Program in Ethics and Public Affairs
Abstract: “The whole world is watching.” Perhaps no phrase better encapsulates our hopes for what might be politically possible when the ordinary violence of police becomes an extraordinary public spectacle. But what is the shape of the world that is watching, and what is the political work performed by such a spectacle within it? This paper interrogates the spectacle of police violence against Black rebellion as an ambivalent multiplicity: a set of complex displays and encounters that solicit a variety of affective responses and inaugurate contradictory political possibilities. Fed through the logics of white supremacy, the scene of the “protest” is never fully free from the scene of the “riot”; the victims of the violence are also readily interpretable as aggressors; and the retaliatory and repressive violence of policing invites not just moral outrage but also rationalization, distancing, and eager identification with cruelty.
Erin R. Pineda is Phyllis C. Rappaport '68 New Century Term Professor of Government at Smith College in Northampton, MA. She is author of Seeing Like an Activist: Civil Disobedience and the Civil Rights Movement (OUP 2021), which was awarded the 2022 Foundations of Political Theory Best First Book Prize.