- Alex Chambers, American Studies, Indiana University
- Angelique Nixon, University of the West Indies
- Brooke Beloso, Gender Studies, Butler University
- Courtney Mitchel, American Studies, Indiana University
- Edith Kinney, Justice Studies, San José State University
- Elana Zilberg, Communication, University of California, San Diego
- Elliott Young, History, Lewis & Clark College
- Imani Johnson, Critical Dance Studies, University of California, Riverside
- Julietta Hua, Women and Gender Studies, San Francisco State University
- LaNita Campbell, Gender Studies, Indiana University
- Laura McTighe, Religion, Columbia University
- Lessie Jo Frazier, Gender Studies & American Studies, Indiana University, & Deborah Cohen, University of Missouri (co-authors)
- Michelle Moyd, History, Indiana University
- Osmundo Pinho, Universidade Federal do Recôncavo da Bahia (Cachoeira)/University of Texas, Austin
- Rudo Mudiwa, Communication & Culture, Indiana University
- Steven Osuna, Sociology, University of California, Santa Barbara
- Susan Lepselter, Communication & Culture and American Studies, Indiana University
Title: An Atmosphere of Panic: On the Coloniality of Climate Change
Abstract: According to a recent PBS documentary, one of the major risks of climate change is the increasing likelihood of “failed states.” According to “Plan B: Mobilizing to Save Civilization,” Haiti’s environmental destruction provides a prime example of how a lack of stewardship spells disaster. Once, the country was able to provide all of its own food, but high rates of soil erosion and “uncontrolled” logging made its production unable to keep up with demand. “Soon,” the voiceover tells us, “Haiti became the poorest nation in the Western Hemisphere.” Superimposed over images of children walking across a trash-strewn landscape and young men throwing rocks in the streets, experts from the U.S. and Canada explain that environmental stress increases the likelihood of social instability and violence. The documentary concludes that “renewal can only come when Haiti becomes strong enough to address the environmental challenges that still plague the countryside.” For “Plan B,” Haiti’s environmental instability is sufficient to explain its poverty, and it is due to a failure on the part of its people. The documentary goes on to explain that climate change will create environmental stress on many other regions of the Global South, leading to more failed states. And failed states are a concern, “Plan B” emphasizes, because they present threats to global security.
“Plan B”’s evocation of Haiti’s ravaged landscape to explain its poverty exhibits classic characteristics of moral panic: the subject of the panic is behaving immorally—with regard to its body, as in sex panics (Hua, Vance); its stuff, as in panics around hoarding (Herring, Lepselter); or, in this case, its environment. Likely, the subject can’t stop this bad behavior, and it will take forces of social control—experts, psychiatrists, the police, the state, international aid agencies—to solve the problem. And if experts and enforcers don’t step in, these agents of social disorder, often in the Global South, will flood into more affluent, orderly regions, bringing their deviance and disorder with them. Whether a woman trafficked for sex or the population of a failing state, the subject cannot help herself, but she also can’t leave her struggling region except on the experts’ terms.
Drawing on a framework from geographer Neil Smith, I want to suggest that attributing social upheaval to environmental instability alone naturalizes the precarity of certain regions and populations—especially in the Global South—without accounting for the roles racialized capitalism and neocolonialism continue to play. Discourses that emphasize security in relation to climate change not only ignore the causes of climate change but imagine that the middle-class Global North will be exempt from its effects. Like other moral panics, fears of social upheaval due to climate change sense a crisis but fear the movement of people rather than human survival. They assume that deviation from the environmental norm exacerbates latent tendencies toward violence and other deviant behavior in certain populations (the poor, the black, the globally southern). Moreover, they view acts of survival as moral deficiency; and whereas survival calls for resources, moral panics call for management of deviant behavior. This paper will examine a desire shared by U.S. global security operations, middle-class homeowners, Christian disaster aid organizations, and journalists writing about population control, to control populations in the Global South in the face of climate change, rather than acknowledging the ongoing roles of global inequities in certain populations’ precarity, and imagining new ways of surviving together on a rapidly changing planet.
