SPEAKER 1: This is a production of Cornell University.
SPEAKER 2: Security is often sought to armaments and containment, which can lead to the impoverishment rather than the nourishment of laboring bodies. Under increasingly precarious conditions, governments oversee the movements of people rather than scrutinize and regulate the movements of capital.
In A Chat in the Stacks Book Talk at Mann Library in April 2012, professors of development sociology Shelley Feldman and Charles Geisler discuss their new book, Accumulating Insecurity, Violence and Dispossession in the Making of Everyday Life. Highlighting some of the different themes presented by contributing authors, the speakers raise questions about the implications that emerge from two contemporary phenomena-- a fixation on security that justifies the militarization of civilian life, and the dramatic increase in insecurity associated with crises in health care, housing, incarceration, personal debt, and unemployment.
CHARLES GEISLER: Mary, thank you very much. My voice is a little scratchy. I'm sorry for that. I'll try to ignore it myself. That's the best thing to do. Thank you all for joining us today. We're thrilled to have an opportunity to talk a little bit about a project that actually is riveted our attention for a number of years.
It's the product of a longer research endeavor which deals with the more generic topic of displacement. Probably a decade ago, Shelley and I connected on this subject. And because we're developing sociologists, we, not surprisingly, notice that there are huge displacements that occur all around the world domestically and internationally as a consequence of infrastructural development projects.
And almost all of that displacement activity, which is costly and noticeable, is of a particular kind. It relocates people outside of their homelands over those are defined. And Shelley and I started asking a question perhaps five or six years ago, is there another kind of displacement in which people are displaced but they don't leave their homeland? They're displaced in place? It's kind of a curious thing to think about, isn't it?
And our answer to that was, yes, of course, people lose their civil rights and liberties. They lose their identities. They lose their rights to be in place. So many people actually are displaced even though they don't have an address change. And it gets camouflaged because there's so much mobility in society-- hypermobility, it's referred to, all around us.
So Shelly and I undertook that, and together, with a bunch of people from Cornell, graduate students, faculty, and some folks from outside of Cornell, we did a special issue of a journal and probed that topic.
But it didn't go away that easily, and we tried to divert into another topic for a while which had to do with the several wars that were going on in the Middle East. We were reasonably preoccupied and focused on the ways in which those military endeavors and commitments overseas affect the United States domestically with military personnel returning back, through budget changes, and relocations, et cetera
Well, the displacement concern came back in. Increasingly, our emphasis shifted from domestic militarization, which is a topic many people have treated, particularly political scientists over the years, to something that might be thought of the more in terms of non-military militarization within the United States.
And it's oftentimes has nothing formally to do with the military, per se, but there's a certain kind of, for lack of a better word, regimentation. Sometimes it can be extremely violent and coercive. Other times it's very subtle and it takes a long time. But the key point here is, in many ways, it displaces people in place in large units, in large groups, and it doesn't get recorded as such.
So that was terribly interesting to us. And together with Gayatri Menon, a graduate student several years ago, now an assistant professor having left Cornell through the Development Sociology Program, the three of us started to imagine a project which resulted in the book that we're talking about today, Accumulating Insecurity.
Now obviously the word accumulating and accumulation references capitalist accumulation. That's part of the story, but it's not the only part of the story. There are many facets to this enterprise, and one of those that I want to talk about today and I'll get to momentarily is the topic of public sector accumulation. Rather an odd twist, something we might develop further.
In any event, I think as by way of preface, Shelley and I really want to thank a wide array of Cornell institutions, centers, departments, entities that facilitated the conferences leading up to this book, which were several, and the actual financing, the expenses that such a project incurs. The book took two or three years. Scholars from-- largely from outside of Cornell, about half of whom are attorneys, by the way, so that was a nice change for social scientists. We enjoyed and appreciate it very much what the legal profession brought to this project.
And we started to talk amongst ourselves with a first cut of papers, and then we refined them and finally put them together into this project. I'm going to read you very quickly the description from the back of the book just to give you a flavor for what we think it's about in the most generic sense.
