Archive For: Innerviews

Innerview: Ron Deibert

Cyberterrorism, cyberwar, espionage, the Great Firewall of China, surveillance, human rights, Snowden, insurgencies, computer network attacks, hacking, data sweeping…  The Vision Machine had the extraordinary opportunity to interview Ron Deibert, Professor of Political Science in the Munk School of Global Affairs at the University of Toronto.  Deibert runs the Citizen Lab, a large interdisciplinary research facility that endeavors to track attempts by state and non-state actors to control the flow of information in cyberspace.  This interview, conducted by Seb Kaempf, plums Deibert’s extensive knowledge of how the gears of the net really turn and its possibilities for both democratic and authoritarian politics.  In addition to the reports generated by the Citizen Lab itself, Deibert has most recently authored the book Black Code: Inside the Battle for Cyberspace (Random House, 2013).

 

Reimagining Communities: Opening up History to the Memory of Others

By Jean-Louis Durand and Sebastian Kaempf; filmed & edited by Julia Schmitz

Modern nation-states cherish their history. It is a constitutive element of the national collective self-concept that has been used to educate successive generations about the frontiers of the national community, its worth, its values, its place vis-à-vis others, and the trauma and glories that the country had to traverse and that together make it a unique and proud place. Few, if any, instruments shape a nation’s psyche and consciousness more powerfully than the material used in schools. As a consequence, the practice and teaching of history is a foundation stone of national identity and one of the poles of nationalism. As teaching materials, history textbooks are deeply anchored in national traditions that are ultimately used to legitimise the rationale of the nation-state. Their pedagogical vocation makes them constitutive of the national and cultural identity of new generations, and as such they constitute ‘sources of collective memory’ and can thus be read as ‘autobiographies of nation-states’.

What this means is that the writing of history is a highly political process and in order to understand the writing of a particular history properly, it is necessary to engage in political reflection. At least since the early 19th century, history textbooks have been found at the centre of political conflicts about ‘memory’, both internally in national debates and internationally when two countries dispute mutually opposed versions of history. Often, school textbooks present a version of history in total contradiction of a neighbour’s version, for example Japan and South Korea or China, India and Pakistan, West Germany and the German Democratic Republic, the United States (US) and the Soviet Union, or Israel and Palestine. As such, selecting what to include in history textbooks remains an important political stake. It is here where images of the Other are formed, communicated, and oftentimes cemented. This certainly has been the case in France and Germany, the two historical ‘hereditary enemies’ who between 1871 and 1945 fought tree major and catastrophic wars.

And yet, there comes a time when transmitting the history of a national past fails the context of the political present. France and Germany have shared tortuous historical experiences, yet the two are at the forefront of an unprecedented pedagogical development: for the first time ever, two nation-states have created a common history textbook (called Histoire/Geschichte) that is used in their senior secondary schools. As such, each country, to borrow Ernst Gellner’s formula, has abandoned – qua this textbook – its monopoly of legitimate education. Histoire/Geschichte detaches history from its exclusive national past and introduces the learners to a post-national present. It speaks in a tone that is demanded by a different time and by the new conditions of peoples who are living in a common political space. And most importantly, it is designed to transform the image of the Other.

This article, written by Dr Jean-Louis Durand and Dr Sebastian Kaempf from The University of Queensland, reflects on the meaning and reach of this precedent by first analysing the explicit political and pedagogical explanations inherent to the book. It then identifies and investigates some of the less evident effects of the textbook relating to rethinking war and history, rethinking the monopoly of education, rethinking national identity, and to offering another path to rapprochement. The two authors, based as colleagues and friends at the University of Queensland in Australia, grew up about one hundred kilometers from one another across the French-German border (one in Alsace-Lorraine, the other in Baden-Wuerttemberg). They themselves have thereby experienced, at different times, the historic legacy as well as the change in Franco-German relations. From the first steps of rapprochement in the 1950s and 60s to the end of border controls across the River Rhine, both have participated in youth exchanges and the learning of each others’ language and perspective. In the process, they themselves were forced to re-evaluate their emotional and cultural predispositions. A choice had to be made: either to take refuge in the ‘comfort’ and ‘certainties’ of the original position and refuse to contemplate the validity of the alternative, or to venture into the unknown and there dare to see the new reality as it is contemplated through the eyes of the Other. In that sense, the authors today are the outgrowth of the dramatic and remarkable transformation of the shared history between France and Germany – which explains their shared academic interest in exploring the meaning and pedagogy when they found out about this next history textbook. The idea arose immediately to research and write about this book as it lies close to the heart of both authors.