Title: Vexed Relations and Touristic Desire – Sex/Work in the Caribbean
Abstract: Discourses about sex work in the Caribbean are not only racialized but also gendered and thus vary greatly in terms of male and female sex workers; hence, they reflect the different and often polarized constructions of masculinity and femininity across the region. A number of studies reveal that while female sex workers are often denigrated for being “whores” within their communities, male sex workers tend to be valorized and even reaffirmed in their hyper-masculinity to a certain degree even though both are working for an exchange of sex/romance for money, status, or material goods. While critics often discuss the large numbers of women in the global sex trade and tourism and how they are subordinated and dominated through the historic control of female sexuality and bodies (especially Black women and other women of color), recent cultural productions, such as the film and novel Heading South and Oonya Kempadoo’s novel Tide Running, have drawn critical attention to the ways in which male sex workers are also exploited through the asymmetrical relationship between female tourists and local males. Ooyna Kempadoo adds another dimension to this relationship through a triad affair with the main character Cliff and a “foreign local” couple (who can be seen as representing a product/effect of colonialism and slavery—mixed-race Trini woman married to white English man), in which the couple do not seem to relate to Cliff as a sex worker but rather as a romance or friend of the family, and at times they treat him as another child. While the couple rarely acknowledges the class and race divisions that exist between themselves and Cliff, it is quite evident through Cliff’s narration that he is very aware of their class, privilege, mobility, and the racial differences among them. This presentation explores these representations of male sex workers (and in contrast the lack of representations of female sex workers) in order to discuss the intersections of Blackness, masculinity, and sexual desire within dominant notions of sex tourism and transactional sex work in the Caribbean. Furthermore, this paper interrogates the sexual-cultural politics of tourism and reveals the ways that Blackness and sex are sold and hence become commodities within the global tourist industry. Sexual labor will be discussed as a legitimate form of participation in various local economies, and the agency of sex workers considered throughout.
Title: The Jock Doctrine: Sex Trafficking Panics and the Legitimation Deficit of the Revanchist City
Abstract: This project places the body of literature on the revanchist city in dialogue with the body of literature on the sexual politics of neoliberalism vis-à-vis the recent phenomenon of sex trafficking panics surrounding major sporting events. Broadly speaking, I take the revanchist city to be a microcosm of neoliberalism wherein a given city’s bourgeois elite and their minions take “revenge” (from French: revanche) on such minoritized populations as the poor, the undocumented and recent immigrants in general, the currently and formerly incarcerated, some feminists and queers and other left of left activists (e.g. anti-war and animal rights), and those working in such criminalized labor sectors as the sex and drug industries (among others). As Neil Smith argues, the revanchist city constructs “a new frontier” for elite “urban pioneers” that in its endemic racism and classism in the guise of individualizing meritocracy perpetuates the doctrine and cultural narrative of Manifest Destiny driving white settler colonialism and the consolidation of the American nation-state (among others).
Borrowing from Naomi Klein’s 2007 The Shock Doctrine, I describe this contemporary phenomenon of sex trafficking panics in the service of the revanchist city as “The Jock Doctrine.” Where Klein argues that disasters serve as pretexts for pushing through neoliberal economic policies, I propose thatthe sex trafficking panics preceding such mega sporting events as the Super Bowl readily lend themselves as alibis, or warrants of payment, for the legitimation deficit of the revanchist city. I find Klein’s articulation of “The Shock Doctrine” particularly useful for its showcasing not only of the ideological exploitation of such natural disasters as Hurricane Katrina, but also for its suggestion that adherents of this doctrine go so far as to manufacture crises (e.g., The Iraq War) to the same end of ushering in neoliberal economic policies. Similarly, I argue that architects of the revanchist city both exploit and manufacture sex trafficking panics in order to further consolidate their own political and economic power.
In support of this argument, I subject to close scrutiny the 2012 Super Bowl in Indianapolis, as a case study of sorts. I trace the manifestation of The Jock Doctrine through four stages of this event: 1) the pre-sporting event revanchist political milieu of Indianapolis 2) the groundswell generated by proleptic media hype and the preemptive, revanchist measures this groundswell supported; 3) the sporting event itself and the accompanying absence of any increase in sex trafficking, and 4) the long afterlife of the aforementioned revanchist measures— locally, nationally, and internationally. Finally, I sketch what Georgina Perry of Open Doors (a London-based outreach and clinical support for sex workers) terms “the collateral damage of a rumour” in the interest of encouraging readers to find and insist upon better uses for the tremendous outpouring of time, energy, and material resources accompanying these manufactured sex trafficking
panics. So doing, I turn the tables on the revanchist city, exposing both the legitimation deficit that sex trafficking panics cover over and the hypocrisy of stealing resources from the most precarious members of the city to pay a debt incurred by the least precarious.
