In September 2003, the then US Secretary for Homeland Security, Tom Ridge, toured the town halls of America in a bid to ‘‘make the citizens’ homeland security vision a national reality’’. Accompanied in his mission by management consultants Accenture and Deloitte, and by IT and software companies IBM, Microsoft, Hewlett Packard and Ascential, Secretary Ridge urged that ‘‘in the war against terrorism, citizens are just as important to fighting the war as soldiers on the battlefield’’ (Department of Homeland Security 2003: 5). From Massachusetts and Virginia to Florida, California, Texas and Missouri, the self-styled homeland security enterprise rolled out a programme of civil society workshops (broadcast on NBC and Fox) designed to create a ‘‘culture of homeland security in every city, every neighbourhood, every state, and every home across America’’ (Department of Homeland Security 2003: 4). The spectre of 9/11 haunts and rallies the call to arms of the homeland security citizens: ‘‘our lives were forever changed’’; ‘‘our belief in America as an impenetrable stronghold was shattered, gone’’; ‘‘terrorism becomes palpably real’’ as we ‘‘shift to a new normalcy shadowed by the threat of global terrorism’’ (Department of Homeland Security 2003: 2).
Just as ‘‘citizens rushed the cockpit of Flight 93’’, the gathered people are told, so citizens must now ‘‘harness the spirit of Americans in the wake of 9/ 11’’ in schools, on public transportation systems, in workplaces and neighbourhoods and in the home. The incorporation of the citizen into the homeland security enterprise is
suggestive of what I see as a pervasive and politically troubling move to deploy the idea of culture as a governmental domain for times of exception, necessity or crisis. Understood in Raymond Williams’ terms as ‘‘ways of life’’ (1962: 312; 1965: 12), and as Richard Johnson proposes in his discussion of the Bush-Blair rhetoric (2002), culture is invoked on a number of registers as a call to arms in the war on terror. First, way of life (singular) appears as a gesture of defiance in the face of risk and threat. As in my opening extract, the everyday activities of fun with family and friends, productive work, education, consumption and so on become designated resources to the war on terror. As Susan Willis comments on the immediate days following the events of 9/11: ‘‘we were told to shop. Shop to show we are patriotic Americans. Shop to show our resilience over death and destruction’’ (2003: 122). The practices of daily life are thus framed as essentially sustaining, defiant and indefatigable, in their very ordinariness and familiarity in the face of other ways of life that are beyond comprehension. In the days following the London bombings of July 7, 2005, a similar
deployment of ways of life was at work. Addressing Parliament four days after the bombings, the Prime Minister depicts ‘‘something wonderfully familiar’’ as the city defiantly returns to its normality: ‘‘just four days later, London’s buses, trains and as much of the underground as possible, are back on normal schedules; its businesses, shops and schools are open; its millions of people are coming to work with a steely determination that is genuinely remarkable’’ (Blair 2005). This calling up of a singular and unified/unifying urban way of life, then, takes place as the authorities simultaneously request the residue of everyday commuter life (text messages, video clips, digital photographs, CCTV footage . . . ) to help locate the source of such a violent transgression of normal events. The settling out of a normalized economy (via an economy of normalcy) simultaneously performs and exposes the exception. In this way, ways of life are framed in terms of securing normality, but
also – and this is my second point – as somehow indicative of threat or danger, or delineating an exception to the normal run of things. The overwhelming emphasis of the homeland security citizenship programme, for example, is on being ‘‘informed, alert and aware of surroundings’’ and ‘‘reporting questionable incidents and circumstances’’ (Department of Homeland Security 2004: 12). The routines of the commute, the office, the city street, the shopping mall, the neighbourhood, not only become sites of defiance and resilience – as in the UK’s ‘‘London Resilience Partnership’’, for example – but are also positioned as settled contexts against which suspicious or unusual behaviour can be identified and punished. The production
of a culture of homeland security, then, precisely implies also the identification and visualization of a deviant other who is seen not to share the designated way of life. Italian philosopher, Giorgio Agamben, offers the bare life (zoe) political
life (bios) distinction as the ‘‘fundamental categorical pair of Western politics’’ (1998: 8). Although we are ‘‘all potentially exposed’’ to the condition of bare life, to the stripped down vulnerability of life as shared by humans and animals, the modern democracy, as Agamben has it, ‘‘is constantly trying to transform its own bare life into a way of life’’, to find the civility of political life (1998: 9). When a state of emergency is invoked, or in Agamben’s reading, a Schmittian state of exception that increasingly appears ‘‘as the dominant paradigm of government in contemporary politics’’, certain categorised people experience the suspension of their political life and the reduction of their existence to the bare life of homo sacer (Agamben 2005: 2). As his life is devoid of value in law, the very existence of a life that matters being suspended with the annulment of the juridical norm, homo sacer cannot be sacrificed and his killing must go unpunished. What is at stake, then, in thinking through the sorting of safe liveable
ways of life from risky unliveable ways of life as a mode of risk calculation? Agamben’s compelling insight is that the state of exception has biopolitical significance precisely because it incorporates living beings ‘‘by means of its own suspension’’ (2005: 3). The sovereign power ‘‘who can decide on the state of exception’’ thus produces a central paradox. The annulment of the norm is declared at the same time as the state ‘‘guarantees its anchorage to the juridical order’’ (Agamben 2005: 35). In this way, the force of law becomes indeterminate and amorphous as acts proliferate ‘‘that do not have the value of law but acquire its force’’ (Agamben 2005: 38). For Agamben, the contemporary state of exception is not defined by the acquisition of new powers, or by the ‘‘fullness of powers’’, but rather as a ‘‘kenomatic state, an emptiness and a standstill of the law’’ (Agamben 2005: 48). The archetypal embodiment of this emptiness, or zone of indistinction, is Agamben’s ‘‘camp’’: