The Securopolis

(Re)assembling Surveillance, Resilience, and Affect

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This paper explores the idea that modern urban life is being re-assembled. It supposes that such a (re)assemblage encourages a particular configuration — which I have dubbed ‘the securopolis.’ The securopolis is a form of urban life in which humans enact a ‘watchfulness’ (i.e. surveillance) combined with a ‘readiness for the worse’ (i.e. resilience). It is also argued here that the securopolis is not simply a model of a secure city, rather it is increasingly an influence on the underlying habitus of urban life. Surveillance and resilience interplay with the perceived needs: to be safe, to improve security and to improve sustainability, resulting in a suite of emergent challenges that may undermine, or at least shift the balance underpinning, traditional concepts of democratic community. These tensions are configured differently to those so well described by research into the changing nature of urban public space in recent years. [1] In order to get to grips with them a different approach is required.

The securopolis is one way of doing this, as it can be framed as both enmeshed in and constitutive of a complex and ongoing reconfiguration of urban sociability. As such, researchers wishing to dig deeper must engage with different technologies, practices, techniques of governing but also with diverse materialities, experiences, perceptions (and more) in the attempt. I argue, therefore, that it is through the interplay of these ‘multiplicities’ that the securopolis is made manifest and thus amenable to further research. Scholars engaged in the study of surveillance and resilience often have conflicting views about the definition and use of these concepts. The same is true for those engaged in the study of affect, which is another critical concept for the securopolis. This makes things difficult, but not impossible, if we are willing to stretch ourselves and try new perspectives on the urban condition. The situation is, frankly, messy. It is complex. It is untidy, but so is urban life so this should come as no surprise to those who study it. In order to render this complexity more manageable I have chosen to focus on three specific aspects of the securopolis in more detail, drawing links between (a) the study of surveillance cultures, (b) resilience policy and research and, (c) the affective landscape of urban life. I will use these ideas to explore the ‘affective atmospheres’ of the securopolis, not to create a metanarrative or a final word, but to open the way for future research.

1_The Premise

This paper suggests that the city of the future is:

  • heavily laden with complex assemblages of surveillance and resilience,
  • that such assemblages can also be understood as attempts to make spaces and citizens more resilient to danger,
  • that there is interplay between these distinct agendas and the practices of governance that they produce, and
  • that the well-intentioned attempts to identify, surveil and govern any potential risk, hazard or threat are producing a narrower and more constrained ‘affective atmosphere’ in the cities of today.

In order to make the premise more accessible I should also, at this point, define the key concepts more clearly.

Surveillance in this context draws upon a body of research that explores the influence of observation and information upon everyday life in the modern world. To many laypersons surveillance is about ‘being watched’ and understood through the well-worn tropes of visual surveillance or privacy — so commonly connected to Orwellian notions of a ‘Big Brother’ archetype. However,one must also appreciate the complex interplay of infrastructure, technology, communication, records and transactions, forms of identification, potential for social sorting and the ambient ubiquity of such ‘ways of knowing’ as pervasive influences upon how we experience the world around us. [2] Surveillance is, as such, often presented as a networked ‘assemblage’ which spreads — much like the invasive garden mint in so many flower beds — to penetrate everyday life in unexpected ways. [3] Haggerty and Ericson draw out the concept of ‘assemblage’ further from the work of Gilles Deleuze and Felix Guatarri, [4] helping surveillance scholars address the “multiplicity of heterogeneous objects, whose unity comes solely from the fact that these items function together, that they ‘work’together as a functionalentity.” [5]

This helps us here because surveillance has multiple networked forms, and these often go either entirely or barely unnoticed as we go about our daily routines. These forms are so familiar, pervasive and ubiquitous in our lives that we are not fully aware of a complex interplay that may influence how we act out those lives. Some forms manifest via particular technologies (e.g. CCTV), yet othersaretied to a specific location (e.g. a public space), yet others appear in ephemeral forms of data capture and monitoring (e.g. card-based transactions). As such, the surveillant assemblage grows out of sight, below the surface of everyday life — returning to the ‘rhizomatic’ garden mint metaphor, its roots spread horizontally and then reappear above the surface in unexpected places. [6] Resilience is presented, in this context, as similar to surveillance; insofar as it can also be understood as a ‘rhizomatic’ concept. [7] However, one can go even further, by looking at surveillance and resilience as polysemic concepts.

