Family meals in Waziristan have come to be punctuated by the buzzing of drones flying overhead. African migrants in the Mediterranean borderlands conduct their lives awaiting a passage or a legal determination that may never arrive. Supplemental Security Income (SSI) beneficiaries in the United States police each other to ensure their month-to-month eligibility for psychiatric disability payments. For these vast segments of humanity, a drone may strike, a legal status may be attained, or a state entitlement may be revoked at any moment. These scenes of intensified expectation for the arrival or withdrawal of the state not only confirm that the state is not slowly disappearing as some suggested in the euphoria of globalization, but that state power has a temporal dimension that requires careful conceptualization. Everyday experiences of anticipation, hope, paranoia, suspicion and waiting locate state sovereignty not only in the here and now, but also in the future.
In this symposium, we are interested in the governmental effects and political forms that waiting, expectation and anticipation produce – whether in the form of failed promises of redistribution, prolonged terror of suspicion, or punitive measures of possible revocability. While unfulfilled promises of inclusion, incorporation, and access to entitlements might appear to lead towards the development of discontent, they can paradoxically reproduce forms of optimistic attachment to some future-oriented vision of the good life (Berlant 2011). When the state appears, indeed, to have arrived to provide entitlements, benefits, and even political authority to subjects who are themselves classed, racialized, or indigenous, those entitlements are characterized first and foremost by the possibility of their revocation. The subject is then governed by uncertainty and the threat of loss, generating various forms of performance or inaction that subjects deem necessary to sustain their fragile privilege. In other instances, those in which what is anticipated is the arrival of the state in its most punitive forms, the anticipation intensifies suspicion, fear, and terror. In this state of suspended expectation, governance is experienced, borrowing from Michael Taussig, “as intense as a knife poised to strike” (The Magic of the State).
In the past decade anthropologists have argued that the state’s control over territory and populations is often experienced as “control over space-time,” with the experience of waiting for things like passports or permits making the state appear “eternal” and “thinglike” (Ferme 2004; see also Jeffrey 2010, Oldfield and Greyling 2015). We wish to go one step further and examine everyday practices of the state that produce anticipation not only as epiphenomena of state power but as resources and modalities of governance. Whether what is at stake are failed promises of road repairs, clean water, or social and political inclusion, anticipation for the arrival of the state in its most punitive forms, or the mere threat of revocability of entitlements, deferral not only produces an experience of the state, but it becomes a key means through which racialized and marginalized subjectivities are reproduced.
Morning Session (10am - 12pm):
Discussant: Nikolai Ssorin-Chaikov
Afternoon Session (2pm - 4pm):
Discussant: Maria Jose de Abreu