"Accumulating Insecurity examines the relationship between two vitally important contemporary phenomenon, the fixation on security that justifies global military engagements, usually offshore, and the militarization of civilian life, and the dramatic increases in day-to-day insecurity associated with contemporary crises in health care, housing, incarceration, personal debt, unemployment, and more.
Contributors to the volume explore how violence is used to maintain conditions for accumulating capital. Across world regions, violence is manifested in an increasingly strained, often terrifying circumstances in which people struggle to socially reproduce themselves. Security is often sought through armaments and containment, which can lead to the impoverishment rather than to the nourishment of laboring bodies and people.
Under increasingly precarious conditions, governments oversee the movement of people rather than scrutinize and regulate the highly volatile movements of capital. They often do so through practices that condone dispossession in the name of economic and political security."
There's a new book out that has been mentioned and reviewed in The New York Times. Some of you may have seen it. It's Rachel Maddow's book, Drift. It's getting a lot of attention right now. And the other day when I was reading about it, it made me think of our book, and I'll tell you why
Maddow is really interested in the way in which we have drifted as a society into a new kind of warfare which basically is very easily launched, it's very centralized, and it's very disguised. And she is worried that at least since the Vietnam War, if not earlier, we are becoming very adept at secret wars through the CIA, through proxy wars and through private wars, through private military contractors. I don't think that comes as a surprise to any of us, but it's very interesting the way she has pulled that together.
I think of our book as being a variant of this Drift thesis, but domestically. The ways in which we encounter peace even though it's not always peaceful. So in the book, in support of that notion, we talk about the hypersecuritization of society that comes along with securing the homeland. The non-military militarization that I mentioned and basically, broadly put, the precarity of civilian existence.
Now I say domestically. Actually, the book has several chapters which look abroad in Canada, in Nigeria, in Thailand, and elsewhere. Most of the focus, however, is in the United States. The book has three sections. The first one, with three or four chapters in each of these, has to do with the rights-- it's entitled, "Rights in Suspension." It has to do with the administration of violence through gentrification, states of exception, zero tolerance, labor-based politics superseded by consumer-based politics, and consumption regimes.
A second section is referred to, a little bit obscurely, as "Fugitive Corporate Reality," by which we mean the shock and awe of spectacles that are widely used domestically for social control and social engineering purposes. Dismembering civil rights and property rights, totalizing security, total information awareness programs which came as part and parcel of the Department of Homeland Security. Congress rescinded the law for that total awareness program, and most of its parts were embedded in other legislation not called that.
Cell phone as the virtual biography. You may have seen all of this attention that's being given to it of late. Shelly has done some lovely work, and I hope she'll talk about it today in her chapter "Dealing with Surveillance." Everyday forms, so banal that we don't even notice them. But if you're a working person in one of the environments that's being surveilled, like yellow taxicabs in New York City, you do notice it.
The third section has to do with the displacement of politics as we know them, the dispossession of immigrants, social engineering of civil society, the criminalization of protests, and gender violence. Let me speak for several minutes about those chapters, the first, the second, and a later chapter that I authored having to do with immigration and the penalization of immigrants.
They become really easy targets for a new form of profitability. I'd like to share some information, talk about my own chapter because it is, I think, very relevant to this topic of new forms of immigration and profitability, and then turn things over to Shelley to give her views on the book and impressions.
The penal system in the United States is being transformed. I don't claim to be an expert in this, it's not the orientation of my work, but I've become quite interested in it for a reason I never would have imagined, and that is that many immigrants, and particularly illegal immigrants, are property owners. It almost seems like an oxymoron. We think of them as coming in, having a temporary phase in their life, and via remittances sending their wealth back to their villages, homes, loved ones, communities.
But it turns out, that's not the case, that they own a fair amount of property. And so in criminalizing immigrants or identifying illegal immigrants, what happens to their property? I'll come back to that momentarily. Let me give you some information some of you may be aware of part and parcel, but I was actually rather astonished to learn about.