To read the article: http://mil.sagepub.com/content/42/2/331

Dr Jean-Louis Durand: http://www.polsis.uq.edu.au/durand

Dr Sebastian Kaempf: http://www.polsis.uq.edu.au/kaempf

 

Film in IR: Innerview with Michael Williams

Film and visuality have long been used as sources of text and political interpretation in the subject of International Relations (IR). Much more recent is the emergence of IR scholars as direct producers of films about topics of international politics. IR scholars from James Der Derian to Cindy Weber et al. have been at the forefront of this development. Using the theme of ‘Film in IR/Filming IR’, an ISA workshop held in San Francisco in 2013 (organized by Laura Shepherd and Rune Saugmann Andersen), and attended by TVM’s Roger Stahl and Seb Kaempf, tried to identify and address the intellectual opportunities and challenges of this development.

What are the challenges that emerge out of using the production of film in the context of the modern university? How does one legitimately evaluate film as a piece of academic work? How does this relate ethically to the political economy of the modern public university? And how creative do or should scholars become with film? How should scholars engage with students over the interpretation of film?

In this Innerview, Roger Stahl and Seb Kaempf talk to another attendee of this workshop, Professor Michael C. Williams (University of Ottawa), who – as a self-declared ‘sympathetic skeptic’ of this development – reflects upon the possibilities and intellectual challenges surrounding film in IR/filming IR. This video is intended as a platform to kick off further discussion of these themes within the wider academic and non-academic community. We would like to encourage you to express your views in the comments section below.

Filmed, produced and edited by Roger Stahl and Seb Kaempf. Interview held in San Francisco on 5 April 2013.

 

Richard Jackson’s Confessions of a Terrorist: A Novel

TheVisionMachine’s Sebastian Kaempf talked to Professor Richard Jackson (University of Otago, New Zealand) about his Confessions of a Terrorist: A Novel, recently published by Zed Books. In this Innverview, Richard provides insights not only into his novel, but also the motivations to branch out of the conventional academic forms of writing and the challenges when writing a piece of fiction that engages with important phenomena such a terrorism.
 

PREFACE to Confessions of a Terrorist [Abridged] By Richard Jackson

The premise of this novel is quite simple: if you sat down face-to-face with a terrorist, what questions would you ask him or her? What would you like to know about their life, their upbringing, their reasons for taking up armed struggle, their aims and goals, their sense of morality, their feelings about what they do? This question is important, not least because terrorism seems to be everywhere these days, and yet paradoxically, we appear to know almost nothing about the people who perpetrate it. It is on our television screens and in our newspapers virtually every day, and everywhere you go there are reminders of how much efforts to prevent terrorism have fundamentally changed our way of life. In fact, there has never been so much public discussion and information about terrorism at any time in history. And yet, paradoxically, whenever a terrorist incident occurs, the first question on everyone’s lips is: why did they do it? What turned this person into a murderer? What is really going on in the mind of a terrorist? There’s another reason why this question is important: if we don’t understand what really goes on in the mind of terrorists, we will be forced to simply try and imagine it. We’ll have to just guess at what they’re thinking.

I suggest that this is actually what we have been doing for many years now: guessing, imagining, fantasizing about what goes on in the mind of a militant. And thus far, if novels, movies, television shows, and media portrayals are anything to go by, we imagine that terrorists are insane, fanatical, psychologically damaged, cruel, immoral, essentially ‘evil’, and most importantly, quite inhuman.

The problem with viewing terrorists through this veil of ignorance, with trying to understand them through the lens of our usually frightened imagination, is that ultimately we cannot help but turn them into monsters and bogeymen. They cease to be real people, human beings with a history, a childhood, feelings, life experiences, aspirations, values. They are instead reduced to what they’ve done or what they perhaps intended to do. And when this happens, they inevitably become a ‘cancer’ and a ‘scourge’, a ‘savage’, an ‘animal’, an ‘extremist’, an ‘evildoer’.

At this point, we also give permission for them to be treated as less than human. Cancer is to be eradicated, after all; scourges are to be quarantined; animals are to be hunted or tamed. In other words, it is precisely because we have failed to see the humanity of the terrorist, because we have imagined them as something other than a fellow human being, that we have tortured, rendered, imprisoned without trial, and summarily killed thousands of people we suspect or imagine to be terrorists in the past few years.