Resilience research has been more active here than surveillance, suggesting that the rhizomatic spread of resilience from its roots in engineering, psychology and ecology led to the reappearance of the idea in disaster management, climate politics, urban development, sustainability, business management and more. Resilience may seem at times to align neatly with the critique of neoliberalism [8], but in digging deeper it is not any one thing, rather resilience informs and is in turn informed by diverse interpretations of the key actors who use the concept in different ways depending on the goals of their actions [9]. This framing proposes that no singular definition of these terms can encompass all of their uses or meanings. If that is the case then ‘making sense’ of resilience (and indeed surveillance) requires us to situate them in a context. This is where polysemy offers us more flexibility in tracking how different actors understand and enact these concepts differently, depending on the context in which they are encountered. Assemblage also becomes particularly complementary to polysemy, as they combine to offer an exploration of interplay between ‘surveillance’ and ‘resilience,’ also opening a more accessible way bringing in ‘affect’ — as I shall attempt below. This allows for a more nuanced appraisal of diverse situational contexts and their multiple, often coexisting and contradictory, meanings. This requires some assumed knowledge of these theories on the part of the reader; but I feel safe that such an audience exists in this journal. This approach is also a way of rendering more visible the impact of the ever-present, yet hard to render tangible, that is so elusive and frustrating for researchers of urban life and surveillance culture. Surveillance research has been criticized in the past for lacking “a thickness, both in description and in the attention to the material — affective relations that constitute the quality, feeling and experience of being ‘immersed’ in a phenomenal setting that ‘appears-with’ surveillance technologies, systems and practices.” [10] The securopolis is a route to thickening up our research, by theorizing the urban in a slightly more nuanced way. Indeed,more than a linear assemblage of control mechanisms,urban life is a multiplicity of concepts, forms, relations and locations. These are co-constitutive in so far that the people, the places, the spaces and the activities interplay reframing the ambient character of a given situational context by living it out, by enacting it in real time, but the past and the future informing the way a location is developed, designed, presented, managed, produced and consumed. We can use the combination of surveillance, resilience and affect to help us focus on “a particular atmosphere, a specific mood, a certain feeling” [11] to peel back how we understand and enact urban life and how this changes both our idea of the urban and of ourselves as inhabitants of the urban [12]. Here assemblage meets the notion of ambience and atmosphere in interesting ways, and these need not be in conflict. Used creatively such concepts can help us begin mapping how people are ‘nudged’ within such contexts towards a particular configuration. It can help us track how this is manifest in a watchful readiness — or surveillant resilience — very different from ‘democratic sociability’ to test what atmosphere resides at the heart of the securopolis.

2_Rendering Tangible Connections

The above approach is not usual for scholars, or for journal articles. It suggests that concise operating definitions do not help us; rather they limit meaning to one linear interpretation — when in fact context defines meaning much more clearly and multiple meanings are all co-existent and co-constituting. To paraphrase Walt Whitman, ‘concepts contain multitudes.’ In practice, for researchers, this makes the ephemeral and intangible a critical object of study. For example, we may be aware of surveillance in many forms but may not always notice its influence on human activity. [13] The same is true of resilience. [14] Both influence the physical world around us. Both shape the techniques and tactics of influential organizations, be they public or private in nature. Both influence our subjective, individual or collective decision-making in real-time. Indeed, the concept of assemblage itself is, for some, insufficient to capture this ethereal ambiguity. [15] The attempt to move past structural limitations of surveillance — as enacted by oppressive state-based agencies — to a more nuanced appreciation of the interplay is a clarion call for surveillance scholars, addressing what David Lyon calls “the ways surveillance is imagined and experienced.” [16] To do this we must move past a linear understanding of how concepts are produced, or even how they produce particular subjects or subjectivities. We also need to move past how they are consumedby individuals or organizations. Instead, one begins to emphasize the affective domain — e.g. how do these concepts manifest in embodied experiences, sensate atmospherics and/or how do they influence our opportunities to enact urban life within certain, increasingly narrow, boundaries of acceptable conduct.

Understanding how such concepts have become a part of our customs, practices and traditions as we move through and enact our everyday lives — as thinking and feeling subjects in physical locations — allows us to begin a more nuanced analysis of the articulations between surveillance and resilience as affective domains which influence the atmosphere of the securopolis.

