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Read at your own Risk:
Book Review of "Prevent and Tame - Protest under (Self-)Control"


While consequently using online texts for my thesis I decided to give something back to the Gutenberg Galaxy and review on a proper book, only available made of paper:

(Heßdörfer, Florian; Pabst, Andrea; Ullrich, Peter (ed s.) 2010: Prevent and Tame. Protest under (Self)Control, Berlin: Dietz, ISBN 978-3-320-02246-4, 122 pp., € 9.90.)

The book at first draws a picture of the current neoliberal society, based on individualization and preventionism. By means of Fordism and Foucault's vision of the panopticon we are introduced to a dystopian view of the world. To protect their status quo in a capitalistic system with diminishing/less resources, governments need to put more and more effort into surveillance and discipline measures. Preventionism aims at/for controlling the future by preventing certain kinds of behaviour in the present. During 8 chapters written by different authors we learn about this kind of politics:
After Stephen Gill's preface Peter Ullrich links governmentality studies and protest research by exploring the possible impact of preventionist politics of self-activation and individualization of risk on protest efforts. Florian Heßdörfer has a look at "protest and youth under the eye of prevention". Another paper, written by Marc Tullney, deals with the effects of surveillance in workspace. In their essay about anti-terror investigations and social movements Andrej Holm and Anne Roth tell the story of a personal experience being arrested as suspected terrorists. Similar to this report, Michael Shane Boyle reviews the famous case of massive repression measures by the italian police against the VolxTheaterKarawane during the G8 summit in Genoa 2001. Darcy K. Leach and Sebastian Hauss have a closer look at taming rituals and tolerance within protest movements concerning the "violence question". In the last chapter Nick Montgomery focuses on several strategies of protest in general, such as civil disobedience, counter-hegemony and possible alternatives.

The theoretical ideas of each essay are exemplified by case studies. In this way the contents are prepared applicably and convey the practical meaning of abstract conclusions. The essays are successively linked to one another and sorted in order: from exploring the individual and its self-reflections, over mutual perception of individuals within society, to group-dynamics and at last an outline of movements including several sub-groups - always referring to the neoliberal society as a whole.
Starting with a look at effects of preventionist politics on the individual, Peter Ullrich explains the "individualization of risk" based on the example of the German healthcare system. The essay shows, in which way individuals are challenged to optimize their personal selfs, thinking that "bad results" are self-inflicted, not questioning social structures. He points out to the work of Michel Foucault , the concept of biopower and subjectifying processes and asks if preventionism would "reduce the likelihood of protest by attacking the legitimacy of social attribution of problems" .
In context of the British "Anti-Social-Behaviour-Order" Florian Heßdörfer examines a preventionist tactic to deal with (the youth's) possible dissent behaviour and protest by making it appear as "anti-social" within society. It reveals why zero-tolerance policies are at last accepted by the public. On one hand preventionism and individualization evoke mutual surveillance, rating and discipline. On the other hand surveillance is used to make the subject constantly reflect on itself - as part of a relentless society. Of course in times of low wage competition, high unemployment rates, less labor rights and less protection of being laid off, for instance employees under surveillance would rather not tend to join any kind of protest.
Marc Tullney shows several tools used by employers to control and discipline their employees and in this way to optimize the performance of a whole company. By the example of hidden computer applications which collect any data from the employees, using it, and produce automated manager reports, we get an idea of what "computerization of the workspace" really means. On the other hand Tullney also points to the counterproductive effects an atmosphere of distrust has for those companies. In my eyes this is an elementary question: What is a society of single-fighters fearing each other evolving into? How can we be productive and innovative if we consider everything as a risk?
If you follow this thought consequently, you might find out that buying this book could be a risk, and writing this text as well. In Andrej Holm's and Anne Roth's essay they demonstrate impressively, that their arrest and interrogations were not about a real suspicion of terrorism. It was about "taming" the dissent. Taming the dissent can even mean criminalization of critica academic writing. What is the quality of a democratic system, in which its authorities aim to prevent special kinds of academic research?
The question of democracy's quality is also asked in Michael Shane Boyle's article, regarding the massive violence during the Genoa G8 summit. Boyle explores the background of massive repression measures against a harmless, but politically engaged theater group by the Italian police. In detail the sorts of changes that occur within political activist gorups, perhaps reflexively, due to the criminalization of dissent are discussed.
Other interesting issues this paper elucidates, are aspects of the pre-planning of the summit on part of the police and how former expectations of demonstrators, police, press and public turned out to be fullfilled. Preventionism means guessing what might happen, planning the future and avoiding unwanted developments. Both governments and political activists plan prospective events, while the governing forces want to keep their existing status, protest is aiming for a change. In which way does preventionism affect intentions and concepts of protest actions?
In their case study Darcy K. Leach and Sebastian Hauss compare the planning phase, the phase of action and the aftermath of the demonstrations against the G8 summit in Heiligendamm 2007 and a nuclear waste transport in Wendland 2001. It is analyzed, in which way activist groups discussed beforehand, whether violence is acceptable as a form of action or not and if they were able to work together to reach their goals of protest, despite different approaches. Through this analysis/this analysis shows that, tolerance towards a "diversity of action forms" turns out to be the most successful and effective way of protest. Ironically, to prevent something from a changing you need equality (egalitarianism), but to change something you need tolerance and diversity. During this chapter of the book I finally felt as if I really understood the deeper impact of preventionism on our way of thinking and living - and how it could be dealt with from an activist's position.
Looking for new strategies and inspiration for political activism I deemed/deem the book's closing article as most fruitful. With help from the example of the anti-olympics movement in Canada 2010 Nick Montgomery asks basic questions regarding legitimacy, tactics and perception of protest in general. He offers a deeper insight into protest structures and its connection to society and authority by explaining the term "politics of demand" and its opponent "politics of act". While "politics of demand" means asking authorities for a change, "politics of act" means acting directly by creating functioning alternatives to the hegemonic system. In this way, protest is not reduced to being "against" something, it is seen as a constructive power for development of society - creating new options we will be desperately longing for.

As an artist, who is politically engaged, but not a politics-researcher, I read "Prevent and Tame" from a very practical point of view. At first the book seems to be difficult to read, but by the use of case studies, connections between theoretical approaches and obvious social tendencies amplify more and more. It offers a summary of constraints we already have to face as a society and gives an outlook where it might lead us in the future. At the same time, the reader is challenged to question her own perception and make her own conclusions. Surveillance measures and manipulation techniques are described, which are very subtle and only few are aware of the consequences of blind civil obedience. What you will find in this book could make you feel at least a bit paranoid. Possibly you'll want to cry out "No, this can't be true!". These are unpleasant truths - so read on your own risk! But only if you understand this system, are you then able to question it. Only if you look closely at things you don't like, you can find solutions to change them. In times when restraints are being tightened more and more, under the mask of democracy, there is nothing we need more than a creative, effective and strong protest culture. And this book can help us on our way.

Download the book here and find more interesting information regarding surveillance studies here!


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