Diversions: Objects of Repression

White supremacists carry torches on the grounds of the University of Virginia, on the eve of a planned "Unite the Right" rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, Aug. 11, 2017. Photo courtesy of VOA via Reuters.
White supremacists carry torches on the grounds of the University of Virginia, on the eve of a planned “Unite the Right” rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, Aug. 11, 2017. Photo courtesy of VOA via Reuters.

A new weekly PV@G series features one piece from our archive every Friday, chosen for its continued relevance, unexpected insights, and total lack of references to pandemics or social distancing.

This week’s diversion goes back to 2012, when PV@G editor Christian Davenport published an intriguing think piece on 21 objects that came to mind when he thought about state repression. The world in 2020 is different than it was in 2012. Technology has roared ahead, with new platforms for sharing (think Tik Tok) and for surveilling (think Clearview AI); countries are increasingly populist and authoritarian, and therefore less democratic; and at least in the United States, partisanship and polarization are more pronounced than ever before.

Many of the symbols of state repression that Christian identified still ring true today: riot shields, tanks, Nazi death camps. If he had written this piece today, however, he might have included tiki torches as carried by neo-Nazis in Charlottesville (while the police stood by); “fake news”, a label meted out to anyone the government disagrees with; and maybe even the surveillance app used in China to track the movements of its Uighur population.

At the end of his post, Christian prompts readers to share their thoughts. So we ask again: what are the objects, the emblems, the most potent symbols, of “state repression” today? And, conversely, what are the most important symbols of freedom and democracy?

EMBODYING COERCION: STATE REPRESSION IN 21 OBJECTS

By Christian Davenport | September 24, 2012

About 2 weeks ago the New York Times (the once unparalled bastion of all things relevant in the world) published an article about fifty objects that capture the essence of New York over time. Included were things like the an old New York token and the little greek paper cups that you used to see all the time before the mermaid on the Starbucks logo took over. I thought it would be useful to undertake something similar for state repression, as there a great many objects that have come to symbolize/represent the concept. Rather than try to think of 50, however, I preferred to get the list started with 21 and see if you (what Hennessey Youngman likes to call “internet”) have any thoughts on the matter, which I am sure that you do.

The exercise was interesting not only because it revealed insights about the concept, but also because it revealed something about the cases predominant in my own thinking. As a result, organizing the list also provided insights into myself. I present them in the reverse order that they came to me:

Read more here: Embodying Coercion: State Repression in 21 Objects

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