I am presenting this here as a combination of governance assemblages and ambient atmospheres — which combined serve to draw out both the tangible and ethereal, concrete and abstract, real and imagined, distinct and yet vague. In this way one moves toward an exploration of affective governance assemblages in an articulation of the city as ‘securopolis.’ It is a form of urban life in which we are watchful and mindful of potential danger, ever ready and always on guard. I assume that complexity informs the governance of surveillance and resilience, as co-constituting influences on both urban space and human experience. The discussion thus becomes an exploration of how these mutually constituting assemblages influence an ambient atmosphere of surveillant resilience both embedded and embodied in the affective governance of urban life.

3_Attending to Exemplars — Lining Theory with Research Possibilities

I have identified what surveillance means in this context and made links between the, inevitably dense, theorization of surveillance and the complex — often contradictory — theorization of resilience. If these are forms of ‘affective governance’ being (re)assembled via a complex interplay of contingent relations rooted in situational contexts we need to research it and find solid examples. One might ask how this abstract theorization can be researched, and one would be right to do so. One might seek to link the narrative of particular policy documents to the techniques of governing they produce, to the spaces they seek to govern, to the behaviors of people in those spaces, and/or to distinct situationally affective contexts of experience that inform a given atmosphere, itself influencing cognitive choices of how to behave, and so on. The problem is immediately apparent. This is complex and messy. Correlation is elusive, but if achieved this could be extremely useful indeed. Such a correlation could help expose a convergence between narratives thatpromote inclusivity, safety, sustainability and resilience and begin a more comprehensive mapping of the ‘atmospheres’ [17] or ‘affective fields’ [18] of urban experience under this emergent form of governance. Where the assemblage is policy-driven, such policies emphasize on ‘security’ concerns, on ensuring ‘growth’ — most commonly economic growth — and on building ‘resilience’ but rarely address the atmosphere of the spaces and locations so produced. Such policies appear largely benign, in isolation. However, the unintended consequences emerging in practice can raise new problems when drawn out through atmospheres. A strong criticism has been levied at policies seeking to evoke emotional responses aligned to a normative moral narrative — creating implied normality for example regarding anti-sociability in the UK, [19] but other nationalist discourses abound with similar normative logics [20] often playing on a politics of fearfulness. [21] These narratives serve to legitimize governance systems that prioritize safety and security in relation to ‘a way of life’ — where such policies implicitly seek to reshape the citizen into a new ideal type. [22] I argue that this encourages a hidden emotive constraint that is unintentionally elided or ‘built into’ the urban form, and that ‘invisible security’ is a good example of this trend.

4_Linking Invisible Security to Surveillance, Resilience, and Affect

Invisible security represents an excellent case study for applying these ideas. One can track an intervention in urban landscaping from concept to policy, from policy to project, from project to design, and then from the implementation and delivery of the design to on-goingpractices of both management and use. One can look at the policy to map how a concept is being interpreted in its situational context. This gives us insight into what the policymakers are attempting. The, now classic, example of such an intervention is the simple bollard — blocking the access of cars into semi-private shopping districts or high-profile entertainment locations, such as the ‘ARSENAL’ sculpture outside the Emirates stadium in London or the concrete ‘planters’ and ‘seats’ seen in so many shopping districts. Such artefacts of security can have multiple purposes — as cheap urban seating, providing urban greening, manifest as ‘art’ or even become a tourist attraction in their own right. At the same time, the design of urban security interventions helps us assess changes to the affective atmosphere of a location. Observational data and interviews can help us map the impact of such interventions on how people feel and perceive their safety or the level of threat in particular public locations. Further research can testhowthis affective alteration of the landscape influences their perception of others or their behavior. I am — in moving from theoretical to empirical concerns — proposing that such interventions may mask a mediation of affect — intentional or otherwise. More succinctly, that a form of affective governance is emerging from the interplay of surveillance and resilience and that this can be tested further with more in-depth empirical analysis.

