Tag Archives: Ben Anderson

Pre-emptive Response: Controlling the Exceptional in the Interval Between the Capitalist Working Weeks

By Julian Shaw, King’s College London

Belgian Police

Belgian Police. Photo Credit: Eddy Van 3000

In his recent article for Transactions of the Institute of British Geographers, Ben Anderson explores how emergencies are governed through a logic of response and a politics of delay (Anderson, 2015). Focussing on the inquest into the London bombings of 7 July 2005, Anderson shows how governing an exceptional event utilises response to ensure that sovereign power is maintained, and that a normality of capitalist life is re-established. Furthermore Anderson highlights the inquest’s final recommendations which focussed on ‘delays’ in future emergencies; delays in communication between agencies, and delays in declaring a major incident.

Following the recent terrorist attacks in Paris, we have witnessed a logic of response in the immediate actions of the French authorities, the subsequent raids on properties around the capital, and the declaration of a 3-month ‘state of emergency’ by the government. However, it is not this specific response that I will make brief comment on. Instead it is the ‘non-event’ a week later on Saturday 21st November in Brussels, and the pre-emptive response (a necessary contradiction) of the Belgian state to an immanent emergency.

After the tragedy in Paris a week earlier, the Belgian government claimed to be in possession of intelligence that suggested that a major incident was immanent in their capital, Brussels. An emergency response was initiated; “public transport restricted, shops shut, shopping malls shuttered, professional football cancelled, concerts called off and music venues, museums, and galleries closed”, and “People were told to avoid rail stations and airports, shopping centres, concerts, and other public events where people congregate” (The Guardian). In addition, military personal were deployed onto the streets, fully clad in camouflage and balaclavas, carrying fully-automatic weapons. However the major difference of this logic of response was that is was not a response. Nothing had happened, or did happen that day.

What this ‘pre-emptive response’ shows, in agreement with Anderson, is that the logic of response employed by liberal governments requires a focus on reducing delays in gaining control under exceptional conditions. As such, the case in Belgium this weekend exemplifies this; the delay is reduced to such an extent that it is pre-emptive.

Anderson indicates however that there is a “twofold political status” in the focus on delay; firstly it “reflects anxiety about the fragility of government” and secondly it reinforces the belief that any emergency can be exited (Anderson, 2015: 11). By having armed soldiers on the street, and the Mayor advising all cafes and restaurants to be closed by 6pm (The Independent) the suggestion of an anxious government is verified. Additionally a delay, between normality and ‘returning to normality’, rapidly becomes the focus for believing whether an emergency can be exited or not. Indeed the Wall Street Journal commented that in Brussels the “big test will be whether the metro system starts running again Monday morning, when many of the capital’s more than one million inhabitants depend on public transport to get to work” (Wall Street Journal).

While the pre-emptive response to an immanent emergency serves to ‘de-exceptionalise’ future emergencies – through a display of logistical control with exceptional measures – such measures must be limited and exited in time to restore normal capitalist flows, i.e. when businesses start trading again. The problem is, what if the immanent threat persists? How long until the delay in returning-to-normal undermines the fragility of liberal governmentality?


books_icon Anderson, B., (2015) Governing emergency response: the politics of delay and the logic of response, Transactions of the Institute of British Geographers, doi: 10.1111/tran.12100

60-world2 The Guardian (2015) Brussels ‘very dangerous’ as several terror suspects remain at large, Online Article  (Accessed on 22nd November 2015)

60-world2 The Independent (2015) Paris Attack Suspect Salah Abdeslam could be in Brussels ‘ready to blow himself up’, says friend, Online Article (Accessed on 22nd November 2015)

60-world2 Wall Street Journal (2015) Brussels Remains on Lockdown Amid Terror-Attack Fears, Online Article (Accessed on 22nd November 2015)


The Icelandic Ash-Cloud Saga – Three Years On

By Catherine Waite

In the spring of 2010 the global media was dominated by stories of disruption as a result of the eruption of Icelandic volcano Eyjafjallajökull. Despite being a significant volcanic eruption, the direct consequences of this event were never really a matter of life or death given the comparatively remote location of the volcano. However, Eyjafjallajökull’s eruption will be remembered due to the world-wide disruption that ensued. In the week following the eruption over 95,000 flights were cancelled and 10 million passengers were stranded (Adey et al. 2011).

Natural hazards such as volcanoes, earthquakes and hurricanes are widely seen to be part of the realm of geographical research but studies published in journals including Transactions of the Institute of British Geographers and The Geographical Journal  clearly demonstrate the full scope of geographical research potential that events such as this stimulate. In Donovan and Oppenheimer’s (2011) work on the reconstruction of geography in relation to the Eyjafjallajökull eruption, they argue that

“the apparent breakdown of communication between scientific research, policy-makers and the public is the manifestation of a wider problem – one that is well-suited to geographical research, combining as it does both human and physical dimensions” (p.4)

This relationship between these stakeholders is demonstrated in today’s ruling at the European Court of Justice regarding compensation claims made to airlines following the eruption. This case brings together members of the public, airlines, national and European justice systems and others such as the hotels, restaurants and firms whose business was affected by the disruption.

Consequently the significance of geography to this story is clear. The eruption itself will obviously be subject to geographical study but geography as a discipline is also well suited to study the short and long-term impacts of this event as well as considering solutions and mitigation methods to prevent disruption of this scale happening again in the future.

books_iconAdey, P., Anderson, B. and Guerrero, L.L. 2011 An ash cloud, airspace and environmental threat Transactions of the Institute of British Geographers 36 338-343

books_iconDonovan, A.R. and Oppenheimer, C. 2011 The 2010 Eyjafjallajökull eruption and the reconstruction of geography The Geographical Journal 177:1 4-11

books_iconDonovan, A.R. and Oppenheimer, C. 2012 The aviation sagas: geographies of volcanic risk The Geographical Journal 178:2 98-103

60-world2BBC News Ryanair ash cloud case: EU’s top court rules against airline 31st January 2013

Transactions of the Institute of British Geographers Content Alert: Volume 37, Issue 1 (January 2012)

The latest issue of Transactions of the Institute of British Geographers is available on Wiley Online Library.

Click past the break to view the full table of contents.

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