movement was declining, and when police had carefully figured out how to control the mass mobilizations around large gathering such as those protesting the G8, WTO, and NATO. For example, we begin Shutting Down the Streets with the example of the walls build to protect the G8 meeting in Germany in 2007. The German state build a two and a half meters high metal fence, composed with a concrete foundations and designed to cradle a curlicue of razor and barbed wire. Each bolt and hinge of the wall was soldered in place. When finished, the fence resembled something you might see surrounding a prison rather than a meeting of the leaders of democratic nations. By 2007, then, the police had figured out how to fortify, isolate, and separate protesters far away from the people they were protesting, thus minimizing the potential impact and disruption of the demonstrations, while still trying to maintain a facade of democratic legitimacy.

Shutting Down the Streets, then, updates Policing Dissent, arguing that what we are witnessing now an attack on the foundations of liberal democracy. However, there is a paradox. That is at the very moment of the attack on basic democratic values we also have governments espousing democracy both internally and abroad, specifically in relation to human rights in relations to such nations as China. Regardless of whether or not this is only rhetoric, a vast number of people in these nations believe that their nations are democratic. This second book, then, is about the social control of dissent in the contemporary era, looking at the effects it has to the democratic fibers in our society, arguing that things are shifting in important ways. We are argue that one of the central moves in control radical movements is the criminalizing of what was only recently accepted as basic rights, such as assembly, association, and speech. However, the book goes beyond this argument as well, showing that what the police are doing is more akin to counter insurgency than to protest policing. That is, the energy, resources, logic, and tactics deployed against mass mobilizations are similar to those developed in the military to win the hearts and minds of an insurgent population. As you can see, this book brings the argument of control of dissent a little further, showing the next set of steps in the move to control movements that have potential to change our society.

A number of scholars have studied the policing of protest (or the interactions between police and protest), defining models of interaction and showing how they are changing historically. See for instance all the work about the escalated model of policing. Our concern in this book is quite different. We see policing as just one tactic in a system of social control which is far more subtle, indirect, and significant than the civil management of protest. Further, we do not limit our notion of dissent to protesters. We are concerned with a much larger group, including folks who are in the streets, those how participate from afar, and sections of the population who might participate but are discouraged because of the repressive images of control. In Shutting Down the Streets, then, we see define dissent as a concept that encompasses a wide variety of phenomena, varying from regular protest to acts of resistance (see figure above). 

Understanding these zones is important for two reasons. 

  1. First, control operates differently in each zone. For instance, media campaigns can affect the perception of people who have no intention of coming out to a march or a demonstration, but who still have an impact on political atmosphere of a nation. Yet, we tend to ignore how control operates on these folks.
  2. Second, if you look at the effects of control across zones, you notice a broader set of consequences. That is, you notice a type of counter insurgency strategy. You also notice how a particular tactic (like the use of fences) functions both as a way to prevent mobilizations during a protest but also as a kind of perceptual field that leaves traces and residues in following mobilizations as well as the development of future movements. That is, the tactics have effects beyond the specific protest under study and across zones of dissent. It sets the stage for either the repression of future movements or reducing the possibility of movements from forming and taking hold. The book, then, shows the various control techniques that deal across and through these zones of dissent.

Policing Crowds: From your books – and from our meetings in Berlin and San Francisco in 2010 –, we also know that you are an activist. Can you briefly describe what’s currently going on in Arizona? How are you and others responding to what is happening?

Luis: Let me first describe what is happening in Arizona, which is not an easy task because the situation here is shifting so drastically from one day to the next. Then I will end with quick description of how we are responding.