5_Mapping Surveillance and Resilience to Affective Governance

By linking a complex theory to fledgling frames for empirical research, one might begin to test the utility of ‘affective governance’ as a framing of the securopolis. As suggested by Adey and others, testing these ideas

relies strongly on an open-minded disposition to the research process and in many ways moves away from thinking about the employment of research methodologies in terms of relative success or failure in ‘capturing’ the reality of the field. Instead, it looks more to where something may lead or how it may allow for ambiances and atmospheres to appear. [23]

One might attempt to conduct mapping, as suggested above, but one could also try to track the multiple forms of (somewhat) connected mechanisms that tend to quantify, produce and/or capture “value” — particularly important as these appear of vital importance to the advancement of neo-liberalized urban capitalism as a whole way of life. Data, in this context, becomes a critical locus of activity. As organizations seek to collect better data on human behavior, chase quantitative measures for better asset management, identify short and long-term financial planning requirements and through risk-laden analytics prioritize measurable interventions in terms of a return on financial investment. Surveillance is a window into this ‘datafication’ of the urban; [24] however, data provides only a linear understanding of urban life and is ineffective at capturing value that does not fit neatly into a ‘quadruple bottom line’ [25] used to evaluate situationally specific investment in short-term projects. One might see a decline in the amount of alcohol related violence recorded by police after bringing in ‘lock out laws’ — to limit carousing in the central business district of Sydney — but this does not record the negative impact of these laws on the social networks so vital to a music performance culture in artistic communities [26] or the impact on lived experience of a streetscape or public space. One should be wary of policies that occlude a commitment to inclusivity, inherent in urban policy and public space, in the pursuit of a more controlled and predictable urban form. As suggested by Whatmore research can help render tensions of this kind “more amenable to political interrogation.” [27]

Case study examples have already begun to document the correlation of surveillance and resilience, in particular the efforts to make urban public space safer for its users. The emphasis of both policy and practice often appearsto invoke a rather amorphous, vague and yet all-encompassing notion of ‘public safety’ as a driver of interventions into the design and management of such space, evoking affect as ‘fear.’ [28] One could argue that such an approach encourages personal responsibility for safety and surveillance of others as a default state of being in public space. One might also easily argue that who is included in this ‘public’ is much less clear, as is what it is that is actually being rendered ‘safe.’ The suggestion has been made that the true winners in the expansion of surveillance are not individual citizens inhabiting these spaces, but rather ‘foot-loose’ investors who secure the orderly circulation of capital “at the expense of the liberty and mobility of ordinary citizens.” [29] As this plays out in rolling amendments to urban design and governance, the framings of threat, attack and hazardous risk are increasingly mobilized within the public imaginary alongside a divisive politics of fear. [30] Combined with a pervading sense of exhaustion and disengagement in the body politic, [31] this leads to a growing ambivalence towards participation in a collective public life.

The implications of a quietly fortified and surveilled landscape may be rendered invisible by the ambivalence of the general public, as much as by clever policy rhetoric or infrastructure design. [32] Surveillance and resilience are enmeshed in the fabric of governance and the production of space. They are also enmeshed in cultural values of the wider public, which then in turn may legitimate increased surveillance in the public eye — the implication that we need to be more resilience and to be both watched and watchful in order to make sure that everyone is kept safe. Most commonly this can be recognized in mantras such as ‘if you have nothing to hide you have nothing to fear’ in relation to surveillance, and ‘better be ready for the worst’ in terms of resilience. Yet even the normalization of surveillance and resilience in the wake of high profile disaster events, such as the Stade De France terrorist attacks, do not yield universal reactions — and where some accept increased surveillance, others continue to refute and resist. [33] The ‘affective’ mobilization of fear seeks to legitimate (in)visible security measures now increasingly woven into the fabric of the city — from jersey barriers to bollards, restricted access to certain areas, broader use of CCTV cameras, increased levels of privatized security and more pervasive forms of monitoring and recording who is doing what and where. How this sense of amorphous danger brings surveillance and resilience together appears tied to another dimension, which we barely need to increase the complexity of our discussion, but one must appreciate the notions of safety and security as additional elements to the interplay between resilience and surveillance cultures as they unfold.

6_From Amorphous Danger to an Assemblage of Fear, Resilience, Safety, and Security

If we accept that “a profound sense of powerlessness has encouraged an atmosphere where competing claims about dangers vie for the allegiance of the public” [34] and also that trust in Government is generally in decline, [35] then we must assume a sorry state of affairs for modern democracy. Who to trust in the face of so many dangers is not clear. [36] Danger can be human or ecological; the risks become at once faceless corporations, shadowy cellular terrorist organizations, ‘Mother Nature’ and the organizations of Government themselves. The enemy is at once a disembodied network of dangerous others and at the same time the central pillars of our own social order — our own police forces, our own governments, our own news networks. If we accept that these conditions exist, a focus on the atmospheres of surveillant resilience as mechanisms of increased security can help to shed light on the direction and flow of our responses to this amorphous, selective yet apparently ubiquitous fear as an influential aspect of the public imaginary.