Currently, the Department of Labor in the United States says that in the United States, we have more security-related employed people than we have school teachers. About 1 in 4 people are employed in the security sector. Many of them in prisons and penal institutions, detention, high security, low security. That's shocking to me. That's a real qualitative change in what we used to call the service sector, is it not?
Detention has become really big business, apropos of what this book is about. There is a group called the American Legislative Exchange Council, ALEC. A year or two ago when I was writing my chapter for the book, I heard a very thoughtful piece on NPR about ALEC. They basically are a forum to bring together legislators and corporations, corporations that want to lobby to pass legislation which is favorable to them. And the penal-related corporations that are taking over prisons, they now control about half the prison beds in the United States. That's way up from a decade ago where it was something like 8%.
So the corporations that are aggressively involved in taking over prisons as we privatize prisons come together with legislators from states which have all kinds of needs, problems, and interest, but certainly including those states which have immigration problems. And if you have a lot of illegal immigrants in your state and you can warehouse them in prisons, it's a pretty profitable prospect. It's not just-- it's no longer just a cost to society to deal with this problem, there are a lot of profit opportunities there.
So, one of the corporations that have aggressively done this is the Corrections Corporation of America, the largest prison company in the United States, and, by the way, a board member of the American Legislative Exchange Council. So the council brings legislators and lobbyists from different corporations together. In 2009, this Corrections Corporation of America came to one of these meetings and suggested legislation for Arizona, Alabama, Washington, many other.
And almost verbatim, the legislators-- legislation written by the Corrections Corporation of America was adopted by Arizona in 2009. And one of the interesting things about it is it expanded the reach of criminalization not just to the illegal immigrant adult, but to their spouses and to their children. In some cases they may have married people who had citizenship. So all of a sudden the number of beds they need to house and provide for people expanded exponentially.
The same thing is going on offshore. There are three large corporations working very heavily in the United States, in Britain, and particularly in Australia which are seizing the opportunity. There are so many people displaced from their societies as refugees, as people fleeing harm, whether they have refugee status or not, displaced by everyday Three Gorges Dam infrastructural projects or by more hostile kinds of things, they are the biggest employers in the world. The largest of these corporations now has offices and employs people in 125 countries, and is a growth sector.
In fact, the CEO of this corporation, which is called G45 Conglomerate, said, we live, we thrive on crisis because it creates refugees, people that end up in detention centers and prisoners-- and in prisons, detention centers. So, an obvious expression of what we're trying to talk about in this book, though there are other topics, to be sure, that are drawn in here.
Let me just quickly give you an overview of what I found in my own research going back to the question of the property held by immigrants. Turns out, if you think about the amnesties that have been given to illegal immigrants in the United States over time, one of the key things that catapults you into amnesty status is if you own property. If you show that you are buying into going up the ladder of ownership and tenure, you're buying into the American dream, that's a good sign. You're likely to get put at the top of the list for amnesty.
So, even though the data is very hard to collect on the actual amount of personal and real estate property owned by people who enter the United States illegally, there are ways of extrapolating and coming to that, which I did in my particular chapter. And the key to all of this is that the US Constitution, unbeknownst to most of us, provides protection of civil rights, property rights-- and property rights to illegal as well as legal immigrants.
Does that come as a surprise to you? It did to me. Many lawyers are not even aware of that. They have to be reminded or told to go to the law library, and they say, oh my gosh, that's true. So people who enter the United States illegally-- illegal aliens-- have constitutional protections under the Fifth Amendment and the 14th Amendment. What has happened in the last decade-- I'll just summarize the chapter in a sentence or two-- is that under Homeland Security, there have been very few terrorists apprehended. Have you noticed? Very few.
And Homeland Security is now the largest of the federal agencies. As an umbrella group, it has a federal budget rivaled by no other federal agency except for the military. So it can throw a lot of money at the problem. And in 2003, perhaps it was 2002, a document called End Game was produced by the Federal government that said, basically, the federal government because of the War on Terrorism, a time of crisis, a time of emergency and exception, is going to go off after every illegal immigrant and deport them or put them in jail.
