Monday, December 11, 2006

The line between acceptance and rejection

The academic rituals of giving and receiving reviews are hard work. On Friday I received a rejection of the paper Visuality, Secrecy and Cartography: Reversing the Panopticon Through Counter-Mapping from the journal Security Dialogue. The referees comments are below. It is frustrating, particularly as the reviews took over five months to come back. We are planning to rewrite the paper and resubmit it to a different journal.


Evaluations of SD article ID: 07908 ‘Visuality, Secrecy, and Cartography: Reversing the Panopticon Through Counter-Mapping’

Referee A

This article is a difficult one to review. It is so not because the article does not have merit or that it does not address an issue of importance, or even that it is badly written. In many respects, the article is interesting, it is well written and, finally, it raises, amongst others, an issue that is of current import to the times at hand, that is, the form and substance of the modes of securitization of political life in ways that reduce the possibilities of emancipatory projects. In all these areas, I find myself largely in sympathy with the paper’s moves and trajectories. For instance, I agree that surveillance and secrecy have potentially devastating consequences in contemporary political landscapes, such that securitization is now readily welcomed by many in the US and in Europe regardless of the concomitant narrowing of the realm of democratic and civic life. I also agree that nowadays governmentality has taken on a quality of “rule by revelation.” However, this is not in support of historical openings in political landscapes but for closures of such possibilities enacted in the production through and through of fear and insecurity. Clearly, investing in fear has acquired a greater economy of scale through the consolidation of the powers of surveillance technologies. As a result, biopolitical governmentality has been intensified through new competencies and unprecedented technological reach into the everyday political processes. Lastly, I am in agreement with the article’s intent to write in support of “progressive” efforts mobilized to counter dominant “mapping” of social and political landscapes through the securitizing lenses or filters.

Having said all this, my difficulty with the article arises as regards questions of originality and the depth of arguments -- more specifically, in terms of what novel contributions, theoretical or otherwise, the article makes to the related literature(s) and how, if at all, it advances our critical efforts to move beyond simply saying these are the limits and boundaries to our quandaries. I am afraid, for me, the paper, as is, has little new to say about the issue it takes as its central task, namely, “reversing the panopticon through counter-mapping” or counter-mapping as resistance to totalizing territorial cartographic practices that underlie the dominant stories of local and global politics.

To begin, in large part, particularly in its theoretical underpinnings as well as analytical and substantive claims, the article, although well-written, remains derivative, echoing arguments already well-articulated elsewhere in the works of critical scholars, especially the post-structuralists, in the field of political theory/international relations. Besides these figures, others in a myriad of disciplines have already explored this mode of critical approach to surveillance and they have done so through a distinguished genealogy of strategies of writing and reading texts as sites of politics. In some ways, the author’s remark that the “panopticon” might have already served its useful life as a critical analytical location is an important caution. I suggest that it should be taken seriously in this case as well. Contributing to this sense of the exhaustion of the panopticon’s analytical powers is the fact that the original construct of the “panopticon” is not fully sufficient to the rich and complex array of techniques and strategies employed to support contemporary biopolitical governance. In this sense, for the panopticon to be useful, it has to be deepened as a theoretico-analytical site/construct in light of the complex work of power and resistance in contemporary governmentalities. In short, I think the author’s treatment of the panoptic gaze is rather elementary and superficial – a descriptive rather than analytical employment that ultimately undermines the whole effort in the paper. Even more significantly, the idea of the panopticon plays a little role in the subsequent sections of the paper. It slowly recedes into the imprecise background, thereby producing a “disconnect” between the paper’s stated theoretical location and its substantive empirical discussions.

Second, the paper’s claims are rather broad as in “reversing the panopticon” and lifting the veil of secrecy and surveillance through counter-mapping, etc, However, as much as I hate to say it, the following substantiation of these claims is extremely limited and cursory. The two cases the paper discusses -- “eyeballing” and “public eye” – demonstrate very little other than simply indicating the existence of these programs and their broad implications for “progressive politics.” There is no sustained analysis of the cases as to their reach and impact in political contexts in policy or in everyday conduct of social and political agents, be they governments or social movements or others. Further, surprisingly, the discussion of the cases in the end seems to suggest that counter-mapping engenders limited critical political agency in relation to panoptic gaze/governance. In this sense, I suggest that the paper appears to undermine or attenuate its own central claim of “reversing panopticon through counter-mapping.” This tension needs resolution, or failing that, clarification.

