Configurations of Preparedness (Pastoral and Cynegetic)

I found myself reconsidering earlier work that drew on Machiavelli and Gramsci’s insights on preparation and crisis. In Frédéric Keck’s book he compares how Hong Kong, Taiwan and Singapore respond to viruses. More precisely he unpacks the different techniques of preparedness and different forms of power these techniques emerge from. Keck effectively categorises how his three case study countries relate to viral contagions, and from this we can then learn about crises and environmental management more broadly. He specifically looks at the different ways pastoral power and cynegetic power partner in each country. Pastoral power being a partially developed concept of Foucault’s, in relation to his more famous explanation of disciplinary power.

Cynegetic power is a further concept that I first encountered in Chamayou’s work on manhunts and drone warfare. During my doctoral research I also discovered that cynegetics was a whole genre of ancient greek philosophy, the vast implications of which I explore in my thesis. For ease of rapid understanding one can think of pastoral power as the coercive care power of the paternalistic shepherd, which is about maintaining and containing an enclosed and clean population through fending off wolves or culling the diseased/enemies. If you understand this then you will now understand the powerful politics of the ‘lamb of god’ (Jesus) willingly offering himself as sacrifice to the empire of romulus and remus, the children of wolves. The shepherd giving his life, not in fighting but as sacrifice, to save his flock.

Cynegetic power on the other hand is more focussed on hunting down and rooting out dispersed terrorists/viruses/quarry hidden within a population. So in this later case the shepherd takes on some characteristics of a hunting predator, a wolf to hunt down ‘bad wolves’. At least this is how those wielding these powers present their actions so as to gain the authority from having performed pastoral and cynegetic tasks.  And how many of us actually experience life and how we treat ourselves, our bodies and risks. Whether they are technically effective (or for whom they are) is another question.

Taking this pastoral and cynegetic lens –  on different contexts of market-state’s preparedness rather than seeing preparedness as one present or absent thing – Keck takes three case countries and looks at how each combines cynegetic and pastoral power in varied ways. He notes in relation to contagions that they give rise to different techniques in each territory that reflect different entanglements of power in preparedness. These techniques include  ‘stockpiling/storage’ ‘sentinels/sacrifices’ and ‘simulations/scenarios’. These powers and techniques should not be thought of as entirely separate or distinct but that these “compete and cooperate at the same time” where ethnographic/contextual attention can reveal where one aspect may overshadow another.

The question for each of us is to analyse what combinations of power and related techniques are at play in our given context. This allows us to do many things like like answer the earlier question of who these different techniques and powers actually work for and to what degree we should really be content with the general outcome: being sheep. In my doctoral work, for example, I demonstrated amongst other things that culling of evil pests or culling of diseased animals from a ‘population perspective’ rather than from a ‘perspective of the social configuration’ of humans and nonhumans, means these (pastoral) interventions might not be effective and can actually make a situation worse.

For example, if you think of pests as a population of homogenous units (maybe with some basic categorical differences like sex) that you can delete some, so there are less – but you come up against the fact that said population of pests have social configurations that mean they can undermine your efforts in unexpected ways that make the situation worse. Take crows, if you shoot them, they breed more intensely. Take wild boar and badgers, if you attack and kill some of them, the rest disperse, taking whatever disease you were trying to contain with them. But, at least you, the powerful authority doing it, can grossly look like you are actively doing something.

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