Well, when these corporations figured out that there was an "or" there, that they could-- "or go to jail," this became a bonanza. Many of them were deported, but many of the people all of a sudden were deemed illegal because they had illegal identity, they had entered the United States illegally, they were carrying false Social Security Numbers. These now become felons.
They're put into prison along with families. There's obviously some modification of that going on right now. The current administration is trying to soften that and humanize these detention centers, but at the end of the day, large numbers of people are being put in detention and deprived of their property.
Their personal property is probably given back to them. If they have real estate, anything goes. There was quite a concerted effort in the middle of this past decade to target the Latino community, particularly the illegals, knowing that this was a ticket quite probably for their citizenship in the United States, for their amnesty.
So religious groups, business groups, banks, mortgage companies, the federal government all went after them and tried to provide them low-interest mortgages and get them onto the property bandwagon. So the chapter goes on to talk about forfeiture and the way property is being seized, not only from illegal immigrants, but from other people who have-- for whom there's any reason to have suspicions, drug carriers or other crimes, and that's the end of that particular story.
I just want to say, in turning things over to Shelley, that this whole activity was hugely educational for me. I actually joined this project with some resistance and recalcitrance. It was not easy for me to appreciate where this project was migrating, and I really wanted to write about the militarization of United States society and the classic form of the way we divert budgets and introduce military agendas into education and society and all the nooks, crannies, and niches.
And Shelley and Gayatri hold forth with a very different and more nuanced conceptualization of what the book could be, and I'm very grateful to them that they did. Thank you.
SHELLEY FELDMAN: Well, thank you. Thank you, Franklin. I appreciate the effort that you made to get us to do this and switch times for us, so I think we're really pleased to be here. Old friends and some new ones, so it's really nice to see.
I come at the book a little bit differently, and I think Chuck made a perfect segue, although we didn't really chat about it. And that is that for me, the issue was what are the kinds of-- what are the ways in which we come to appreciate the changes around us? And how do we take a relationship to them that gives us a way to really understand the significance and power of these kinds of everyday practices that we don't take very seriously? Because they become normalized. They become the way in which we live-- the world we live in.
How, for example, do we take security as a military kind of concept and make it our everyday concept and change it from security in an imaginative sense to safety? So I'd like to know that there are more surveillance cameras in Chicago than there are anyplace else or London and I feel safe on the street, and then you can watch cop shows and you see that, in fact, it works. They can actually nab somebody because they have an image of somebody.
Or worrying about my child at home and I have a little monitor that I can check in while I'm working to see how the baby is doing, to see actually if the person-- the child minder is actually hurting the baby or harming the baby. And so we take these as really positive ways in which we could empower ourselves to secure our own safety and secure our own lives.
So one of the impeti for me is, how does that work to actually blind us in a certain sense to other significant changes that makes make our lives more difficult and more treacherous and more insecure? How do they, in fact, mark forms of insecurity, forms of lack of trust, forms of what I call, in an academic sense, alienation? How do I feel unbelonging? The lack of security and knowing I have a place of protection and a place of living in which I could maintain myself and reproduce myself every day? And feel it's OK and it's safe and the world is safe for me?
And so one of the tropes that runs through the text is a concern with social reproduction. What are the conditions today that I do to make myself available so I can come to this lovely university every day and work? And how does that enable me to be in a position that many other-- increasingly many other people are unable to be in?
And in the old logic, we felt that we belonged when we had a job and who we were as political subjects were basically employees of some place. There was a responsibility in the labor market that guaranteed us-- "guaranteed," inverted commas, us an opportunity to work. And so who we were was defined basically by what I did.
And my experience in Bangladesh meant I took my little calling card and I had an identity. I belonged to Cornell University or I belonged as an independent scholar or something, but it was always related to work. I think what the contemporary moment suggests is that it's now-- we now relate to each other through consumption, a very different organizing principle.
