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Ethnographies of Private Security

Erella Grassiani and Tessa Diphoorn

This introduction emphasizes the value of an anthropological lens within the research on private security. Although much scholarly work has been conducted on private security throughout the past decades, anthropological attention for this subject was somewhat delayed. Yet, the works that have emerged from this discipline through ethnographic fieldwork have provided new and different types of insights, namely bottom-up understandings that explore the daily practices and performances of security and the experiences of the security actors themselves, that other disciplines can unquestionably draw from. As the introductory piece of this section, it also familiarizes the four articles that constitute various “ethnographies of private security.”

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Intimidation, reassurance, and invisibility

Israeli security agents in the Old City of Jerusalem

Erella Grassiani and Lior Volinz

Jerusalem is a city of extremes, where tourists and pilgrims come to see the sights and pray, but where violence is also a daily affair. In the square kilometer called the Old City, which is part of East Jerusalem and thus considered by the international community as occupied territory, the tensions accumulate as (Jewish) Israeli settlers move into houses in the middle of the Muslim and Christian quarters. In order to secure them, numerous cameras have been installed by the police that show all that happens in the narrow streets of the quarter and private security personnel are stationed on many roofs to watch the area. Furthermore, undercover police officers patrol the streets and at times check IDs of Palestinians. In this article, we focus on policing strategies that Israeli private and public security agents use to control this small and controversial urban space. We argue that the constant presence and movement of police, security personnel, and their surveillance technologies in and through the heart of the Muslim quarter should be analyzed within a colonial context and as a deliberate strategy to control and discipline the local population and to legitimize the larger settler project of the Israeli state. This strategy consists of different performances and thus relationships with policed audiences. First, their (undercover) presence is visible for Palestinians with the effect or intention of intimidating them directly. At the same time they also serve to reassure the Israeli settlers living in the Old City and when in uniform foreign tourists. Both Palestinians and settlers will recognize agents and other security arrangements through experience and internalization of the Israeli security mentality, while tourists see them only when in uniform. However, simultaneously, when undercover, their presence remains largely unseen for this third “audience”; the tourists who are not to be alarmed. By showing their presence to some while remaining invisible to others, security actors and technology “perform” for different audiences, manifesting their power within urban space and legitimizing the Israeli occupation.

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Ellen Bal, Erella Grassiani and Kate Kirk

This article is based on our own experiences and that of several of our colleagues teaching social and cultural anthropology in different Dutch institutions for higher learning. We focus in particular on teaching and learning in two small liberal arts and science (LAS) colleges, where anthropology makes up part of the social science curriculum and/or is part of the core curriculum. The data collected from our own critical reflections developed during informal discussion and from formal interviews with colleagues, together with literature on recent changes in academia, leads us to argue that neoliberal individualism, shaped by management tactics that constantly measure individual performance and output, is making academia an increasingly insecure place in which to work and study. The consequences of this insecurity include increasing mental health problems among both students and staff, intensifying competition at the expense of collegiality and collaboration and an overall decrease in the quality of academic jobs and teaching. Although the discipline of anthropology can help us better understand our own conditions, the personalisation of problems and the focus on success obscure the anthropological lens, which looks at social and cultural structures of power and depends on critical reflexivity.

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Erella Grassiani, Alexander Horstmann, Lotte Buch Segal, Ronald Stade and Henrik Vigh

Violence, defined as the intentional inflicting of injury and damage, seems to always have been a fact of human life. Whether in the shape of raids, ambushes, wars, massacres, genocides, insurgences, terrorism, or gang assaults, socially organized violence, that is, human groups orchestrating and committing violent acts, has been a steady companion of human life through the ages. The human quest to make sense of violence is probably as old as violence itself. Academic conflict research both continues and advances this quest. As long as wars were waged between nations, the research on armed conflicts focused on international relations and great power politics. This paradigm was kept alive even when the asymmetrical warfare of decolonization spread across the world, because by then the frame of analysis was the binary system of the Cold War and regional conflicts were classifi ed as proxy wars. After the end of the Cold War, the academic interest in forms of organized violence other than international conflict became more general in the social sciences, not least in anthropology, a discipline whose long-standing research interest in violent conflict previously had been directed almost exclusively towards “tribal warfare.” But, following their research tradition, anthropologists also began to conduct field studies in contemporary war zones and other violent settings.