Title: Keeping Capitalism Safe and Clean: Global Moral Panics and the Politics of Taste
Abstract: Capitalism is one of the structural foundations of our affective world—profoundly relational and often erotic, we fetishize and identity with the goods and services that we daily consume, consciously or unconsciously reinforcing our subjectivity through the objectification of consumer goods and those who produce them. Following the postwar economic boom in the Global North (and to a lesser extent the Global South as well), opportunities in these regions to engage in capitalism increased exponentially, be it through acts, gestures, affects, desires, relationships, or otherwise; co-emergent was a new set of social constraints to ensure the continued boundaries of classed, raced, gendered, and nationalized structures of power, and to ensure that these structures would be bolstered by capitalism, rather than challenged by it. Key to these constraints was the notion that there is a modern and socially appropriate mode of capitalism (e.g., shopping for groceries, vacationing), as well as a deviant underside marked by decidedly unmodern and “inappropriate” carnalities (e.g., sex tourism or buying drugs). With the ever-advancing forces of neoliberalism and global capitalism, these opportunities and their corresponding constraints continue to develop, and the global moral panic has served as a particularly salient form of policing boundaries. In this paper, I posit that recent global moral panics regarding human trafficking and sex work are new expressions of these social constraints, meant to differentiate between “appropriate” and “inappropriate” articulations of capitalism. Rather than preserving the well-being of third-world subjects, I argue that these moral panics are a sort of “politics of taste,” attempting to hail subjects back into the framework of good neoliberal citizen-subjectivity and obscure the fundamentally erotic, fetishistic, and globally exploitative nature of capitalism.
Title: Pimps, Predators and Pedophiles, Oh My!: Globalizing Moral Panics About Prostitution, Sex Trafficking, and Sexual Deviance in Thailand and the U.S.
Abstract: Anti-trafficking activists of diverse political stripes have generated moral panics regarding “modern day slavery” and sex trafficking at home and abroad. Moral panic about trafficking links global insecurities to local anxieties about urban decline, economic recession, and social instability. The blurry legal distinction between trafficking and smuggling, coupled with the celebritization of trafficking and its oversimplification in media exposés on the issue, make the issue ripe for moral panic.
This paper examines the role of global moral panics in the circulation of criminal law and criminal justice- reforms regarding trafficking and exploitation. Drawing on case studies and field research on anti-trafficking campaigns in Thailand and the United States, I show how panics about trafficking have catalyzed legal reforms, including legislation enhancing punishment for traffickers and providing protection for victims, as well as reform of police practices and immigration procedures. However, the reforms promoted by anti-trafficking advocates often intersect with punitive, “governing through crime” approaches to commercial sex, urban policing, and undocumented migration in both countries.
The paper examines the role of globalized moral panics about prostitution, sex trafficking and sexual deviance in generating anti-trafficking reforms. I reveal the key role transnational advocacy networks play in raising awareness about trafficking – and stimulating moral panic – through their strategic engagement with with policymakers and the media. I show how American representations of (sex) trafficking in Thailand – and associated anxieties about sex tourism, HIV/AIDS, and the commercial sexual exploitation of children – have contributed to the reform of anti-trafficking policies as well as the development of new forms of governance to detect and punish sexual deviance and delinquency.
Globalized moral panics reflect the transnational circulation of new conceptions of the “trafficking victim” and the villains who exploit them, as well as new techniques of governance. The article reveals how global panics generated by anti-trafficking reformers can widen the net of anti-trafficking enforcement and legitimize new forms of social control, benefiting the prisonindustrial complex as well as the “nonprofit industrial complex.”
Title: Gangster, Soldier, Cop: Violence and Masculinity between the Americas
Abstract: This paper examines the articulation of violence and masculinity through the production of the so-called “transnational gang crisis” between the United States and Central America. It provides a gendered analysis of the “neoliberal securityscapes” produced at the intersection of global capitalism and the combined effects of immigration, criminal and antiterrorist law. The “securityscape” (Weldes et al 1999, Gusterson 2004) allows us to see how national security policy and militarism remain an important part of local and transnational life. Neoliberal securityscapes here include the patterns of circulation that result from the effort of states to police and control the spatial mobility of subjects considered to be dangerous during a period characterized by neoliberal restructuring and subject making. Drawing from Charles Tilly, the paper situates gangland rivalry, policing and war making on a continuum of criminalized and state sanctioned violence. The figures of the gangster, guerilla, soldier and cop invariably conjure up masculine images and so raise a number of questions: What is the relationship between these various masculinities and how are they related to the structure of states, and national, race, class and gender hierarchies? Very often these variants of masculine subjects represent the limited range of options available to “poor brown men.” How do these structural conditions influence these masculinities? What does the demise of one masculinity and the ascendancy of the another at different historical junctures tell us about state and global projects? How are gender and sexuality intertwined with those projects?