And in fact, I had the pleasure of walking across campus, and what do I see right in front of me? The first sign is Muhammad Yunus, the founder of Grameen Bank, Nobel Laureate, 1990-- or recently-- I forget the date they had put up. What does that signify? And the three or four little posters indicates that people are struggling to get more money so they can fund more loans. A good thing for many people.
But what does it also signal? What's the other side of that signal? It signals microcredit and individualized forms of reproduction. I no longer think that I can get a job-- in fact, I can't if I'm an everyday person, but I could take out a loan and start a business, I can take out a loan and take responsibility.
In other words, I mean, this is a shorthand way of saying, ironically, what started someplace called Bangladesh is now an everyday way of life in the US. More and more people are no longer reserve armies of labor that will eventually get employed so that their security will be assured. In fact, the job market is-- the labor market is shrinking.
What's not shrinking is-- or what they try to suggest is not shrinking is the opportunities we have to become privately employed, whether it's making $500 a day or $2,000 a day sitting at home on your computer and you've seen all these advertisements, or it's being creative and taking a risk. I mean, the whole notion of risk now is associated with other forms of employment.
But the bottom line is that there's a change in the relationship between our expectations of employment and how we reproduce ourselves every day through employing ourselves. Now that represents new forms of what I call inclusive exclusion. You're part of the everyday politic in conversation, but you're excluded from some of the security that was once provided by the labor market.
I'm not arguing this is good or bad. I have an opinion, of course, and we can chat about it if you have any questions, but I am arguing it's a change. And I think we have to acknowledge the change because that change helps us see other things that are changing as well.
Let me just set it up again in some ways and say, we're all familiar with economic crisis, employment crises, climate change crises, all these crises that, as Chuck signaled, clearly displace people not only because a big dam is coming in and there's forced displacement, but it's the displacement of people who at one point lived someplace and no longer can find work.
So what the book is really about is focusing on the everydayness of new forms of insecurity. How is it expressed? One of the people we read suggests that people die earlier if they're unemployed, but they also found that people who are always searching for work also die earlier. The anxiety that is associated with what we call insecurity-- so it's a sort of umbrella term, but it's also a relational term.
So the umbrella term is I feel insecure, I worry all the time. No doubt, stress has an impact on our health. I mean, this is what we all accept. And so that's not such shocking news. But what's shocking is that there's no end in sight for many people.
And so depending on what you see, say, in Occupy Wall Street, there are people who are "students," but there are also many, many people who have professional degrees who are professionally trained, as the students are not yet, and don't see that after the first, second, and third employment gig that they had even as they reduce their expectations each time to secure work, that they have three kids and they're unemployed. What does that insecurity signal to us conceptually about the new relations of social subsistence, the new relations of survival?
Or an alternative example. You live in a place where climate change has eroded everything. The state has not put in the kinds of mechanisms that secure your physical space. You can no longer grow crops. What do you do when there's no employment? And that took me back to the microcredit argument.
So you're left out-- so you're included under the umbrella of loans, or as I like to think of it, as debtedness. But you're excluded from a certain kind of security that came with your place in a relationship in which you were a worker, which you were guaranteed-- "guaranteed," again, inverted comma, some kind of employment in which you thought I was doing something to secure work. And who I was-- how I thought came through my relationship as a worker.
And this used to differentiate political parties, it used to differentiate neighborhoods, it used to differentiate the pride that people walk down the street with, whether it was in the US or British working class people, a banner of honor and distinction. What happens if you no longer have that banner of honor and distinction? And so how do you belong in a place when you're so insecure?
And that's the relationship we think about in terms of alienation. Why it signals our belonging, but being excluded. An inclusion and exclusion. So the same thing with welfare if we think about it, in the old days, we needed welfare-sustained families until they could get employed. Now sometimes it took many years, but the point is, the logic was that you fill the gap while someone's unemployed or not working.