Having established some linkages between surveillance and resilience, we now broaden our lens — perhaps too far, nevertheless, safety and security are also an important part of the discussion, but far more linked to amorphous affective and atmospheric domains than to policy and practice. The public are regularly informed — by a host of sources (reliable and dubious) — that security is paramount to ensuring our way of life in this time of global upheaval and that public safety is core business for governments. Surveillance is a requirement of safety and everyone is a participant in this broader culture of watchfulness in the protection of the body politic and the individual body from ambient and ever-present threat. Simultaneously, one can observe a tendency for political figures to use broad emotive value claims, invoking discourses of nationalistic character not seen since the Great Depression and the Great Wars of the early-mid twentieth century. [37] Such emotive rhetoric competes with fear-mongering click-bait and prognostications of doom from demagogues apparently concerned with little more than the next sound-bite. [38] The globally decentralized war on terror continues at home and abroad, at the same time fears of an anti-social other fuel moral panics whilst inequality triggers social unrest. [39] Home-grown terrorism is embedded in the public imaginary so deep that it becomes hard for some to distinguish between terror attacks, anti-globalization rallies and civil unrest stoked by widening economic inequalities — appearing to further justify the expansion of draconian policing powers, strategies and tactics. [40] Local tensions between the poorest among us and the police can all too easily spill over into riotous unrest, responded to with paramilitary tactics more akin to the battlefield than the streets of global cities when policing domestic dissent. [41] We do not know from where or when the next danger will appear.

In such conditions cities cannot be presented generically or one-dimensionally as “endogenous ‘engines of growth’ and laboratories of cosmopolitanism” [42] or scholars risk ignoring the excesses of capitalism and their negative impacts, as well as the “dependency of commercial exchange on militarism, imperial expansion, and other forms of primitive accumulation.” [43] However, security is not a neat catch-all phrase that encapsulates all of the relations of force from which it is assembled, nor does it neatly incorporate everything that it influences or with which it is in interplay. Security, emergency, crisis, disaster, have all at times been important triggers for the emergence of the discourses of surveillance and resilience. It is now becoming clear that both surveillance and resilience are deeply enmeshed with security discourses and vice versa. It is also clear that the utility of such terms is often defined by the context within which they are encountered and researchers often do not make substantive links to address the interplay between these concepts as they influence the affective atmosphere underpinning public urban life.

From this complex web of competing interests, a politics of intertwined and interpenetrating discourses has emerged. Surveillance and resilience are influential in shaping each other, but also connect safety, security and the politics of fear; as influential affective drivers of change now embedded into urban design and governance practices as well as into the habitus of human activity. We move through locations where surveillance can be built into our sightlines in ways that banish it from our minds, but not entirely, as it still appears to unsettle some and influence individual actions. Fearfulness becomes ambient, as does watchfulness, and the readiness associated with ‘being prepared.’ This is a ripe proposition for future research — unpacking the interplay between surveillance, resilience, safety, security and fear are a part of the larger adaptive assemblage of advancing modernity, and the forceful relations of neoliberalization that give it motion, direction and in turn, more force — perhaps if not ‘power’ than a certain sense of ‘inertia.’ Of course, this is not a simple matter. We are moving through the boundaries of the concrete and the ephemeral. As such, complexity is not a vice in these times but it does render research a murkier business than one might like. Few would deny, as put by Bianchi, [44] that “tensions [in] the liberal calculus of unhindered mobility, political stability and the unfettered expansion of the market […] is […] increasingly mediated by heightened concerns of risk and security.” [45] Surveillance and resilience are both means for the mediation of these concerns, but in everyday activity we are more interested in our personal safety and the fear engendered by an urban world permeated with potentially dangerous strangers.