Title: Saving the Chinese Coolie: Humanitarianism and Imperialism in the Nineteenth Century and Beyond
Abstract: In the nineteenth century, two million Asian indentured laborers were shipped to plantations around the globe to fill the labor vacuum created by slave emancipation. Although these contract laborers were ostensibly free because they had signed contracts, their propensity to mutiny, commit suicide and kill their masters indicated that they were free only in name. Abolitionists and liberal humanitarians in England and the United States raised the alarm that the coolie trade was slavery in disguise. This paper argues that the humanitarian impulse to save coolies from corrupt and deceptive recruiters and shippers justified imperialist interventions around the globe and unleashed Chinese emigrants from their bondage only to be exploited on British plantations and put to work as cheap labor in the US.
Title: A Moral Panic From Below? American Cultural Hegemony & Black Erasure in Global B-Boying Culture
Abstract: Are there moral panics “from below”? Can they help us understand collective anxieties about Western cultural hegemony from within Western culture? And what’s at stake when those panics are ignored? Since Hip Hop hit the mainstream, it has consistently produced some kind of public anxiety, whether that be about the sanctity of music, safety and purity of white suburban youth, the threat of black male criminality, or the hyper-sexualization of women of color. Yet in the world of Hip Hop dance cultures—namely “breakdancing” (known among practitioners as b-boying)—the concern does not come from the public to the subculture, but the other way around.
As a kind of “counter-panic”, there is a contingent of breakers within the culture’s global context that express a collective anxiety about the globalization of a culture born in poor- and working-class communities of color, especially those of African descent. Their cultural production circulates through paths made possible by American cultural hegemony in the global marketplace, and furthered by networks of neo-liberal capitalism that exploit the wealth-creating capacities of blackness (though never to the benefit or freedom of racially subjugated classes). This part of the breaking community often employs the language of moral panics—people taking over, people stealing culture—in order to address anxieties about b-boying culture becoming increasingly diffuse, and their own erasure in histories of Hip Hop. These fears stem logically from histories of cultural appropriation that diminish the significance of African Americans in contemporary incarnations of rock and jazz music, signaling the immanence of history repeating itself. Yet it is a kind of panic that ultimately goes unseen because of who maintains that anxiety. It represents a social problem only perceived as such by those whose interests have already been marginalized. This situation is further complicated by the reality that the global circulation of Hip Hop facilitates opportunities to work as respected artists, opportunities that otherwise wouldn’t exist. This paper explores the idea of a moral panic from below, and the contradictory desire for and concern about the global life of Hip Hop.
Title: “Rethinking the Moral Economies of Human Rights”
Abstract: Human rights, as institutionalized through a growing international apparatus of nation-states, non-governmental actors, and the United Nations, has created its own economy of meaning-making where certain issues gain prevalence and visibility over others in an increasingly expansive and shrinking landscape. The horizon of human rights is continuing to expand, as funding, actors, and conceptual stakes grow. At the same time this horizon seems to be shrinking down into what we might call a dominant or hegemonic set of priorities and actors. For instance, the kind of issues, violences and subjects made recognizable under the sign of “human rights” often produces a moral panic around the growing number of people, places and issues that must be addressed even while the subject of human rights continues to contract, where FGM, the veiled woman, the trafficked victim become dangerously interchangeable.
How might we read the simultaneous expansion and contraction of the human rights landscape as speaking to broader conceptual limits tied to an investment in the idea of universalism? Is there a way to think about human betterment or strategize ways to address dispossession without recourse to universality? What would it look like to rethink human rights in a way that, rather than privilege universality, centers contingency? How might we reorient our goals and shift the kinds of questions we ask in order to broaden how we understand violence and justice? How might we think about violence and inequality differently if we acknowledged that despite all the myriad ways in which dispossession unevenly shapes the substance of life, even in the seemly most desperate situations people carve out ways to live?