In the last five years, Arizona exploded with anti-immigrant sentiment, both from the general population and from politicians. Between 2007 and 2011, no less than 150 anti-immigration laws were proposed, all seeking to criminalize the undocumented people. The laws required proof of U.S. citizenship for many public services, including getting a driver’s license, a marriage certificate, and healthcare for children. And this is a problem for two reasons:

  1. First, the United States is an immigrant nation, with both a history of immigrant flows and a self-identify as pluralistic society. In fact, the U.S. did not have an immigration policy, regulations, or stipulations until 1921. This means that people who entered the country before that time were unregulated, making it almost impossible for these immigrants ever to be considered or categorized as illegals.
  2. Second, the population in Arizona is made up of large number of people from Latin America, mostly from Mexico. They form a combination of documented and undocumented individuals. The laws targeting only the undocumented end up, effectively criminalizing a person that looks undocumented. What does an undocumented person look like? In the United States and in Arizona specifically, it looks like a person of color. When applied, these anti-immigrant laws are reinforcing racial profiling and the racial inequities that already exist.

To really understand how this criminalizing process of immigrants happens in Arizona, we can look at examples in the criminalization of homeless peopleRandall Amster, the author of Lost in Space: the Criminalization, globalization, and urban ecology of homelessness, examines the ways the state regulates and controls homeless people. According to Amster, you can not make a homeless people directly a criminal, so the state criminalizes all the activities required to live as a homeless person. To eliminate homeless people from your streets, then, the state criminalizes behaviors under different ordinances at the city level, such as public camping, sitting on the sidewalk, urination, etc. Since a homeless person has to live in public settings, if you criminalize what is required for this type of existence (like sleeping in public) you also effectively and indirectly criminalize that type of being.

When I look at the criminalization of undocumented people in Arizona, I see a similar pattern to the criminalization of homeless people. Like homeless folks, immigrants are denied what is required to exist in a state on undocumentability. However, the case with the undocumented is also different from the homeless in significant ways. Unlike the homeless, an undocumented person can be made into a criminal at the being level – their entire being is considered illegal, ontologically. But perhaps we can think of this as a two level process. 

  1. At one level, the federal laws make undocumented being a criminal act, making the person inherently illegal – their entire being is breaking the law just through its existence.
  2. At another level, local Arizona laws make all that is required to exist as an undocumented person untenable. For example, legislators in Arizona made impossible for undocumented people to get drivers license without proof of citizenship. This literally created the crime of driving without a license for the undocumented population, a crime they were not committing before the law was in place. Since driving is a necessity in Arizona because of the lack of public transportation, this means that you have effectively forced hundreds of thousands of people to commit a crime they would not otherwise commit if allowed a license. Thus, driving without a license becomes an excuse to stop people of color to check for papers.



If the above is correct, then we can see that the strategy is to target all those things that make undocumented life possible: work, education, family life, healthcare, home, etc. This tactic is called attrition through enforcement, a tactic develop by conservatives to deal with the immigration problem. The tactic of enforcement through attrition, then, targets the essence of undocumented life, making it untenable for undocumented people to meet their needs. For instance, nativists (i.e., individuals who advocate for the perpetuation of native societies, which usually means white people) are trying to pass laws that take away the possibility of primary or secondary education for undocumented children. On health, they are trying to force hospitals to check for citizenship before receiving emergency services. In work, they are forcing employees to request papers. This makes hiring undocumented people risky, which eliminates access to work.

To sum up, we can see the targeting of education, health, and work, things required to sustain life. But one other provision that’s more obscure is that one requiring proof of U.S. citizenship for a marriage license. They were trying to make love between documented and undocumented people illegal and thus less likely. Here you see the closing of all the possibilities of what it means to become an undocumented person. It is what my friend Meghan McDowell calls the untenable life strategy.

In the aftermath of all this anti-immigration sentiment, about 100,000 undocumented people left the state of Arizona. From personal conversations with undocumented people, I hear that they left because they were afraid and also they could not find steady work. As you can see, the tactic has effectively pushed out an undesired population. After examining this closely, I equate it with ethnic cleansing. Let me restate this again, more strongly: what happened in Arizona is ethnic cleansing. If ethnic cleansing is the production of laws that induce fear so that a population leaves an area, then we just went through this in Arizona.