Third, I should add that the practice of “mapping” itself is treated almost literally in the sense of identifying and transposing over dominant maps what the paper calls the “hidden” sites or locations. Here, counter-mapping appears as though it is comprehended empirically simply in a quantitative sense, that is, as “adding” the omitted sites to the cartography of the visible and sensible. Undoubtedly, this is important and is of much political value. However, it is not sufficient to constitute and mobilize discordant/counter maps to expose and challenge the limits of the dominant regimes of visuality and their modes of power and control. The positivist tendency becomes more clear in the discussion of the two cases where counter-mapping seems to be reduced to mere cartography and cartography being reduced more or less to simple topography. My sense is that the panopticon’s counterpart here is not “cartography” as the site of power but, rather, “geography” as the site of the “political” within which complex and thoroughly cross-referential regimes activate a certain “visuality, secrecy, and cartographic” power, and accord them their currency.

Fourth, the paper’s focus area remains somewhat unclear. Is it the military gaze and the military panoptical power? Is it the modern biopolitical governance of which military gaze is one of the many constitutive dimensions? There has to be a clarification of the site of analysis in relation to panopticon as the controlling mode.

For me the paper comes to an end precisely where its novel promises begin as to the potential impact of counter-mapping. It ends where it promises to do what its title states. The two cases the paper examines cannot carry the explanatory and analytical weight placed on them. There are several reasons for this. The import of the cases, (without a broader historical contextualization as to the notions and practices of subjectivity and governmentality they implicate – the state, nation, sovereignty, territory, people, etc.) is extremely limited. It is here that one can see why I find the article difficult to review in spite of my sympathies with its normative inclinations and conceptual moves. I follow it as far as it goes but find its reach to be limited, thus insufficient as far the critical “emancipatory” (or alternative) practices and projects, towards which the “counter-mapping” ontologically necessarily gestures. It is in that sense that, I think the paper falls short of its critical potential to contribute to the study of security/insecurity as a historical governmentality

Overall, the paper has some potential to contribute to our understanding along the issues it discusses, but it is far from realizing this potential. As a result, I feel comfortable in recommending that the paper not be published as is. It should be substantially revised and re-submitted at a later date, if at all. In any case, if the author is asked to revise and re-submit by the editors and the other reviewers who might have different responses to the paper, I would like to offer several specific suggestions the author may want to think about in the process of revising the paper.

First, the panopticon has to be theorized a bit further in the paper in order to render it sufficient to the complexities of the power relations that attend to the security environments. Following this, throughout the paper, the panopticon as the basis of counter politics to securitization should be brought to the fore more explicitly and augmented theoretically with the support of new takes on the idea. It ought to live up to the claim that it is being employed in a “neo-Foucauldian” fashion. As it stands, the paper reads more like description of a limited security practice. Second, I would like the introduction to be more reflective of the theoretical and substantive moves in the rest of the paper. As is, the introduction prepares the reader very little in terms of what follows in the paper. In the same manner, the conclusion should be expanded to recapitulate the main arguments. In some ways, the fact that the conclusion is very rudimentary, is an indication of the limits of the paper’s analysis in the main sections. That counter-mapping has to be comprehended as being more than a simple cumulative practice in cartographic imaging and that it ought to involve interventions and shifts in a geography of political securitization in a deeper sense of the political have to be kept in mind at all times during the revision process. It is not surprising that given the epistemic and ontological limits at work in the bulk of the paper, the author has very little to conclude with. Finally, it might be worth considering expanding and diversifying the case studies in order to give more depth to the paper’s analysis.

In conclusion, in my optimistic opinion, the paper needs major revisions before it can be accepted for publication. More honestly, I suggest that the paper not be published.

Referee B

"Visuality, Secrecy...' This is a thoughtful, informative piece that has even more potential. But you are asking whether it should be published as is in the symposium, and my answer is yes. It reports attempts to subvert and counter the panoptic gaze, and it displays an awareness of the extent to which such attempts run the risk of duplicating that which they oppose. If there were more time I would recommend that the authors read Laura Marks, The Skin of the Film. She explores the effects of the "ocular image"---the sort of surveillance images explored here--by comparison to the haptic image, images in which our sense of touch is folded right into the image, humanizing it and bringing out our reciprocal vulnerabilities. This, I think at least, would allow the authors to carry their essay one step further, in speculating how to counter the surveillance images more effectively, not just to resist them. But that being said, this essay has real strengths, and it identifies places and sites to connect with in the process of resisting and avoiding the growing politics of surveillance. I would publish it.

Referee C

I have read the article "Visuality, Secrecy and Cartography: Reversing the Panopticon Through Counter-Mapping". I think it is not publishable in the present form. In most part of the paper, until it arrives to the case studies, it has no clear thread, it is surrealistic, jumps in time and space unexpectedly. It contains large part of irrelevant elements. Its conclusions are weak and abrupt and most of the conclusions proper are concentrated in the chapter preceding the conclusions. I think, the author should be encouraged to submit a significantly revised version that meets the formal requirements of a scholarly paper.

Whether a revised version could be considered for publication is too early to tell. I hope this disappointing news helps


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