Title: “Hidden Pathogens: Public anxiety and fear of contagion”
Abstract: If moral panics rely on a social or medical phenomenon, then the stars aligned in 2007 when Merck Pharmaceutical Corporation unveiled Gardasil, a prototype vaccine for herd immunity against human papilloma virus (HPV). HPV is considered the most common sexually transmitted infection with certain strains that cause various types of cancer, including cervical, throat, anal, and penile cancer. Prior to the release of Gardasil, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention predicted, “by the age of 50 more than 80% of women will have contracted at least one type of genital HPV” (Genital HPV Infection- Fact Sheet). In this specific global moral panic, the virus needed a catalyst, which was Gardasil. This panic’s foci are a fear of adolescent sexuality, immigration, and the complete deterioration of the moral fabric of society. There are distinct areas in which public health or government policies have intervened by mandating Gardasil as a necessary immunization, including U.S. vaccination requirements for immigrants and state specific school entry laws for students. The efficacy and original intention for Gardasil was challenged within the last five years when non-profit organizations focused on LGBT health issues and organized to bring more attention to anal, penile, and throat cancers potentially being caused by strains of HPV. Groups petitioned for and are currently still seeking a regular healthcare and wellness practice of medical professionals providing anal smears. With rising numbers of cancers related to anal and oral sexual practices, Merck administrative and many medical professionals still claim that there is not enough conclusive evidence that anal smears would offer a viable test results. This is important because the numbers of virus-induced cervical cancer cases are over-exaggerated and at one point decreased even as public health officials continued to recommend the vaccine to adolescent girls and young women.
The HPV public health crisis does not reveal a unique societal fear of contagion, rather it illustrates a complex web of social morally laden fears of (sex)uality. The emergence of Gardasil as the leading and proven vaccine against certain HPV strains that cause cervical cancer demonstrates not only the magnitude of the health epidemic that HPV represents, but also the inherent and deep-rooted social anxieties concerning disease and contagion. This fear of contagion is only exacerbated by the method of transmission, which is sexual intercourse. I argue that the strong and dynamic properties of global moral panic rhetoric and this crisis in particular allow the panic to remain intact and even gain more momentum even when the variables change. The moral panic is broadly concerned with disease and specifically anxious about sex.
This paper investigates the forgotten and seemingly hidden discourses of (sex)uality in a seemingly obvious topic of a sexually transmitted infection. While most of the public attention and strategic pharmaceutical marketing is geared towards women and cervical cancer, there has been little to no consideration of men’s health and HPV. Another critical component to this paper is an analysis of Gardasil’s print and viral public health campaign in the United States as well as grassroots health efforts via blogs and online forums. These discussions are often stopped before they can begin, primarily because of the controversial debates surrounding the Gardasil vaccine and (sex)uality. Utilizing varied methods consisting of historical and cultural analysis, this paper addresses cultural notions of disease and contagion as they intersect with race, class, gender, and sexuality.
Title: Are the Gods Afraid? Crimes Against Nature & the Spirit of Organized Resistance in New Orleans
Abstract: On March 30, 2012, a letter entitled “Our Win” began to make its way through social media networks before the east coast Friday morning commute was underway. In it, Women With A Vision (WWAV) Executive Director, Deon Haywood celebrated the people “who courageously stood up to combat the criminalization of their lives,” and claimed their victory “for every group that has ever been criminalized.” For the simple act of trading sex for money to survive, hundreds of Louisiana cis and trans* women, nearly eighty-percent of them black, had been convicted of a felony-level crime against nature by solicitation (CANS) and forced to register as sex offenders for periods of fifteen years to life. After a five-year fight, this twenty-two year running New Orleans black women’s health collective, buttressed by a chorus of local, national and international allies, had secured a federal judicial ruling. On March 29, 2012, U.S. District Judge Martin Feldman found that the nine plaintiffs, all of whom were WWAV members, “have been deprived of equal protection of the laws in violation of the Fourteenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.”
In this paper, I bring a fine-grained analysis to WWAV’s process of organizing against “that horrible crime not to be named among Christians” to trace the layers of moral panic rhetoric that surrounded the CANS fight and to clarify the victory that Deon Haywood claimed in March of 2012. Far from a simple case of law and order, I argue that there were three distinct moral formations with which WWAV had to contend in mounting a challenge of CANS. The first, and most obvious, was the process for branding women working in New Orleans’ street-based economies as “crimes against nature.” The Louisiana legislature had added the solicitation provision to the state’s 207-year-old sodomy statute in 1982 at the request of the New Orleans Police Department (NOPD), who argued that a draconian measure was needed to crack down on the “growing problem in male prostitution.”