Much of what I have been doing is a combination of academic analysis of immigration and direct political work. The political work involves working with the Repeal Coalition, a group that works to protect the rights to live, love, and work wherever you please. The group is made up of university students, some professors, and undocumented people who live in Arizona. Our main purpose is to support undocumented people as political agents who are able to make political decision and push for their interest. This is, of course, the opposite of what people on the right want in Arizona, a group of politically charged individuals that can challenge their laws. To that end, the group has done a number of things – including helping push a local City Council to sue the Arizona State Government for producing laws that result in racial profiling. We have also organized marches and rallies with hundreds of undocumented people.

Policing Crowds: In the German speaking context, at least, we are no longer talking about the anti-globalization movement as you did in your former book. In your new book, you now also talk about alterglobalizatíon. Did something change within the movement, or what’s your reason for changing its name?

Luis: I think the name of the movement is inconsequential. That is, it’s not important what we call it or even if it exists any more. I’ve never paid much attention to the name, since names are always contested, with people and groups pushing for one over another, sometimes with personal interest at heart. For example, scholars sometimes fight over the names of phenomena. Those who win can become famous. I don’t like those games and try not to play them.

To me, the important part is that the movement did exist at one point (with several different names, including Anti-globalization, Global Justice, and Alter-globalization) and that it was structured as a network. For a few years, the network structure was effective in disrupting global institutions like the World Trade Organization. However, law enforcement soon figured out how to deal with this movement, making it more and more difficult for disruption to occur. This is what is important to me; the way the movement organized and how police controlled it.

Equally important are the implications of such a movement on policing. This is particularly evident right now in the United States, where we can see a strong reemergence of the tactics used in the alter-globalization movement inside the Occupy Wall Street Movement. That is, if you look at the way activists are organizing within Occupy, you can see similar components present that existed in the alter-globalization movement. These include a network-based organizing, spokes councils (or general assemblies), and the different tents in side of each occupation (e.g., media, legal, etc.). You can also see a similarity in the use of technologies (texts, Facebook, Twitter, etc.). I see strong similarities between Occupy and the alter-globalization movement. To me, what seems important is how the police will respond to all this, rather than the name.

Policing Crowds: Your book ends with the notion, Until then, cameras, lemons, and fast sneakers. Can you briefly describe the time after? What do you mean, when you say the most important socio-legal project is to gain legal standing for social movements as a class?

Louis: When my co-authors and I wrote until then, we were hoping we would see the reader in the streets the next time street protest arises. At the time, we knew that the alter-globalization movement was on the decline, but we also knew that it would not be long until another mobilization took its place. Fortunately, we were correct, since Occupy Wall Street movement has taken off in the United States in unpredictable ways. We still hope to see the reader in the streets fighting for justice, equality, and freedom.

Regarding the socio-legal project, this is a little more complicated. That is, the statement refers to work that Amory Starr and I did a few years ago. At the time, our work focused on state surveillance of groups in the United States, looking at the effects that state surveillance has on the internal dynamics of an activist group. Here we focused on mainstream groups, not radical ones. That is, we interviewed individuals from mainstream groups who were opposing the Iraq war and who had been identified in the press as being followed by the Federal Bureau of Investigation.

In this work, we developed a framework for analyzing the impacts of surveillance on assembly and association. Generally, social and legal scholars tend to focus on the effects of state surveillance on free speech. Speaking specifically form a legal perspective, scholars and lawyers tend to use free speech rights to defend the right of activist in public spaces. What we argue in this work is that the lawyers do not understand that surveillance also has significant impacts on assembly and association, more so than on speech. That is, surveillance can reduce the number of people who assemble and associate with each other, thus reducing the changes for social movements to develop. The fewer the people associating with each other, the less likely that groups will produce collective action.

