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Power/Knowledge and Victimage Ritual in the Global War on Terrorism
International Sociological Association (2010)
  • Michael Blain, Boise State University

This paper reports the results of an analysis of the roles of the human sciences & victimage ritual in the global war on terrorism (GWOT). The war, it theorizes, can best be conceptualized as a mode of power & subjection by means of victimage ritual. The discourse of terrorism entered the English lexicon during the French Revolution era (1789-1815). It provided “liberal” governments with a conceptual solution to the practical problem. They needed to differentiate legitimate from illegitimate forms of political violence in societies founded on the people’s democratic right to engage in revolutionary violence in response to tyranny. At the same time, the discourse of terrorism also provided a pretext for “legitimate” violence against those groups (domestic & foreign) who threatened or resisted liberal regimes & Empire. This theory is tested with evidence from the genealogy of the Anglo-American discourse of terrorism, including text analyses (US presidential speeches, 1790-2009 & New York Times editorials, 1860-2006), and “terrorism” in social scientific & psychological discourse. The results support the theory that GWOT is a modern biopolitical variant of a traditional “religious” victimage ritual. Hence, the “terrorist” is both an object of social scientific knowledge and a villainous scapegoat in a global war. On the one hand, the political discourse of terrorism represents the war a heroic struggle to defend a global liberal regime founded on principles of security & freedom, against terrorist villains who do not value life the way normal people do & who seek to destroy that liberal order. The ritual destruction of human life–the terrorist’s lives as well as the troop’s lives–is central to how victimage rituals function in the political communication of the war. On the other hand, Michel Foucault’s biopolitical account directs our attention to the role of the social sciences in the constitution of “terrorism” & “terrorists” as objects of knowledge. “Psychological” torture is described as a rational technology of “enhanced interrogation” designed to produce “actionable intelligence.”

Publication Date
July 12, 2010
Citation Information
Michael Blain. "Power/Knowledge and Victimage Ritual in the Global War on Terrorism" International Sociological Association (2010)
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