This brings new relations of force to bear on the underpinning foundations of a liberal modernity threatened by a constant state of anxiety. Neurotic citizens [46] are unsure when the next attack might come, or from whom an attack will come forth. The enemy may be other people or it may be the planet itself — as the planet tries to shuck itself of the corporate pests attacking its ecosystem; the danger may come from the terrorists whose rhetoric opposed the amoral ‘freedom’ of the market, but it may also emerge from the police — whose new powers granted in the name of protection redefine the limits of our freedom and are frequently used outside the bounds or policing terrorism, as shown by the use of terror powers and military tactics to disrupt and control legitimate forms of direct action and democratic protest. As Deleuze once mused:

What forces does this new bring to bear on thought, from what central bad nature and ill will does it spring […]? Something in the world forces us to think. This something is not an object of recognition but of fundamental encounter. It may be grasped in a range of affective tones […] In whichever tone, its primary characteristic is that it can only be sensed. [47]

The intangible characteristics of ambient fear may only be barely legible to the senses, yet I argue that we can map these fundamental encounters. And if the encounter can be mapped then its’ genealogy can be tracked, its currents and flows rendered manifest and legible for exploration and critique. Indeed this section has begun drawing a loose outline between our key concepts. It has also begun to forge tenuous links into the politics of fear. We must go further yet in laying these analytical foundations for further research. Assemblage and atmosphere offer a means to connect the theoretical to the empirical more clearly, grounding affect in our understanding of the relations of force by which the architectural and the emotive become more deeply enmeshed.

This argument is itself, of course, rather subjective. It assumes that the operative influence of fear may be tracked through governance interventions aligned with resilience and surveillance outcomes, or through narratives of security and fear and the interventions they justify. Should this prove empirically viable one would be able to assess the interplay of fear, surveillance and resilience as an assemblage of assemblages enmeshed in a securocratic atmosphere. One can research this — despite theoretical density — if we identify appropriate case studies. One might expect security or surveillance architecture would make people feel safer; however, such architecture may also exacerbate fear. A checkpoint at a train station where one ‘taps on’ with a smartcard under the eyes of unarmed attendants seems normal because of the context, however document checking, biometric scanning and armed guards feel more intrusive, more intimidating, even at the airport where we expect to see them and even when fulfilling the same function in a different context. Militarized architectural interventions might be seen by some as a threat to freedom; but they may also be a threat to the free exchange of capital — if people do not feel safe they shop less, spend less on leisure activities. Fear also has an economic cost if not governed carefully, so atmospheres are important across the board. Cities cannot become military encampments and still retain the characteristics of democratic capitalism, yet security interventions are required, acceptance of a surveillance culture is expanding and resilience is becoming a watchword of everyday life — much to the chagrin of its critics. A good example of this is how many of us accept close circuit surveillance cameras but not military checkpoints; we accept smart cards but not fingerprint scanning as a mode of access to public transport. Of course, this changes across nations, and again the specter of situational context rears its head. Context remains key.

If these relations of force are articulated as a pattern, one might suppose that affective governance of fear strikes a balance between its component logics, yet contradictions abound. Resilience offers a bridging device between the goals of security and its concomitant bio-political framings. The more resilient citizen can be presented as less in need of protection, less in need of security, but at once demanding more and more. Resilient citizens are more self-sufficient, more self-reliant, more capable of coping with ‘exceptional’ conditions of uncertainty. They are less fearful yet more aware of risk, they are more distrustful of the ‘Other’ and more inculcated into the provision of security. The resilient citizen can also be framed as critically acclimatized to a culture of fear in a far more passive way. Resilience may acclimatize the citizen to existential uncertainty and ambient fear, to ever-present risk, whilst diminishing the potential for political action to counter security if it becomes a dominant institutionalized characteristic of the wider governance system. Warnings of creeping authoritarianism regularly cite ‘function creep’ in the powers granted to improve security as an example — misuse of anti-terror legislation to police a climate change protest at Heathrow Airport [48] or military tactics used to disperse crowds at G20 conferences. [49] This presents a contradiction with the fearful representations or the individual that needs to be further explored in situational contexts. Some resilience research also shows that more direct involvement in the process of governing through collaborative and participatory forms of working can improve levels of trust between citizens and expert organizations. This counteracts and contradicts the dark tendencies highlighted thus far, closing the gap widened by expanded security powers; an outcome achieved through the process of governing itself. The tools and tactics of resilience, when operationalized, can potentially yield more democratic outcomes, at least in the short-term. As suggested earlier, the complexity of these enmeshed relations of force are such that fear, surveillance and resilience are at once mutually referential and often contradictory; as are the components, characteristics and capacities of the systems and actors that thus emerge from the interplay.