In practice, this AIDS-era panic, in which sex workers were scapegoated as vectors of HIV infection, was quickly mapped onto the raced and gendered bodies of a whole host of local undesirables. When a post-Katrina grant from the Department of Justice tasked the NOPD with targeting and apprehending “violent felony fugitives” like registered sex offenders, it came to national attention that the southern system of racial purification was still alive and well. With this, a second moral panic was resurrected: the United States North’s preoccupation with its embarrassingly retrograde sibling, the South. Without the blatant racism enacted through CANS, which was but one in a litany of practices cited as part of a federal investigation of the NOPD, it is likely that the constitutional challenge of the statute would have fallen on deaf ears, as several previous attempts in the wake of Lawrence v. Texas had. A third moral discourse spun into action at the level of (unsolicited) campaign advice. WWAV’s aspiring global saviors were bubbling with frames through which to message the CANS issue. All reeked of an unspoken presumption that a group of black women could not win a victory on this scale. With the grace of southern hospitality, these “defenders” were discounted.
At the nexus of these three distinct moral formations, WWAV recognized the immediate and tangible difference it would make for their members should they be able to repeal the CANS statute. But they also eschewed a legalistic or legislative end for their work, undertaking a comprehensive project to expose and transform the web of injustices women in the street-based economies moved through daily. In so doing, they artfully evaded the competing moralizing discourses, which would have reduced their members to being either perpetrators or victims, and instead threw the whole of their lives up as the precondition for social change. I argue that this tactic – countering social death with a defiance of living – provides an invaluable example of how the subjects of moral panics might call on a very different “spirit” of conceptual and physical resistance to affect change on precisely those issues that are eclipsed in the savage global sorting of third-world threats and first-world saviors.
Lessie Jo Frazier, Gender Studies & American Studies, Indiana University, & Deborah Cohen, University of Missouri (co-authors)
Title: The racialized erotics of global moral panics
Abstract: This paper complements our book in progress on the global ‘68, and builds on the growing literature on GMPs and sexuality, mostly centered on sex work and “trafficking.” This paper considers the racialized erotics of global moral panics through our current work on the role of] sexuality and race in the elite panics resulting in the disproportionate repression of what has come to be called “the global ’68,” indexing the cross-fertilization of student and other social and counter-cultural movements of the long sixties. To do so, we first synthesize the robust debate around the topic which to date has most directly implicated sexuality in GMPs, that is, sex trafficking. We cite and build on the work of scholars such as Laura Agosin, Amalia Cabezas, and Denise Brennan who have critiqued the sex trafficking literature through bold ethnographic work with the people whose lives are often read through the lens of global sex tourism economies and sex trafficking. However, we note that even these scholars largely avoid questions of sexuality and racialized erotics, perhaps strategically, in favor of attention questions of agency and social and affective dynamics. In order to tackle the question of global, multivalent erotic economies that become the object of moralizing GMPs, we draw together global studies with scholarship on colonial and imperialist erotic economies by scholars such as Ann Stoler, Anne McClintock, Elizabeth Povinelli, and Mrinalini Sinha. The second part of the paper then sketches a case suggesting the importance of sex and race in GMPs: the ways in which ’68 was a GMP where elites were responding to the sexualized political praxis of defiant movements and framed their dismay and titillation in moralizing sexual terms. Global Moral Panics, we argue, often include and are expressed through racialized erotic economies that can be profitably analyzed through drawing together colonial/post-colonial studies with global studies.
Title: Save the Children: African Villains, White Saviors, and the Moral Panic of Africa’s Wars
Abstract: Recent armed conflicts in Africa have provided media consumers with startling examples of African villains, whose seeming depravity in victimizing people—especially children—appears boundless. In 2012, Joseph Kony, the elusive leader of the Ugandan rebel group the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA), became the focal point of Invisible Children’s Kony 2012 global “awareness” and fundraising campaign, which called for nothing less than a military intervention to capture him. Among the many crimes committed by Kony in the LRA’s long-running war against the Ugandan state, Invisible Children’s campaign pinpointed the LRA’s use of child soldiers. More recently, Boko Haram’s kidnapping of Nigerian children has drawn global attention to the Islamist group’s longer history of violent acts in northern Nigeria, provoking widespread internet-driven activism.
In these and other cases, media fixations on the legitimate problem of violent conflict and its terrible effects on some parts of Africa feed into what we might consider a global moral panic about the nature of warfare in Africa, amplifying Africa’s deviance in public imaginaries. Far from being anything new however, such portrayals of African conflict reinforce longstanding narratives about a savage and benighted Africa in need of intervention from “white saviors”. Over the decades these white saviors have taken various forms, including missionaries, explorers, colonizers, international humanitarian organizers, militaries, journalists, and youthful volunteers. All of these actors claim deeply felt desires to “help” Africa, while also displaying a profound naiveté or willful ignorance about local complexities and foreign imbrications therein, as well as unfounded assumptions about shared values and goals between outsiders and those who live in the affected areas. What do the frequent reappearances of these tropes reveal about North American, European, and others’ political, economic, and cultural worlds? In what ways are governmental entities complicit in generating these panics, and what are the outcomes? This paper engages such questions as a means of exposing the links between moral panics associated with Africa’s armed conflicts, and western unwillingness to grapple with the consequences of long histories of imperialism and capitalism that influence African politics, economics, and societies today.