What happens under Clinton's welfare reform? You don't fill the gap. You have five years and if you don't get a job, you're off. And this is what the lawyers really nicely lay out for us. It shows that that kind of inclusion is no longer part of belonging. That those securing mechanisms that made all of us together, as it were, part of a community part of a collective sense of responsibility is now altered.
And it's under the guise of privatization and security in other ways. We don't have the resources, and if we secure those people, we can't secure these people. So it takes its form on a very differentiated population.
The piece that Chuck was signaling that I did, I was looking at the ways in which taxicabs-- I mean we all get into them. You hail a cab in New York and you pop in, and many years ago they put the screen between the passenger and the driver under the guise of security. Especially for night drivers, people were getting killed, so people stuck them in the back through the chair-- through the back of the seat.
So if you want to get stuck up, you were going to get-- if you wanted to stick somebody up, you could stick somebody up and figure out how to do it. But the logic was, it was securing. So the passenger and the driver in those cases felt secure. Then they decided that they were going to put in meters that could take credit cards. With a GPS.
Interestingly, a host of people, organized by an Indian woman who doesn't even drive, organized these cab drivers, mostly South Asian cab drivers-- and that was an interesting little side piece, because where a Hindu and a Muslim are usually-- or often-- not usually-- in fact, not very often, but sometimes oppositional, there was no about a Hindu or Muslim, or a Pakistani and an Indian, or an Indian and a Bengali. There was none of that. All of a sudden we were part of a union, a collective.
OK, what were they arguing? They were saying that if you put a GPS in and somebody's monitoring everything I do, if I get a fare, somebody coming in and they say, my plane's late, can you please get me to the airport really quickly? And I take all circuitous routes and figure it out and travel a little over the speed limit or maybe a lot and I get someplace, I have shown my creative, independent, entrepreneurial sensibility.
But if you monodromy and now you're going to put up my routes to somebody else, it's going to be clear for everybody else. What is my competitive advantage? What do I bring to the table that I could do? So there's a tension between me believing that I'm an independent-- I don't want to work for anybody, I'm not that kind of person. I want to be my independent cab driver.
And all of a sudden you're now told, well, you really are a part of that fleet that's going to control every move you make or do other things, and we had this with-- you got on the Thruway, you can get a ticket without even knowing it by monitoring when you clocked in and when you clocked out. And you didn't know it. When you rented a car and you went to pay the bill for the car, they said, you have two tickets on this car. What? I have two tickets on this car? Because all of it was done through surveillance and you had no knowledge even that you were being surveyed.
So the kinds of ways-- now in each of those cases, the response might be different. The taxi drivers were totally against it. They said, everything about my comparative advantage of driving creatively, being quick, knowing back streets and so on puts me at a disadvantage if you rationalize everything.
But rationalization is a way to secure the security of certain people who matter and other people who don't, or to make sure that they monitor you so if you are doing a little bit of picking up a fare and not charging the full amount or so on, you now could be monitored in a way, because what you're doing is really paying for a taxi on a daily basis and it's very expensive.
So I guess what strikes me in these kinds of conversations is the ways in which, whatever relationship we take to understanding the contemporary crisis, the conditions of our everyday ability to survive and to reproduce ourselves is dramatically altered. And I don't want to put in the post-9/11 period, but that was another moment that gave credibility and legitimacy to the language of security.
So we were very careful not to say this is a book about insecurity after 9/11. In fact, I, for one, would be very clear that this has been happening, but the ways to legitimate it have changed in 9/11, because now we all want to feel secure. So the language of security is not so problematic.
I mean, it reminds me a little bit of the sense of see fear a lot-- you see horrible killings and guns and knives and so on on the television, and they say people are more prone to do it, they accept it, they don't get outraged by it as much as they used to. Or if I talk to my grandmother or my mother and she would say, I don't remember seeing so much violence. And it inures you to the everyday violence because it just becomes so habitual.
Now again, whatever relationship one takes to that, and I'm not sure I'm one of those people who are against putting things on television, the bottom line is, once we become habituated to something and see it as normal, we don't think about it. So the encroachment in the language of surveillance is increasing in the ways in which we live and experience our lives.
