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  • The Politics of Possibility: Risk and Security Beyond Probability by Louise Amoore
  • Lauren Martin
Louise Amoore The Politics of Possibility: Risk and Security Beyond Probability Durham: Duke University Press, 2013, 220 pp. ISBN 978-0-8223-5560-1

Louise Amoore’s The Politics of Possibility: Risk and Security Beyond Probability offers an important set of counterarguments to early post-9/11 writings on the “war on terror” as a politics of exception. Working across critical security studies and international relations, biopolitics, and political theory, the book draws on a series of projects interrogating border surveillance, mobility control, and financial consulting. Focusing on “the emerging alliances between the commercial economic embracing of risk and preemptive mode of risk in state security” (11), Amoore critiques causal narratives in which economic practices colonize security practices or vice versa. Those approaches require a problematic reification of “the economy” and “security sector” as distinct, a priori spheres of human activity. Instead, Amoore is concerned with “practices of authorization” that legitimize accounting, enumeration, population statistics, risk algorithms, and preemptive practices to make political decisions. At stake here is the very substance of the sovereign decision itself, the decision to decide the boundary between the exception and the norm. Critiquing Giorgio Agamben (1998, 2005), whose theorization of exceptionality has been [End Page 330] highly influential in political theory, security studies, and political geography over the last decade, Amoore argues that his theory of sovereign decision relies upon aporic suspension of law. For Amoore, the force of law enacted in the state of emergency is, in fact, flush and alive with human discretion, judgment, an aesthetic sense of who and what belongs, and a willingness to act prior to an event in order to preempt its emergence. This argument provides an important corrective to those who understand exceptional, wartime politics as bounded from the norm. Rather, norms are increasingly mobile, emergent, and shifting in relation to that which states identify as dangerous. Taking on one of the most influential political theories in the last two decades, Amoore’s book reanimates the sovereign decision.

Amoore’s theoretical argument for a plural, teeming, and lively sovereign decision has significant methodological implications that resonate with feminist methodologies, even if she does not specifically locate her book among them. Drawing on William Connolly’s (2008) analysis of “resonance machines,” Amoore approaches causality and explanation differently than positivist and realist approaches in international relations and social sciences. She argues that specific modalities of risk have become a “point of resonance” between financial and security practices, especially algorithmic data mining and anticipatory logics that rely on the precautionary principle to preempt unfolding events. These forms of risk establish new relationships between science and knowledge, expertise and fact, futures and certainty. Facts are situated, knowledge is produced through practices, fields of knowledge contain multiple and contradictory approaches, none of which are neutral or objective in their relationship to contemporary forms of sovereignty. Starting here, the book’s six chapters focus on specific techniques through which the politics of possibility come to be: accounting and consulting, risk analysis, identification, location, algorithms, and artistic disruptions. The final chapter explores the implications of these practices for political theory and inquires how we might challenge the limitations a politics of possibility imposes.

The first section elaborates how authorization (chapter 1) raises particular risk analysis practices (chapter 2) to a level of expertise capable of rendering sovereign decisions. The proliferation of these techniques shows not simply that the political and the economic overlap, but that a Foucauldian understanding of economy as the management of circulation lends itself well to sovereign decision making about who and what may circulate (37). In chapter 1, she shows how World War II made accounting, once viewed skeptically by those in government, an essential wartime practice. While she is careful to avoid linear historical explanations, the appeal to commercial accounting expertise is not accidental. Rather, accounting practices enumerated and analyzed the circulation of goods, people, and profits, lending itself to wartime economic [End Page 331] management rather well. Postcolonial scholars will not be surprised to learn that this process brought colonial census and railroad accounting techniques developed in...


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pp. 330-335
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