Stephen Graham, Foucault’s Boomerang: the New Military Urbanism
According to Stephen Graham, a new set of ‘Foucauldian boomerang effects’ are shaping how states apply ‘tactics of control’ over everyday urban life. Today, he traces the emergence of what he calls a new military urbanism, which applies to cities both in the Global North and South.
On 4 February 1976, Michel Foucault, the eminent French social theorist, stepped gingerly down to the podium in a packed lecture at the Collège de France in the Latin Quarter on Paris’s South Bank. Delivering the fifth in a series of 11 lectures under the title ‘Il faut défendre la société’ (‘Society must be defended’), for once Foucault focused his attention on the relationships between western societies and those elsewhere in the world. Moving beyond his legendary re-theorisations of how knowledge, power, technology and geographical space were combined to underpin the development of modern social orders within western societies, Foucault made a rare foray into discussions of colonialism.
Rather than merely highlighting the history through which European powers had colonised the world, however, Foucault’s approach was more novel. Instead, he explored how the formation of the colonies had involved a series of political, social, legal and geographical experiments which were then actually often bought back to the West in what Foucault – drawing possibly on Hannah Arendt’s famous work on totalitarianism – called ‘boomerang effects’. ‘It should never be forgotten,’ Foucault said:
that while colonization, with its techniques and its political and juridical weapons, obviously transported European models to other continents, it also had a considerable boomerang effect on the mechanisms of power in the West, and on the apparatuses, institutions, and techniques of power. A whole series of colonial models was brought back to the West, and the result was that the West could practice something resembling colonization, or an internal colonialism, on itself
Stephen Graham is Professor of Urban Technology at the School of Architecture, Planning and Landscape, Newcastle University