This argument likely makes most sense in the United States where we have specific legal concepts around issues of association and assembly. I don’t know enough about the legal systems elsewhere to know how applicable this argument is. However, in the United States, opening up a legal line against surveillance as it impacts rights of assembly is a worthwhile endeavor.

Regarding the concept of class, this is also a legal concept and issue of great importance in the impact of surveillance on social movements. In the United States, the legal (not sociological) definition of class includes those persons in the same grouping, category, level of rights, or who have suffered from the same incident. The reason why this concept is legally crucial is that any group that is defined as class can collectively sue for any damages incurred on any person in the that class. This is why in the United States you see a lot of class action lawsuits where groups of people try to sue a large corporation (for instance) for having polluted their water and caused damage to the entire group.

To get back to your question, then, what we mean by the most important socio-legal project is to gain legal standing for social movements as a class is that social movements have not yet been classified as a class. As such, this means that a social movement can’t yet enter a courtroom and sue the police for having incurred damages to the entire social movement. Our work is aimed at opening this legal/political space. We think there is enough evidence to suggest that surveillance, and perhaps other political repressive tactics, affects the entire social movement, thus rendering all social movement participants as a class. If we can make this argument in a court, we think we could slow down the encroachment of political repression that is hindering movements from developing to their full democratic potential.

Policing Crowds: Are there any other projects you would identify as most important?

Luis: Currently I am working on two issues. First is immigration. Being in Arizona gave me a front row seat at the epicenter of an anti-immigrant sentiment that is also present in many other nations. Yet, even here in Arizona, where some of the most draconian laws are formulated, I witnesses strong moments of resistance. For instance, in May of 2010 the Arizona State Legislature tried to pass a bill that required that police stop anybody who they suspected of being undocumented, which here in Arizona translates into racial profiling people from Mexico (legal or otherwise). Yet, in the middle of this repressive time the Repeal Coalition (a group who works closely with undocumented people) managed to turn out about 500 people to a local city council meeting. The people who showed up were mostly undocumented, which means that under normal circumstances they would not be expected to act as political beings, given that the normal political channels (such as the city council) listen to people who vote. These folks can’t vote, are considered illegal, and the laws were on their side. Yet many undocumented people stood in front of politicians and spoke against the current laws. They not only spoke but also demanded the attention of city officials. They insisted that their voices be heard and that the local politicians also represent their interest. To me, this was incredible, since the legal and political system is set up intentionally to erase their political subjectivities, to render them invisible, docile, and compliant.

These events in Arizona illustrate important points bout immigration:

  1. First, there is a politic developing around the issue of mobility. That is, the ability to move freely across borders is becoming more important for them than the desire for citizenship. If this is correct, the political movement around these issues could transform not only the boundaries of state, but also the state itself.
  2. Second, undocumented people live and form multiple political communities that cross national borders. And undocumented people are demanding the right to participate politically in multiple communities, in multiple nations. The idea of a citizenship that would give them the right to remain in one place does not resonate with them. Home is in multiple locations.
  3. Third, the mobile nature of undocumented people challenges the essential principles of the liberal state, particularly the concepts of sovereignty, territory, and citizenship. So I am currently working around immigration issues, looking at the control of immigrant bodies, because I think this has laboratory potential that might result in unexpected transformations.



My second area of interest is the current wave of protest shaking the world. The wave of protest that started in Tunisia, then spread to Egypt, and then moved to Europe and the United States seems like something new, different form the wave of protests I have been studying. The main difference, perhaps, is the underlying cause of these waves, the global economic collapse that started in 2008.

