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Commentary Archive

The politics of counting and the scene of rescue

Border deaths in the Mediterranean
by / RP 192 (July/Aug 2015) / Commentary

Border deaths are not a new phenomenon. Since the early 2000s, the Mediterranean Sea has been named a ‘maritime cemetery’ by activists [1] and critical migration scholars. However, over the last two years migrant deaths at the borders have gained more and more attention in the media and EU political debate …

The signature of security

Big data, anticipation, surveillance
by / RP 191 (May/Jun 2015) / Commentary, Data & Surveillance

‘We are not crystal ball gazers. We are Intelligence Agencies’, noted the former GCHQ director Iain Lobban in a public inquiry on privacy and security by the Intelligence and Security Committee of the UK Parliament (ISC) in the wake of the Snowden revelations about mass surveillance. [1] Several minutes later, Lobban …

Big data, small freedom?

Informational surveillance and the political
by / RP 191 (May/Jun 2015) / Commentary, Data & Surveillance

In 2010, ‘big data’ was described as ‘datasets that could not be captured, managed and processed by general computers within an acceptable scope’. [1] Today’s definitions boil down to three Vs: Variety, Volume and Velocity. Big data deals with mostly unstructured, heterogeneous and non-validated data, whose size is so big that …

Oceanic enemy

A brief philosophical history of the NSA
by / RP 191 (May/Jun 2015) / Commentary, Data & Surveillance

6 July 1962, NAVFAC base, Barbados.

A grey building stands at the foot of a stone lighthouse overlooking the Caribbean Sea. Inside, a military serviceman is examining the lines being recorded on an enormous roll of paper by the stylus of a sort of gigantic electrocardiogram. We are in one of the secret bases of …

Food politics in the USA

by / RP 190 (Mar/Apr 2015) / Commentary

Nutrition in food is, today, a function of profitability: junk food and processed foods are more profitable than organics grown locally; meat is not only more energy intensive, but is more profitable (at least for those who package and market it). People’s diets are, in other words, determined not simply by what is grown or …

Old alliances, new struggles

The Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership
by / RP 190 (Mar/Apr 2015) / Commentary

The Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) is a bilateral agreement between the European Union and the United States of America aimed at the liberalization and regulation of trade in goods and services. If adopted, it will supplant the EU, the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) and the deal between China and the Association …

Russell Brand, Lady T, Pisher Bob and Preacher John

by / RP 190 (Mar/Apr 2015) / Commentary

Russell Brand’s new book Revolution * is an impressive contribution to political philosophy, a field which during the past thirty years or so has not been overly populated with interesting work. Brand’s argument can be summarized in ten steps:

Our lives are to a large extent given structure by a set of economic practices and …

Bruno Latour’s anthropology of the moderns

A reply to Maniglier
by / RP 189 (Jan/Feb 2015) / Commentary

An Inquiry into Modes of Existence: An Anthropology of the Moderns – published with the motto: si scires donum Dei (for those who do not know the Holy Scripture, this is John 4.10: ‘if you knew God’s gift’) – is said to be the result of Bruno Latour’s research over the last twenty-five years. [1] The book …

Green economics versus growth economics

The case of Thomas Piketty
by / RP 189 (Jan/Feb 2015) / Commentary

What would be a radical economics today? It would have two components. First, it must understand economics as necessarily political economy; as a continuous human, social creation subject to political manipulation and to new positive political vision and action. Second, it must be a Green ecological economics. That is, it must have absorbed the …

Alternative economics

A new student movement
by and / RP 189 (Jan/Feb 2015) / Commentary

Economics is in crisis. The profession is under attack from the media, employers and the general public. The economists we are producing are not performing the tasks society demands from them. [1 ]

The recent global crisis not only led to a questioning of mainstream macroeconomic theories and their relevance …

Legal terror and the police dog

by / RP 188 (Nov/Dec 2014) / Commentary

In Johnstown, Pennsylvania, in 2001 an off-duty police officer spotted Antonio Chatman, who was known by this officer as having a warrant for a misdemeanour. Soon other officers, including a K-9 unit, arrived on the scene. Chatman attempted to flee but a police dog pursued and apprehended him, which is to say the trained dog …

Deadly Algorithms

Can legal codes hold software accountable for code that kills?
by / RP 187 (Sept/Oct 2014) / Commentary

Algorithms have long adjudicated over vital processes that help to ensure our well-being and survival, from pacemakers that maintain the natural rhythms of the heart, and genetic algorithms that optimise emergency response times by cross-referencing ambulance locations with demographic data, to early warning systems that track approaching storms, detect seismic activity, and even seek …

Boycotting Israel

 Academia, activism and the futures of American Studies
by / RP 186 (Jul/Aug 2014) / Commentary

On 4 December of last year, the annual conference of the American Studies Association resolved that ‘whereas the United States plays a significant role in enabling the Israeli occupation of Palestine … whereas there is no effective or substantive academic freedom for Palestinian students and scholars under conditions of Israeli occupation, and Israeli institutions of …


A non-nationalist argument for Scottish independence
by / RP 185 (May/Jun 2014) / Commentary

On the evening of 16 May 1973, around halfway through the Aladdin Sane tour, I watched David Bowie play his second sold-out show at the Aberdeen Music Hall. I could not have imagined that one day I would be listening to him – or, rather, listening to Kate Moss speaking on his behalf – intervene …

‘People not of our concern’

by / RP 184 (Mar/Apr 2014) / Commentary

‘We stay here and we don’t move.’ This is the refrain in the Choucha refugee camp among those who have been stranded there, in the desert, since 2011. ‘Rejected’ and ‘non-resettled refugees’ are the categories through which these migrant stories have been sorted. They are also the terms that determine the UN Refugee Agency’s (UNHCR) …

Dissonances of the Arab Left

by / RP 184 (Mar/Apr 2014) / Commentary

To talk of the secular democratic leftist project in the Arab world is to talk of crisis – a crisis that is manifest in two ways. First, there is the fundamental question of whether such a project even exists in a coherent and comprehensive form, rather than as a mere collection of statements and propositions …

Generative grafting

Reproductive technology and the dilemmas of surrogacy
by / RP 183 (Jan/Feb 2014) / Commentary

In 2013, at the advanced age of 101, Howard W. Jones, a medical pioneer in reproductive technology, published Personhood Revisited: Reproductive Technology, Bioethics, Religion and the Law. Looking back at the development of what came to be called the ARTs (assisted reproductive technologies), Jones chronicles the initial controversies surrounding their emergence and his own participation …


by / RP 183 (Jan/Feb 2014) / Commentary

One must remember that mathematics, like death, never makes mistakes, never plays tricks. If we are unable to see those irrational curves or solids, it means only that they inevitably possess a whole immense world somewhere beneath the surface of our life.

– Yevgeny Zamyatin, We

The settings alone brush perilously close to fiction: a …

Smells like Gezi spirit

Democratic sensibilities and carnivalesque politics in Turkey
by / RP 182 (Nov/Dec 2013) / Commentary

A small protest in Istanbul, which began by aiming to protect the urban greenery, was rapidly turned into a full-blown nationwide resistance. The protests should be regarded as the most important outcry of the Turkish people since the 1980 coup, and herald a new period in the history of Turkey. But it would be …

Corporate open source

Intellectual property and the struggle over value
by / RP 181 (Sept/Oct 2013) / Commentary

I began to worry about open source when the corporate world stopped worrying and learned to love open source. For me the turning point was a drinks party in Paris in 2003, thrown by the wife of an American advertising executive temporarily based in the city. First, a bit of context for the party and …