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Defacing Power

The Aesthetics of Insecurity in Global Politics

Brent J. Steele

Publication Year: 2010

Professor Steele puts forth some bold and intriguing propositions about the vulnerability of powerful nation-states to what he calls 'counter-power.' ---Mlada Bukovansky, Smith College Defacing Power investigates how nation-states create self-images in part through aesthetics and how these images can be manipulated to challenge those states' power. Although states have long employed media, such as radio, television, and film, for their own image-making purposes, counterpower agents have also seized upon new telecommunications technologies. Most recently, the Internet has emerged as contested territory where states and other actors wage a battle of words and images. Moving beyond theory, Brent Steele illustrates his provocative argument about the vulnerability of power with examples from recent history: the My Lai Massacre and the Tet Offensive, September 11 and the al-Qaeda communiqués, the atrocities at Fallujah and Abu Ghraib, and the U.S. response to the Asian tsunami of December 2004. He demonstrates how a nation-state---even one as powerful as the United States---comes to feel threatened not only by other nation-states or terrorist organizations but also by unexpected events that challenge its self-constructed image of security. At the same time, Steele shows that as each generation uses available media to create and re-create a national identity, technological innovations allow for the shifting, upheaval, and expansion of the cultural structure of a nation. Brent J. Steele is Assistant Professor of Political Science at the University of Kansas.

Published by: University of Michigan Press

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pp. 1-24

The field of International Relations often regards powerful nation-states as rather stagnant entities, robust in their ability to maintain authority and relative control over time and space. This is not without good reason, of course, as these actors possess an enormous ability to influence...

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1. Aesthetic Power and Counterpower

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pp. 25-72

This chapter advances an account of aesthetic power and counterpower. It begins by defining power as an aesthetic subjectivity of a centralized body of individuals, groups, nation-states, or transnational organizations. Again, this is not intended to be a full-frontal assault on the typologies...

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2. Reflexive Discourse and Flattery as Counterpower

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pp. 73-100

At a news conference on 27 December 2004, a bleary-eyed Jan Egeland, the UN undersecretary-general for humanitarian affairs, provided the latest updates regarding the massive humanitarian crisis unfolding immediately after an earthquake in the Indian Ocean had precipitated a series...

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3. Truth and Power: Parrhesia as Counterpower

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pp. 101-132

What issues and difficulties arise and surround the telling of truth in international politics? An investigation into truth-telling as a form of counterpower must, of course, focus on the intersection between truth and power, their relationships and tensions. Such an investigation also requires...

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4. The Image of Power: Self-Interrogative Imaging

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pp. 133-164

This chapter advances a third form of counterpower: self-interrogative imaging, or the process by which the aesthetic basis of power is reflected, refracted, and reoriented through images. Images imprint and objectify the “glory” of group Selves and are representations of those Selves. Self-interrogative...

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5. Toward a Transgressional Account of Power

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pp. 165-192

To this point, this book has advanced the notion that an aesthetic insecurity operates in centralized bodies of power and that devices titled “counterpower” can engage this aesthetic insecurity. Going forward, however, one might ask whether counterpower can be situated within a ...

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pp. 193-212

In a famous essay written during the Battle of Britain in 1941, George Orwell wrote what I find to be a very fitting quote with which to commence the final chapter of a book on aesthetics and power. Orwell’s essay begins by discussing the cultural differences that existed, at that time,...


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pp. 213-230


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pp. 231-234

E-ISBN-13: 9780472022809
E-ISBN-10: 0472022806

Page Count: 256
Illustrations: 2 Tables
Publication Year: 2010