The effects of this collapse are a little unpredictable and multifaceted, having different manifestations in each specific nation. For instance, the financial crisis sparked serious political clashes in Greece, where the local population is resisting the austerity measures forced upon them. These have been particularly violent clashes. Yet in Spain we witness a little bit more orderly demonstrations that draw hundreds of thousands of people to encamp in public plazas. The riots in England are even more interesting, since they develop out of similar sentiments yet the riots were not social movements in the way that the clashes in Greece and Spain were. In England we witness a burst of violence that caught everyone by surprise, including the police. If you examine how the police acted in that case, they responded using similar control techniques that worked so well with G8 protest. Yet in this cased failed drastically. For instance, the London Police used barricades, separation, and isolation (techniques developed for mass demonstrations) to try to pacify the rioters. In one case, the police showed up in a neighborhood, cordoned it off with fences and police officers, only to watch rioters disappear and reappear again in another section of the city. Unlike traditional protesters, the folks in England were not following protest rules, mainly because they were not traditional protesters. These kinds of moments are really interesting because they show the fragile (and dynamic) balance between control and resistance.

The Occupy Wall Street Movement in the United States is no different. It was accidentally sparked when a magazine ran a quasi-fake add calling for an occupation in New York City. It soon grew to several hundred protesters and the New York Police made dozens of arrests, hoping that would quash the small group. However, the movement actually picked up ground as police were more forceful, each time drawing more people. By early November of 2011, there have been some 1,500 occupations of public parts across the United States, ranging form small cities like Albany to larger metropolis like San Francisco and Oakland. In mid-November, the police become more forceful, pushing people out of occupied public parks, in some cases using force similar to that kind seen in alter-globalizations protests. Yet this force again resulted in intensifying the movement, with more people showing up with the street.

I see Occupy as a continuation of the Arab Spring, the crisis in Europe, and the riots in England. The roots of the struggle are similar – economic decline and inequality made acute through a global financial crisis. What interests me about Occupy is how the mobilizations will change the local and national politics of the United States, as well how police deal with protest. The Occupy movement is already taxing law enforcements agencies across the United States, particularly in cities like Oakland where demonstrations require economically strapped city officials to put more police officers on the streets. This in turn is deepening the crisis.

At the same time, it seems evident that police actions are not working very well. While they use some of the tools they developed against the alter-globalization movement, the techniques are not squashing dissent. For the moment, the police are not using the full arsenal of less-than-lethal weapons, since each time they appear the public is reacting negatively. It seems like the Occupy protesters have caught the police off balance, temporarily. However, this will not last long. There is already evidence of nationally coordinated efforts of law enforcement. The Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) is working with multiple city police officers to coordinate sweeps of Occupy camps. This is well documented and evident in the clearing of five major camps within days of each other, including camps in New York, Oakland, Portland, and Los Angeles.

Another recent development is the media coverage of the Occupy movement. Until recently, the media covered the movement mostly positive. However, in recent weeks we can already see a kind of media turn, a change in the framing of the protesters from upset people to dangerous criminals who have not jobs and no solutions. If this kind of media frame solidifies, I would expect to see a more violent police response. And it’s hard to say how protesters will respond.

The policing of the Occupy movement is under flux, changing very quickly from day to day. However, I can see the potential for significant developments in how police deal with these protesters. It’s this potential that keeps me focused on this work.

Policing Crowds: If we understand correctly, you would describe yourself as an Anarchist? We would assume that it is difficult to combine academic work and anarchist thinking. What are the necessary methodological and practical steps to avoid, as you wrote elsewhere, to reproduce colonizing effects or help reproduce state practices?

Luis: This is a tough question because it involves so many different and complicated aspects of how I think and how I behave in the world. When think of anarchism, I see it more as an ethical approach to living in the word and less like a philosophy, ideology, or dogma. The bottom line is that, for me, anarchist concepts make the most sense, ethically and methodologically. Let me explain.

Generally speaking, anarchist philosophy contains several basic principles. These include mutual aid, cooperation, autonomy, and a deep respect for radical democracy. However, to the layperson anarchy usually means chaos or unruly behavior of people outside the restrictions of the law. In other words, law equals order and the lack of law equals disorder and danger. This conception of anarchy has its root the philosophical work of Thomas Hobbes, who argued that humans without government were destined to inflict harm on each other. In turn, it is only the state, via a social contract, that can set laws in place to protect their subjects. Thus, from this perspective the government becomes the entrusted protector and executioner of these rules, with the legitimate right to violence.

