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On the conduct of sociological warfare: a reply to special section on Economy of Force

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journal contribution
posted on 2023-06-09, 01:32 authored by Patricia Owens
It is an honour to receive commentaries on Economy of Force from these four distinguished scholars. I am grateful to Tarak Barkawi, Patchen Markell, Julian Go, and Vivienne Jabri for devoting precious scholarly time to this book. Economy of Force is not about the ‘economics of war’, or not in any straightforward sense. Rather it retrieves the older, but surprisingly neglected, history and theory of oikonomia, ancient Greek for household governance. The book is a study of oikonomia in the use of military force, but also as underlying distinctly social forms of governance more broadly. There is a very long tradition of thinking about households-as-government and a great deal of scholarship in literary and gender studies on practices and ideologies of domesticity. Oikonomia is the origin of the language of modern ‘economics’, but more importantly and revealingly almost all writing about government in the West. International and much political theory is out of touch with these literatures resulting in blindness to a crucial reality about modern governance forms. The large-scale household administration of life processes plays a remarkably central role in international and imperial relations. Economy of Force illustrates this through a history of so-called ‘armed social work’ in counterinsurgency, beginning with late-nineteenth-century French and American colonial pacification and then detailed case studies of two late-colonial British emergencies in Malaya and Kenya, US counterinsurgency in Vietnam, and US-led multinational campaigns in Afghanistan and Iraq. In each case, to varying degrees and in different ways, the civilian base of armed resistance was weakened through the forcible removal and mass concentration of civilians; the selective delivery and withholding of humanitarian supplies; the empowering of local collaborators to rule ‘their population’; detention without trial and exemplary massacres; and the opening of markets and new schools. If insurgents and counterinsurgents are in a competition in government, then what is the nature of government under counterinsurgency rule? Through violence and control over life, through the management of gendered and racialised bodies in their extreme and irreducible vulnerability, counterinsurgents were seeking to create units of rule in which populations could be domesticated. That is, they drew on and innovated different forms of household management.


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