Movement : Hagar Kotef

4.4 Stability

Movement—in its varied meanings, attached to various objects, circulating between the metaphoric and the concrete—has been celebrated as a manifestation of freedom. At the same time, movement was always also an interruption of order. It is this interruption that has rendered the state “the enemy of ‘people who move around.’”58 In the seventeenth century, with early modern formulations of the idea that the state can either “be” free or promote freedom, these two configurations of movement came into conflict. The main challenge of liberalism was to craft a concept of order that was reconcilable with its concept of freedom. As Otto Mayr shows, a model for addressing this challenge was found within a set of discoveries in the natural sciences demonstrating that under certain conditions, dynamic systems can regulate and maintain themselves.

This model—which proliferated in the second half of the sixteenth century and peaked, mostly among British liberal writers, after the revolution of 1688—allowed liberalism to imagine an ordered freedom. For Mayr, the determining factor within this new model was the lack of external intervention. I propose that no less crucial was the possibility to think of a moderated, self-regulated movement. This was not merely a mechanical model; it was also an organizational model that stood at the foundation of modernity’s concepts of law and state, as well as modernity’s new modes of power. This model composed the liberal concept of freedom we encountered in 4.1. With it, movement no longer manifested “a restless and inassimilable alterity busily working both within and against state power’s most cherished idea: social order.”59 Rather, it was conceived as the manifestation (and precondition) of a free social order.

Plato may serve to demonstrate, not the “roots” of, but perhaps more accurately the pervasiveness of the framework tying together moderated movement to freedom, and presumably-excessive movement to problems of security (a configuration of movement unbound as a threat). He sets the stage for the idea that freedom is only politically valuable if it relies on some mechanisms that would regulate the movement that manifests it. The idea that such mechanisms can be internal to the subject, who can thereby achieve within himself some equilibrium between movement (freedom) and stability (security), would become more and more systematically theorized in writers from Locke to Kant, from Hobhouse to neo-liberals; it would become concretely plausible with an array of disciplinary mechanisms which stands at the basis of Foucault’s primary object of research.

But the argument is, of course, more complex. It is not merely that movement had to be restrained, and that to be reconciled with freedom it had to be, at least to some extent, self restrained. Such an ability of self-regulation was not assumed to be the share of all subjects. A series of splits across temporal, racial, geographic, class, and gender lines has dissected the regulated and ordered movement of able and masculine European bodies, which was configured as freedom from other movements (movements which were deemed somehow improper and were often thus conceived of as a threat). Time and again, we find that “home,” location, rootedness, and other factors that render movement desirable are somehow reserved for white (often male and upper or middle class) subjects.

Notwithstanding varied models of localization, Africans, Indigenous Americans, or Asians, as well as women or poor, appear in the texts of liberal thinkers as either too stagnant or too mobile. Perhaps, these are the assumptions that stand at the base of the arc of colonies identified by Ann Stoler as “a principle of managed mobilities” in which poor, vagrant, criminals (categories which were often conflated), colonized, exiled, and “otherwise dis-abled” were subjected to “amplified political logics of security [and] reform.” The colony, as a non-stable space for the management, re-taming, confinement, containment, disciplining, and re-forming movement, came to address (but also demonstrate, and thereby construct) the presumably dangerous and wild movements of the many groups of colonized (in an opposition, as Stoler puts it, to “the normative conventions of ‘free’ settlement, and [to] a normal population”).60

Many of these groups, and perhaps above all those marked as “savages,” were seen as lacking a political space in which movement can be (self-) regulated. The threat constantly posed to their own security, as well as the threat they themselves pose to others, could therefore presumably be diminished if one of two solutions were to be implemented: domestication (a project of confining movement to facilitate processes of “civilization”—a process whose end should be the re-formation of the “savages” in the mold of the liberal subject) or occupation (an external control and restraint). At least to a certain extent, the colonial project is the outcome of fusing these two “solutions.”

With this split, movement emerges as more than a physical phenomenon. It emerges as a right. It is a right which is simultaneously the right to move and the right to stay put: those who have an estate (a home, a nation state), those who have the material conditions allowing them to stay where they are, could enjoy the right to move freely. Lisa Malkki identifies a “sedentarist metaphysics of rootedness” which is contrasted by Tim Creswell to a metaphysics of movement.61 I want to propose that rather than competing metaphysics, we have here complementary processes. First, citizenship has to rely on a process of “taming mobility,” which serves to support the sedentarist ideology of a nation state within a factuality wherein people are, and were, always mobile. Second, once this image of stability is established for particular categories of now-“rooted” people, it serves to facilitate their growing mobility. Finally, these categories of movement and stability are formed vis-à-vis other groups, which are simultaneously presumably-less-rooted, and yet constantly hindered. The immigrant, the nomad, and a certain mode of what we have come to term hybrid-subjectivity, all represent subject positions which are perceived as and through their mobility, but which often rather inhabit spaces of confinement: detention and deportation camps, modern incarnations of poor houses, “international” zones at airports.

Different “figures of mobility” thus become the foundation upon which different modes of governance are produced.62 “Different modes of governance,” we must keep in mind, are integral to liberal logic, which has always incorporated regimes and technologies of deportation, expulsion, expropriation, confinement and enclosure into its framework of democracy and freedom.

58. James C. Scott, Seeing Like a State: How Certain Schemes to Improve the Human Condition Have Failed (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1998), 1.

59. Such a characterization of movement, here quoted from De Genova’s description of free movement, is quite common. See Nicholas De Genova and Nathalie Mae Peutz, The Deportation Regime: Sovereignty, Space, and the Freedom of Movement (Durham: Duke University Press, 2010), 58-59.

60. Ann Laura Stoler, “Colony,” in Political Concepts: A Critical Lexicon., accessed March 2012.

61. Liisa Malkki, “National Geographic: The Rooting of Peoples and the Territorialization of National Identity among Scholars and Refugees,” Cultural Anthropology 7:1 (1992).

62. Nicholas De Genova and Nathalie Mae Peutz, The Deportation Regime, 129.

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