Anarchists view the world differently. Rather than seeing selfishness in human nature, anarchists see the state as the cause of chaos and violence in the world. Think of it this way, when you look at the institutions that cause the most human violence, you find the state. For anarchists, humans are inherently cooperative; they guard freedom, autonomy, and self-rule above all else. These principles are really inspiring to me, giving me good ideals to live up to. 

For the sake of simplicity, we can say that anarchists work toward two general goals. 

  1. First, they want to dismantle institutions that are oppressive and hierarchical.
  2. Second, they want to replace these institutions with organic, horizontal, and cooperative institutions, based on principles of autonomy, solidarity, voluntary association, mutual aid, and direct action. 

So, for me the ideas of autonomy, solidarity and mutual aid are good ideals to base both my moral actions in the world and my research principles for my academic work. However, like a good anarchist, I am careful not to become dogmatic about these ideas. However, when I am in the classroom, among colleagues, at conferences, or in my daily life, I try to follow these principles when possible.

When I do research, I start with a strong rejection of traditional notions of science and objectivity. Like a lot of us in criminology, I was trained to look for probability, to make predictions, to try to falsify hypotheses, and to be objective. Instead of using a pseudo-scientific methodology, I followed the lead of such anarchist criminologists as Bruce Dicristina, Jeff Ferrell, and Hal Pepinsky, who argue for a different type of methodological sensitivity. I feel really lucky to be in academia at a moment that other scholars have paved the way towards a more radical approach to research. Thus, we can now draw from a broad base of anarchistic methods (or, perhaps more accurately, from a broad base of anarchist critiques of various methods). For instance, each scholar mentioned above has presented convincing arguments on the poverty of the scientific method, opting instead for an approach that favors creativity, openness to possibilities, and compassion for those under study – and of course with lots of solidarity with struggles.

In my view, a research approach, that involves compassion, solidarity, and is rooted in understand oppression, repression, and control of marginal populations is a good starting point. Generally, academics are trained to do the opposite, usually hidden within methodological discourses that emphasize unproblematic conception of gaining knowledge. This is particularly problematic when you connect the drive to know with the drive to control. For instance, James Scott (the political scientist from Yale) points out how the origins of statecraft are coupled with a drive to render a population legible. By legible, Scott means the drive to order and know the subjects of a state, which requires making them visible and readable in order to render them obedient. This tendency, of course occurs both in left and right wing governments, so don’t confuse this with some kind of left or right wing anti-government sentiment. According to Scott, all governments try to make their populations knowable.

Generally speaking, criminologists have aimed at neutrality and in their pursuit of knowledge have helped the state control populations more effectively, at times with devastating consequences. For instance, look at George L. Kelling’s notion of Broken Windows, a concept that argues that controlling minor infractions will prevent major ones. Implemented in the 1990s all over the U.S., this control approach lead to criminalization of hundreds of thousands of people committing minor acts of vandalism, like graffiti. This is the kind of role we can’t play, the role that our research can’t do – we should not be aiding in the expansion of the criminal justice system under the banner of neutrality or improvement to the system or prevention.

Luis A. Fernandez (2008): Policing Dissent. Social Control and the Anti-globalization Movement. New Brunswik, NJ: Rutgers University Press.

Amory Starr, Luis A. Fernandez, and Christian Scholl (2011): Shutting Down the Streets. The Social Control of Global Dissent. New York: New York University Press.

Luis Fernandez, Department of Criminal Justice, Northern Arizona University, Flagstaff/AZ

Questions: Kendra Briken & Volker Eick, Collaborative Research Centre 597 Transformations of the State, Universität Bremen, Germany