About my research

The short description:

I’m a PhD candidate in Human Geography. My dissertation is a technocultural history of mass interrogation. By examining large US military interrogation programs in post-WWII Europe and Japan, Vietnam, and under the ‘War on Terror’,  I’m trying to understand how intelligence is less an ‘extracted’ output than an effect of interrogation programs that arrange bodies, bureaucracies, and technologies in productive ways. Rather than enter into polito-ethical questions about interrogation that take its ability to produce knowledge of enemy territories, psychologies, or intentions as a given I ask how the ‘intelligence’ produced from within systematic interrogation of human subjects functions as geographical knowledge freed of subjectivity. And I want to find out such authoritative promise is in part constituted by the presence of the tools and logics of the human and data sciences throughout mass interrogation programs.

The long description

I’m a doctoral candidate in the human geography graduate program at the University of British Columbia, Vancouver, Canada. I have two Australian degrees – a Bachelor of Arts (First Class Honours) from The Australian National University and a Master of Environment (Development) from The University of Melbourne. Right now I am splitting time between the latter, where I am a visiting scholar at the School of Geography and Vancouver.

My research focuses on the spaces of and hyphens between science, modern empire, and national security. I’m a geographer, where my heart will probably always lie, but I my interests straddle science and technology studies, history, and cultural studies.  I’m particularly concerned to bring a critical geographical sensibility to two thoroughly intertwined modern expert discourses – the human sciences and intelligence.

My dissertation examines the genealogy of mass interrogation by United States national security agencies since 1945. It intervenes at a vital crossing point between the human sciences and intelligence that hasn’t received too much critical attention. Of course, library shelves bend under the weight of accounts of coerced interrogation and torture, particularly since 2004. Many of these also take seriously the way scientific knowledge and technologies produce and perform interrogated bodies as experimental subjects. My study tries to do something different by taking the “mass” in mass interrogation seriously. I’m undertaking a genealogy of the ideas and practice that permit large groups of enemy combatants, prisoners of war, or displaced persons to be appear as pools of latent “intelligence” that can be “extracted”.

This project is taking me down four related research paths:

First, I’m interested in the both the geography of intelligence production and intelligence as geographical knowledge. For this thread I look to thoroughly trouble the notion that intelligence is something “collected” but examining it as a technocultural fabrication and tracing its performative effects. I’m interested in anything that concerns the material networks and sites through which national security knowledge is produced. In the dissertation I examine the textual and cartographic artefacts – often brought together in productive relationships – manufactured inside large interrogation programs by US military staff and human scientists in a number of episodes from post-war Europe to Vietnam to the War on Terror.

A second avenue is the growing crop of genealogies of big data.  Modern intelligence and military interrogation practice invariably centralises the promise and affordances of data. But to understand how an memory, personal account, or an enemy’s attitude can become something as disembodied and mobile as intelligence data I’ve found that I need to delve into the crucial literature emanating from science studies, critical military studies and elsewhere that effectively peels back common sense assumptions about (big) data. For example, Louise Amoore (Durham), a geographer, asks us to question the role of “little analytics” in directing human attention, a vital reminder not to be swept up the “big” in the “big data”. I hope I can do work anywhere near as sensitive as Rebecca Lemov’s (Harvard), who has offered some incisive analytical prompts for discovering the human bodies and subjects within tidal waves of “data”.

Third, I am researching the sciences and spaces of interrogation. In this thread I am reading as much as I can into two related literatures. First, the historical development of modern expert disciplines and practices of interrogation. This necessarily involves studying the foundations for the systems and techniques of “enhanced interrogation” advanced by the CIA and other US national security agencies since 2002. However, apparatuses of mass interrogation and the scales at which they operate extend far beyond the torture chamber. In this thread I want to understand the many other scientific discourses and their material supports that have been drawn upon by security agencies to conduct coerced or uncoerced interviews/interrogations and analyse their informational products. This includes the service to security states by behavioural scientists, communications experts, systems theorists, sociologists, psychologists, data scientists, and many more.

Finally, my research is deeply indebted to historical and cultural geographical studies of American empire from the Cold War to the present. I want to use this site to track developments within the diverse and torrential swathe of genealogical research being done on American sovereign, biopolitical, technopolitical power, through the twentieth-century to today.