7_The Challenge of Combining Theory and Research

Where surveillance and resilience meet the apparatus of security is where the complexity of these challenges, the scale of these challenges, appears most immense. Surveillance, resilience and fear represent some tangible variables in a complex assemblage, drawing on complex relations of force that need more exploration. Such relations are informed and made manifest by specific governance apparatuses, assembled and reassembled in situationally diverse contexts and manifest via the enactment of atmospheres in given locations, and scholars have only just begun to grasp the interplay of influences on human agency in these times of rapid change. This paper may offer some preliminary ideas about how to tune theory to research, and to offer some examples of case studies that have been done or should be revisited, but it does not comprehensively answer the questions it poses. One paper cannot achieve that, and more work needs to be done.

The threads upon which I am pulling are tangled and complex, evidence is elusive, emergent and this is often frustrating to those pursuing research. The patterns we are tracking when we undertake such work can be rendered more visible and therefore more amenable to interrogation. This paper has begun laying a theoretical foundation for that empirical work but does not pretend to complete it or even address all of the issue comprehensively. That should be enough for now. This discussion also makes many assumptions, but I would encourage readers not to see this as a failing, rather as a challenge; to see if researchers can track the affective reality of a secure city in a time of danger. Scholars have not yet managed to map out how the securopolis emerges from — and is reflexively informed by — a complex interplay of affective relations of force with sufficient analytical depth. If we can track and identify how these are embedded in the apparatus of governance, in the urban landscape and in the virtual and real fears of danger embodied by those using those spaces is not certain. Understanding the city in this way would draw out an understanding of time-space-place that is non-linear. That is to say, that securing a watchfully resilient city is not explicitly of the past, present or future — rather that surveillance and resilience operate at “an ‘interval’ of emergency where disaster has not yet happened, action has consequences, and life and death are at stake.” [50] The prevailing logic where these ideas interplay is one of anticipation, on the one hand, and transformation, on the other. It is at once anticipation of potential dangers and the transformation of existing factors (be it space or system, subject, object or both) in order to erase the potentially negative consequences resulting from exposure to a real or imagined danger. At every level the nature of how one encounters them notions such as surveillance and resilience [51] are shaped and informed by affective geographies of space-time that have been explored in some location-based or situationally-focused case studies. Again, more research needs to be done to establish this as a broader trope within the management of the city as a safe, secure, sustainable and resilient form of human habitation. Anderson and Adey have approached this in a number of ways, both together and in individual explorations: by looking at the mobility of bodies in airports as a form pre-emptive securitization, [52] by exploring the affective politics and tactics of counter-insurgency [53] or in relation to the affective management of civil contingencies exercises in the UK. [54] Others have explored fear in a range of political and urban contexts that complement this theorization further. [55] Such projects begin to expand on these relations of force, but can be also be furthered with a critical reflection on the relations of force as affective assemblages, tied to a potential narrowing of citizen agency as well as emotional capacity, harnessing the ambient distrust of categorized others within affective geographies of control. It is not yet clear if this approach can also be thought of in terms of a political interrogation of urban governance — insofar as the anticipatory and affective governance of the securopolis is manifest in these conditions. It can potentially be argued that a form of governance thus emerging from the relations of force circulating about and through surveillance and resilience offer a sufficiently broad schema to understand the wider implications of such tropes. As there are also concomitant contradictions in the emancipatory potential of resilience related governance strategies, but these themselves are subject to a heavy critique as another manifestation of expanded bio-political neoliberalization even deeper into the subjectivities of modern citizenship, pre-empting the very possibility of a political subject and their capacities for collective organization. Such tensions emerge not just from the action of governors or the systems of governance but also from an anticipatory engagement with the potential reactions of citizens both under suspicion and under stress from the very assemblages that seek to render them resilient actors, watchful and ever ready. Given the complexity and overlap, even contradiction, of many of these relations of force, a combination of assemblage theory and affect theory is drawn through this paper, suggesting that these are important tools for beginning the work and render legible the complexities of the city as a ‘securopolis.’ Though I acknowledge that the use of the ‘securopolis’ as a device for drawing together such a complex assemblage may itself be criticized as well.