Apart from compounding the original wrong of terrorism, I would argue that this is a counter-productive and ultimately self-defeating approach. It cannot work to end or prevent further acts of terrorism; its only certain result is to create more terrorists and engender more violent retaliation. Sadly, it seems that artists, novelists, film-makers and others who write about terrorism have embraced this veil of ignorance which currently characterises our collective understanding. This is surprising, given that there are hundreds, if not thousands, of former terrorists and militants one could quite easily talk to, and hundreds of published interviews, autobiographies, and in-depth studies with them.

So what’s going on? Why do we stutter and stumble about in trying to explain their actions and motives when they are perfectly willing to explain it all, and when there is plenty of information available to understand them? I believe it is because, as anthropologists tell us, there is kind of taboo against ‘talking to terrorists’ or trying to understand them at a human level. A taboo is an unspoken prohibition that functions to maintain the limits of social behaviour and which is designed to protect society from certain culturally determined dangers. In this case, the terrorism taboo is designed to segregate terrorists and militants, and to protect society from their perceived malign influence. Talking to them, listening to their voices, hearing their arguments, trying to understand their point of view is therefore prohibited. The fear is that getting too close to a terrorist may lead to some kind of infection or contamination, and thus will the cancerous evil of terrorism spread.

This taboo is so powerful and so prevalent that you will almost never hear the real voice of a terrorist in a public forum such as the media. They are not allowed to speak for themselves. A central purpose of this novel therefore is to try and break through the taboo on ‘talking to terrorists’. As such, it treats the terrorist as a fully human being, not a stereotypical monster or an inhuman, incomprehensible fanatic. More importantly, the novel allows the terrorist to speak and have a real voice, uncensored and unrestricted, honest and intimate. Of course, the danger of taking this approach, as warned by the taboo, is that in listening to the voice of the terrorist, we will begin to comprehend their point of view. Their reasons may become understandable to us.

The key point is that understanding – or even sympathising – with the goals of the terrorist is not the same as condoning and legitimising their violent actions. I can understand the necessity of resisting oppression without accepting the need to strap on a suicide vest or leave a bomb in a train station to kill commuters. However, without understanding the mind of the terrorist in the first place, we are left with nothing but our terrified imagination as the foundation on which to construct a counter-terrorism policy.

 

Shooting Death: Kevin Sites and the Siege of Fallujah

In an age of instantaneous, 24/7, and live news coverage, in an age of SoJos (solo journalists, who travel with their own cameras, satellite phones, and blogs), how can news reporting from the battlefield still be controlled? With the rise of digital new media in 2002, this particular challenge has confronted many militaries. Our micro documentary offers a rare glimpse into the world of war reporting in today’s transformed media landscape.

Kevin Sites is an American author and freelance journalist, spending nearly a decade covering global wars and disasters for ABC, CNN, NBC, and Yahoo! News. He is considered the ‘granddaddy’ of solo (or backpack) journalism, helping blaze the trail for intrepid reporters who work alone, carrying only a backpack of portable digital technology to shoot, write, edit, and transmit multimedia reports from the world’s most dangerous places. His first book,<sup> </sup><i>In the Hot Zone: One Man, One Year, Twenty Wars</i> (Harper Perennial-October 2007), shares his effort to put a human face on global conflict by reporting from every major war zone in one year. He is now a professor at the Journalism and Media Studies Centre of the University of Hong Kong teaching bachelor and masters programmes.

In 2004, Kevin Sites embedded with US Marines as a freelance war reporter for NBC in Iraq. During the siege of Fallujah, the biggest battle fought by the US military since Vietnam, he shot footage of a gruesome incident in which a US Marine shot and killed a wounded Iraqi captive lying on the floor of a Mosque. This film, drawing on the original footage (courtesy of Kevin Sites), retells the incident of the Mosque shooting and its aftermath, of what happened to the video footage, and how it was or was not reported in the media across the globe. The episode raises questions over the politics of war reporting, modern day (self-) censorship, the ethical responsibilities of those covering conflicts on the ground, and the importance of visual footage in our news streams.

This micro documentary was filmed and produced by Peter Mantello and Sebastian Kaempf, who tracked down Kevin Sites in Boston in 2010.  Edited by Ali Rae and Ben Walker.

