Achille Mbembe (b. 1957 in Cameroon), one of the absolute chief names of postcolonial philosophy, has added yet another title to his increasingly extensive and important authorship.
brutalism, as the book is called, draws metaphorical exchanges on the well-known architectural style of the same name that emerged in the 1950s and '60s in the aftermath of Le Corbusier iconic building monuments in béton brut, raw concrete. The ornate and high-fashioned "brutal" style celebrated its triumph in France's post-war society, where new Cite (suburbs) in concrete shot up in a large style in the periphery of Paris and of other large cities.
This particular kind of vertical concrete construction in its time, it was presented as a healthier and more socially harmonious living alternative for working and middle class families in particular – as a place where there was light, air and space to live. Cite today, one of the places where the population is closest, where epidemics hit most, where social contradictions are made clear, where the police discriminate and brutalize most mercilessly and where the freedom of racialized bodies is constantly limited by visible as well as invisible, material and immaterial boundaries. That the space of architecture is fundamentally political, and conversely that governance always presupposes a particular architectural framework for the bodies, is the starting point for Mbembe's reflections on brutalismn.
Brutalism – a new stage in capitalism
The living conditions in which everyday life Cite or in similarly brutally inspired environments around the world, is more closely associated with a more extensive planetary brutalization. According to Mbembe, brutalism represents nothing less than a new stage in capitalism, where millions of racialized bodies have been made redundant in relation to capital's metabolism and are now enrolled in a digitally mediated nexus of exclusion, control and destruction technologies. With algorithms created new human-machine hybrids called frontier corps.
A prison-inspired regulation of bodies coupled with a new type of modern and impersonal surveillance power.
Whether these body boundaries / boundary bodies assume the status of a government-worthy subjekt (the basic category of Western philosophy) is constantly under negotiation. The racialized markers such as skin color, eye color, name, place of birth, genetic information etc. are inscribed in a data-based boundary and security calculus that tends to hold these bodies between accepted political categories.
According to Mbembe, the citizen's clearly defined architectural boundaries now converge with that of the nation-state, the refugee camp, deportation centers and safety devicesnes borders. The architectural "space" is no longer material in the sense of Le Corbusier's concrete monuments it was, but is as much a virtual and racially narrative space that delineates a completely different political topology – such as decentralized, mobile, changeable and cross-border.
Michel Foucault – brutalizing bodies
Of course, this is not the first time that a philosopher or author has resorted to the space of architecture in his description of how the brutalization of power by bodies works.
The best known is probably Michel Foucaults analysis of the prison architecture as a model for the so-called disciplinary society. The disciplinary community, which was born out of the great plague epidemics that ravaged Europe on a regular basis from medieval to modern times, was characterized by a prisoninspired regulation of bodies (isolation, quarantine, population count, registration of persons in the home, sick / healthy bodies, etc.) coupled with a new type of modern and impersonal surveillance power.
The racialized markers such as skin color, eye color, name, place of birth, genetic information etc. are entered in a data-based boundary and safety calculation.
According to Foucault's descriptions, the disciplining and monitoring mechanisms could be traced back to one and the same architectural principle as the British moral philosopher Jeremy Bentham had outlined towards the end of the eighteenth century in the form of a circular prison complex with a watchtower in the center. From here, all cells could potentially be monitored at once.
The cunning of this all-seeing or panoptice device was to pan the windows vaguely towerone was made of mirror glass so that the prisoners never knew when they were being monitored. With the awareness of constantly being could be monitored, even though this may not always be the case, the institutional forced reform of the individual was on its way to give way to the moral of the subject. selfreform. A specific political technology, Panopticon, was thus generalized socially and extended to other more complicated technological devices.
Political sovereignty was now less affected by violent confrontations with individuals and threats of death and punishment, and sought to reform and improve – to write more disciplineone into the bodies – so that they could all the more willingly be included in the State's increasingly pervasive administration of life from cradle to grave. It was this Foucault in his famous series of lectures in the late 1970s at the Collège de France would designate as biopolitics.
There is no doubt that Foucault is an important reference for Mbembe, both in his recent essay on brutalism as well as in his descriptions of Late Capitalist society more generally. According to the architectural theorist Reyner Banham popularizing the term brutalism in the late 1960s, then, brutalism is also more understood "as an ethic than as an aesthetic". Mbembe's transposition of the term from architectureone, for the description of society, points more generally so decisively in the same direction as Foucault's biopolitical studies.
But if the prison was the model for the disciplinary community, then today it is rather the refugee camp which occupies its place and forms a model for a new type of society: in the camp, people are stored in a purely definable border situation, where the distinction between who must be and who should never be deported is fixed.
Mbembe's authorship is also the essay collection De la postcolonie: essai sur l'imagination politique dans l'Afrique contemporary (2000) and the main work Criticism of Negro Reason (2013). Thus, one must always keep in mind that it is meant as a post-colonial corrective to and expand the field of inquiry there for Foucault, which for many other Western intellectuals of that generation, often seems to close itself.
Mbembe's intervention critically addresses the problematic philosophical assumption that the history of modern Europe has a kind of self-reliant development that can be considered independently of the devilish dialectic with a suppressed colonialist and imperialist shadow side – condoning and co-constituting metropolitan biopower.
See also the review Raw, naked and masculine and the commentary
The destruction, death and militarization of everyday life