One might, in the end, have to admit that an answer cannot yet be reached, as much of this theory is untested. It is rather to say that the conditions of governance may be rendered visible as they emerge through the governance of physical locations in the city under siege. [56] One can potentially track the translation of particular concepts — i.e. surveillance and resilience — as generative metaphors. These generators of policy then re-emerge in new configurations, designed into particular spatial interventions rolled out in the name of ‘making people look after themselves’ and ‘keeping your eyes open so we all stay safe.’ The militant or martial nature of urban fortification is however problematic, people do not want to live in an urban fortress, whether in London, Tehran, Delhi or Gaza. We continue to see contextually specific articulations emerge in public and private locations. Such situationally affective manifestations of both surveillance and resilience are woven together yet remain distinct. Such surveillant atmospheres and fearful sensibilities of acceptability appear immanent to the groups who inhabit the spaces in question and to the spaces themselves — before, during and after any real or imagined crisis event. Governance takes on a pre-emptive and predictive form of intervention, both in relation to the physical capacities of urban sites and through the capacities of the public when reacting to such stimuli as emerge from the event. One can argue therefore that the complex interplay of anticipatory governance [57] with affective governance can influence the conditions by which surveillance or resilience is embedded into the affective atmosphere of the city. This is also a factor for the engagement with, management of and enhancement of the resilience capacities of the public; drawing on them and their potential reactions far more strongly than previous attempts to articulate secure urban design. New techniques are emerging for building in surveillance and resilience measures, both physically and in the nudging of behavior towards acceptable conduct. These are related, enmeshed, tangled with affective understandings of danger. They are informed through these understandings and thus feed back into a wider acceptance of governance, as effective or efficient, as delivering on its promises, as ‘doing something for us’ and this has begun to permeate the affective relations of force through which the securopolis emerges. As Foucault so aptly illustrates, “every transformation that modifies the relations of force between communities or groups, every conflict that confronts them or brings them into competition calls for the utilization of tactics which allows modification of relations of power and the bringing into play of theoretical elements which morally justify and give basis to these tactics in rationality.” [58]


Understanding and unpacking the value of these interventions in urban space requires an engagement with complexity that draws on both the general and the specific. It requires that we embrace overlap and contradiction in the directive motions and flows of our core concepts, allowing them to move through rather than intersect. We can engage with the affective through anticipation and enactment. How the anticipatory forms of governance shape the relations of force and are shaped by the enacted experiences of governance and physical space by the people in them and their reactions to both the real and imagined — be it a policeman or guard, a surveillance camera, a security blockade, a flood barrier or a strategically hidden artifice that can accomplish all of the tasks one might attach to the above without rendering its purpose or even presence visible to the naked eye. It is in developing these projects from theoretical to the empirical that we will unpack the positive and negative potential of the tropes, and it is very clear, that whilst there is great potential in such a re-theorization of the city as a securopolis, much more work needs to be done to realize the potential of such a project.


_How to cite

Peter Rogers. “The Securopolis: (Re)assembling Surveillance, Resilience, and Affect.” On_Culture: The Open Journal for the Study of Culture 6 (2018). <>.

CC-BY 4.0


  • [1] See for example Doreen Massey, “On Space and the City,” in City Worlds, eds. John Allen, Doreen Massey, and Steve Pile (London: Routledge, 1999), 157–175, and Don Mitchell, The Right to the City: Social Justice and the Fight for Public Space (London: Guilford Press, 2003).
  • [2] One can refer to the works of Torin Monahan, Surveillance in the Time of Insecurity (New York: Rutgers University Press, 2003), or David Lyon, Surveillance Society: Monitoring Everyday Life (London: McGraw-Hill Education, 2001). Either present an excellent overview of surveillance research and surveillance as assemblage. Our goal here is not to introduce readers to assemblage theory, but rather to apply it in depth and in doing so offer a correlation between surveillance and resilience as co-constitutive assemblages.
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  • [12] Allen is here referring specifically to ‘ambient power’ but for the sake of brevity, and in consideration of space, I have chosen to focus specifically on atmosphere and affect at this time.
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  • [51] Which could also easily be expanded to include inclusivity, safety, sustainability, and more.
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  • [56] Excellent approaches in research can be found, for exampleGraham, Cities Under Siege (2011).
  • [57] See for example Emily Boyd et al., “Anticipatory Governance for Social-ecological Resilience,” in Ambio 44.1(2015), 149–161.
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