Title: Black Bodies, Wrong Places: Genocide, Public Sphere and Popular Music in Brazil
Abstract: In this presentation we will seek to correlate politically and theoretically increasing statistical indicators of state violence against young black men; and recurrent moral panic developed by hegemonic sectors of the press and some social agents against social manifestations of black popular culture in Brazil, like funk balls in Rio and “pagode” sambas in Bahia.
Several recent events have exposed intensely social fear of black popular culture, especially when it is performed by young male black bodies in privatized or militarized locations, sequestered from the public sphere. On December 9, in the State of São Paulo, the richest of the Brazilian states, six thousand young people attended a funk summoned through social networks.The presence of the youngs triggered panic, closing stores and the convening of police on the grounds that there would be looting. A few days before November 30, in the capital of State of Espírito Santo, Vitoria, several Military Police Battalion vehicles and the Special Operations surrounded other shopping, with the supposed mission of protecting retailers and consumers threatened by an alleged invasion of young blacks and poor who actually flee the police violence police in containing a funk dance that happened in a next street.
Facts like this become commonplace and is added to ban funk parties in poor communities of Rio Janeiro, militarily occupied by the Police Pacification Units, symbol of the new policy of public security of the State Government of Rio de Janeiro. The backdrop to these events, connects to recurring patterns of state violence against the black population that victimize predominantly young black men. According to the Federal Government itself in 2010, 52,260 people died in Brazil victims of homicide, or 27.4 per 100 thousand inhabitants; 66.9% of the victims were black, of this total, 27,977 were young people between 15 and 29, totaling 53.5%; 70.9% of the young people killed were black; 91.3% of victims were male. Therefore, we sought to interrogate the overall anti-black genocide, with the production of moral panics and privatization / militarization of the public sphere, such as locations of a broader scale structure of global racial antagonisms.
Title: Reproducing and Resisting Histories of Control: Female Mobility and Agency in Colonial and Postcolonial Zimbabwe
Abstract: Subject to a normalizing gaze informed by scientific and moral discourses, the mobile black female body in Zimbabwe has historically been constructed as a threat—to the colonial state, to institutionalized male power, and to the regulation of economic production. Questioning nationalist temporalities that assert that the moment of independence marked a radical break from colonialism, I argue that the Zimbabwean state actually reproduces colonial modes of governmentality in its disciplining of female bodies. I examine the historical literature on the regulation of black female bodies under colonialism, attending to the linked desires of Rhodesian officials and African patriarchs who sought to control the sexualities and labor of black women. Under colonialism, black female bodies took on important symbolic meanings—as sexual threats, guardians of the home and kinship systems, carriers of disease— that provoked concerted attempts to manage their mobility. Consequently, moral panics about black women’s untamed sexuality authorized disciplinary measures such marriage passes and compulsory venereal disease exams, marking the black female body as a site of colonial power.
I argue that the anti-prostitution campaigns that have taken place with some frequency since Zimbabwe’s independence in 1980 reproduce colonial notions of mobile black women as threats to be regulated and contained. Justified as attempts to combat the spread of HIV/AIDS, anti-prostitution campaigns in Zimbabwe indiscriminately target urban women who are on the streets after the state-imposed 8pm curfew or are found wearing “inappropriate” clothing. Drawing on the rhetoric of feminist activists who have resisted such measures, I argue that the anti-prostitution campaigns perpetuate the objectification of black women under the law, constructing them as inferior citizens. As they resist attempts to police their bodies, Zimbabwean feminists argue for a sense of decolonized citizenship that reimagines relations among the genders and between women and the state.
Title: “Securing Global Manifest Destiny: Mexico’s War on Drugs, Moral Panic, and Global Capitalism”
Abstract: On December 4, 2006, the newly elected president of Mexico, Felipe de Jesús Calderón Hinojosa, declared a “war on drugs” to combat the narco-trafficking in the country. Amidst the crisis of legitimacy of the 2006 presidential elections and the socio-economic inequality in the country, the declaration of war against a perceived threat to national security and the crisis it produced allowed to supersede the former crises with the latter. As a “moral panic,” the war on drugs in Mexico displaced the social fears and anxieties embodied in the crisis of legitimacy of the 2006 elections and the immiseration of the majority of Mexico’s population on to the insecurity produced by drug trafficking and narco-violence.
