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  • Security Bonds:On Feeling Power and the Fiction of an Animal Governmentality
  • Nicole Shukin (bio)


In the theatre of the unconditional War on Terror declared by the U.S. after the 9/11 attacks on its homeland, few spectacles can rival the raid on Osama bin Laden's living quarters in Pakistan in May of 2011. Although this paramilitary drama seemed to embroil exclusively human actors, news quickly spread through the global media that one member of the elite team of U.S. Navy SEALS that descended on bin Laden's Abbottabad compound was canine. Cairo, a Belgian Malinois whose tracking sense proved vital in the deadliest manhunt of the early twenty-first century, emerged from the U.S. mission a national hero thanks to his zealous part in "sniffing out" the founder of al-Qaeda.

Dogs have become visibly embedded in the groundwork and fantasy of a state of security that, radiating out from the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, is today global in its means and effects. Other Military Working Dogs (MWDS) besides Cairo have figured prominently in a post-9/11 order of security. Perhaps most notorious are those German shepherds shown with their human handlers in trophy photographs taken by American soldiers at Abu Ghraib, poised to unleash their powers of psychic and physical terror on Iraqi prisoners. MWDS and police dogs [End Page 177] are now routinely referred to in the idiom of security as K9s, an abbreviated homophone for canines that places them in technological series with other weaponry like the M-16 family of combat rifles or the UH-60 series of Black Hawk helicopters used in the raid on bin Laden's compound. That is, security dogs are fetishized as optimally efficient fighting machines whose performance is augmented by sleek layers of combat gear supplied by military outfitters like K9 Storm, a Canadian-based company in the business of cladding the new dogs of war.

Alongside the valorization of dogs' fighting power in the service of global policing and security, in what follows I begin tracing a particular genealogy of biopower in which it is not only dogs' powers of detecting and detaining but simultaneously their feeling power, and more specifically their capacity for loving attachment, that is cultivated as an instrument of unconditional security. This particular genealogy of feeling power sparks the much thornier, speculative question of how we might think of other species as subjects of, and subject to, governmentality, a question prompted by the participatory spirit that seems to animate other species' involvements in modern states of war and peace.1 Cairo's role in the bin Laden raid, for instance, appeared to be more than that of a K9 machine expertly trained to follow orders but, rather, to be that of a keen, self-motivated animal subjectively identified with the spirit of the mission.

The genealogy of feeling power that I set out to trace through modern dog stories nests inside—even as it complicates—the remarkable history of governmentality that Foucault traces in his Collège de France lectures, where he distinguishes regimes of sovereign and disciplinary power from biopolitical apparatuses of security that begin to emerge in Europe in the eighteenth century (Security). Foucault links the rise of police and security to a form of political reason concerned with management of the (human) population at the level of its species existence, a biopolitical model of government whose techniques he traces back to the early pastoral power of the Church. In Foucault's analysis, the figure of a human shepherd is metaphorical of an art of government that caringly ministers to a flock of sheep, itself metaphorical for the population as a new "subject" of State [End Page 178] biopower (Security 11). Yet there is no mention in his lectures of the role sheepdogs literally and historically play in pastoral economies, where they function as the prosthetic strong-arm of a shepherd.2 This omission in his study of pastoral power is doubtless due, first, to the fact that Foucault treats "the sheep-fold" (130) solely as a political metaphor and, second, to Foucault's view that pastoral...


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pp. 177-198
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