So now if you ever say anything as you stand on line to get through security at the airport, people will automatically respond, what, you don't want security? Don't you want those kind of people monitored so they're away from us? And so it's a language of building enmity in a way, or reproducing it or enabling it at moments when we wouldn't think about it. We used to get on a plane and not think about it. Very often like sheep in the '70s, I remember going when there were potential bomb scares. They got us off and they put us back on, and like sheep we all went on and nothing, by and large, happened.
But any kind of incident can be marked and used to create conditions of insecurity. And the bottom line for us is that this is the new terms of everyday life. It's not it's going to get better. I mean, we could say the trope of the war on terror precisely gives us that space to think there's no endpoint. It's not like we're going to pull out of blah, blah and the War on Terror is going to be over.
It's going to be we're going to pull out of Iraq, we're going to pull out of Afghanistan. But we might not. And so those kinds of temporalities actually speak to the ways in which we experience the security that the language of security provides. Should I say that again? It's the language of security that makes us feel more secure.
So if I know I can monitor my kid and even if I think or imagine I could trust the person because I obviously wouldn't hire them if I couldn't trust them, but if I know I could monitor them, I feel more secure. If I'm in a taxi with a surveillance camera and/or a GPS, some people might feel more secure. Not from the taxi driver's point of view, but from the passenger's point of view. So we're building major divisions between who's deserving of security and who isn't.
The other piece of this, of course, is if you could never get a job and if microcredit is not going to get us out of the mess, are there people who are expendable? I mean, what happens when on welfare and you can't get a job? And it's not really your fault, the conditions of employment are different, and we could all basically agree with that. We're not producing enough manufacturing jobs is half of the discussion on the television every day.
And if we don't expect to ever do that again, because with a global production regime, we're no longer expecting to get the kinds of jobs, recuperating those that were lost, at least in the numbers they were lost, so that if you're on welfare and you can't get a job, what do you do? Are you expendable?
It's a scary thought, let me tell you. I don't sleep very much at night because of these kinds of things. But is there-- are we in a situation now-- and we're lucky. But are we in a situation now where people are expendable? Immigrant can be expendable, the poor can be expendable. When you hear that $70,000 puts us in the top 5%-- top 5 or top 1? 2%. There's some number. It's a very, very small number, and we're all part of that community. And probably our reference points are within that community. So we don't experience it the way a vast majority of people do experience it.
So as we put those kinds of voices, the everyday voices of everyday people on the plate, I think we get a vantage point that opens up a space for us to think and imagine differently even if we want to say, but I feel more secure and therefore it's a good thing. But it gives us a moment of pause, at least, to say, do I agree with all of these movements forward as securing my life when, in fact, one wonders in the end if we can ever secure our lives when we don't have the security of being able to even get up in the morning and reproduce ourselves to get the kids to school because we have no food, they have no clothing, they have no shoes?
So on that happy note, I hope this just provokes a conversation about thinking differently. And this is what this book and the opportunity to work with Chuck and Gayatri has afforded me, a way to concretize this sort of different lens that I experience, even those things that I desire, I have to be a little more cautious and circumspect about what it might portend in the larger picture. So thanks again.
SPEAKER 1: This has been a production of Cornell University. On the web at cornell.edu.
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Security is often sought through armaments and containment, which can lead to the impoverishment rather than the nourishment of laboring bodies. Under increasingly precarious conditions, governments oversee the movements of people, rather than scrutinize and regulate the movements of capital.
In a Chats in the Stacks book talk at Mann Library on April 5, 2012, professors of development sociology Shelley Feldman and Charles Geisler discuss their new book "Accumulating Insecurity: Violence and Dispossession in the Making of Everyday Life."
Highlighting some of the different themes presented by contributing authors, the speakers raise questions about the implications that emerge from two contemporary phenomena: a fixation on security that justifies the militarization of civilian life, and the dramatic increase in insecurity associated with crises in health care, housing, incarceration, personal debt, and unemployment.