Through a “common sense” discourse and perception of Mexico as a failed state, the U.S. nation-state played a leading role and intervened by investing in the militarization of the Mexican drug war and securitization of its and Mexico’s borders. This militarization and securitization are illustrated in the Merida Initiative, also known as “Plan Mexico,” instituted in 2008 and its predecessor the Security and Prosperity Partnership of North America in 2005. The support of Mexico’s drug war has been legitimated by the fear of narco-violence spilling over the U.S. border and the defense of Mexico’s recent “transition to democracy.” Is the U.S. involvement in Mexico’s drug war upholding Mexico’s so-called “transition to democracy”? Are these security partnerships providing for the wellbeing of the Mexican populace? What are these transnational moral panics over narco-violence concealing?
In the 19th century, Manifest Destiny as an ideology served to increase westward expansion of the U.S. through its claims of Mexico and its people as incompetent and unable to create a democracy, which resulted in the United States first imperialist war of aggression. In the 21st century, the logic of Manifest Destiny continues to exist, but rather than westward expansion of the U.S. nation-state, it serves as the expansion of global capitalism through what Allen Feldman terns “securocratic wars” of public safety. The moral panic developed around the war on drugs in Mexico is a displacement of the contradictions produced by neoliberalism, but legitimates the militarization of security and capital accumulation.
This paper argues that while these security initiatives between the United States and Mexico have created a partnership between social forces within the region to combat drug trafficking and narco-violence, the underlying logic of these policies are to secure the free flow of transnational capital, commodities, and the management and policing of labor and surplus populations. It further contends that the current war on drugs must be placed in the social context of the last thirty years of the political economy of Mexico and the globe. The imposed structural adjustment programs in the late 1970s and throughout the 1980s, NAFTA in the 1990s, and Plan Puebla-Panama in the 2000s, have created an upward redistribution of wealth for transnational elites in Mexico and abroad while producing the immiseration of the working classes. These politics of neoliberalism and securitization have produced the very conditions that they purport to prevent and control. The study of Mexico’s drug war as a moral panic will illuminate these processes.
Title: “Madeleine and the Gypsies”
Abstract: In the classic children’s’ book Madeline and the Gypsies by Ludwig Bemelmans, the eponymous character and her friend Pepito are spirited away by a scarved and earringed “Gypsy Mama” whose family works the carnival route. Because Madeline “never has to brush her teeth” among these exotic, caravan-dwelling circus people, the French schoolgirl has a high spirited adventure until growing homesick for normal life. The story gradually get darker as the Gypsy Mama refuses to return the children she’s abducted. (They eventually are rescued by their ordinary caretakers.) This children’s’ story, part of the hugely successful Madeline series, clearly draws on centuries of European folklore about Gypsies stealing white children. My paper analyzes the recent media hysteria about “Gypsies” (sic) stealing white children. This panic unfolded in Fall 2013, when a Greek Romani couple were arrested and globally shamed after the discover of what the Greek police called a “blond angel” living with them – a four year old girl who, it was quickly established, was their adopted child of Bulgarian Romani parentage. The moral panic escalated as authorities across Europe began seizing even more blonde Romani children from their families, including an Irish Romani girl who was the biological child of the dark-skinned mother arrested on suspicion of kidnapping. This paper contextualizes the events not just within the genre of the Gypsy Kidnapper tale, but also within the wider convention of the captivity narrative, which for centuries have expressed colonial anxieties about racial and political power relations. In the classic captivity narrative (for example, the kidnapping of a white person by a Barbary pirate gang or a Native American tribe) colonial power relationships are anxiously jeopardized and then, eventually, are often reaffirmed. Thus, while captivity narratives are often told as true tales, they also contain fantastic elements that speak more to constructions of national identity than to verifiable histories. This paper looks at how the recent fantastic media reports about “Gypsies” generated speculation that the four year old “blond angel” living among Greek Romani was the kidnapped British girl Madeleine McCann, even though McCann had been four years old at the time of her kidnapping six years previous to the Gypsy case. In “Madeleine and the Gypsies” I think with the structure of the captivity narrative to interrogate the meanings of this recent moral panic in light of larger issues facing Romani people in a changing EU, where racist attacks on and expulsions of Romani people are escalating via individual incidents, state-based policies and media panics.