 

Innerview: Mark Andrejevic

The Vision Machine sought out Dr. Mark Andrejevic for his thoughts regarding surveillance, datamining, and the recent NSA revelations.  His 2013 book, Infoglut: How Too Much Information is Changing the Way We Think and Know, is a timely confrontation with the recent shift toward this new mode of control.  What makes this book particularly powerful is not simply its documentation of how the big data apparatus works, but also its discussion of the philosophical and cultural undercurrents that accompany the big data world – everything from precog crime and signature strikes to the externalizing of subjectivity and the proliferation of conspiracy rhetoric in public life.   In the innerview, he draws both from the book and events that have transpired since its publication.

Dr. Andrejevic is media scholar at the Center for Critical and Cultural Studies at the University of Queensland.  Here, we present two versions of the innerview: a condensed video and a nearly unabridged hour-long audio segment that goes into greater depth and detail.

Full Audio:

Download MP3

 

 

Innerview: David Campbell on Embedding

Professor David Campbell (http://www.david-campbell.org/) is a writer, researcher, teacher, videographer, and producer engaged in the analysis and production of visual storytelling. With his writing and research he focuses on photography, multimedia and politics. He examines how documentary photography and photojournalism work, the opportunities multimedia bring, and the challenges presented by the revolutions in the new media economy. With his creative practice he works both as a multimedia producer collaborating with photographers and as a documentarian flying solo.

David has written or edited six books and some 50 articles and essays. This research deals with how atrocity, famine, war and ‘Africa’ are represented, how photographs function to visualize the global landscape, and how US foreign policy and wars in Bosnia and Iraq have been produced. He has curated three large visual projects (Atrocity, Memory, Photography, Imaging Famine, and the Visual Economy of HIV-AIDS).

For the past two decades he has taught visual culture, geography and politics at universities in the US, Australia and the UK, most recently as Professor of International Politics at Newcastle University (1997-2004) and then Professor of Cultural and Political Geography at Durham University (2004-10).

Now he works free-lance and independently, but retains a number of affiliations. He’s a member of the Durham Centre for Advanced Photography Studies at Durham University, Visiting Professor in the Northern Centre of Photography at Sunderland University, and Honorary Professor in the School of Political Science and International Studies at the University of Queensland, Australia (where he is part of the Australian Research Council funded project on how images shape our response to humanitarian crises).

This innerview with David for TheVisionMachine was conducted by Sebastian Kaempf and Peter Mantello in Alphabet City, New York City, on 9 February 2010 and edited by Ali Rae and Ben Walker.

 

 

Innerview: Chris Hables Gray

The Vision Machine had a valuable chance to visit Chris Hables Gray at his residence in Santa Cruz, California.  Gray is author of Postmodern War (1997), Cyborg Citizen (2002), and Peace, War, and Computers (2004).  Here, he puts the Arab Spring into context of new media going back to the Zapatistas, discusses the meaning of “war” in the digital age, and reframes the debate about the ethics of autonomous and remotely operated weapons.  To find out more about Gray\’s work, visit his page or contact him here at The Vision Machine.

Innerview by Seb Kaempf and Roger Stahl, edited by Roger Stahl.

 

Innerview: General Eugene Habiger

The Vision Machine’s Roger Stahl sat down with Gen. Habiger for an extended discussion in late 2011 to talk contemporary security, nuclear proliferation, and the challenges of the so-called War on Terror.  Gen. Habiger was Commander in Chief if U.S. Strategic Command during the Clinton administration and played a lead role in the transition to a post-Cold War defense establishment.  From there, he worked as Security Czar for the Department of Energy, where he ran cybersecurity operations and also oversaw the security of fissile material.  At the time of the interview, General Habiger was visiting the University of Georgia as a Distinguished Fellow and Policy Adviser for the Center for International Trade and Security, a non-proliferation group.

For this interview, we were interested in getting General Habiger’s candid take on issues of security threats and solutions, the nuclear threat in particular, cyberwar, the boom in remotely piloted vehicles (drones), and the new condition of asymmetry that animates the unipolar world scene.

 

Zoriah the Embed

The Vision Machine was fortunate enough to conduct a candid conversation with photojournalist Zoriah Miller at a Manhattan cafe in September of 2012.  The following is a recording of that encounter, which focuses on Zoriah’s time in Iraq as an embedded reporter, the fight for institutional control of the image, and the series of events that led up to Zoriah’s disembedding.  Innerview by Seb Kaempf.