Becoming Black: Coercive power, the state and racism in a time of crisis (In conversation with Olúfémi Táíwò and Achille Mbembe)

May 17, 08:00 AM

Hosts Nick Buxton and Shaun Matsheza, in Conversation with Olufemi Taiwo and Achille Mbembe.

The unprecedented movement to #defundthepolice has brought a critical debate about the role of a powerful coercive state agency into the mainstream of political discussion. It has raised the question about how the police functions everywhere and whose interests they serve. 
 
But the police are not the only coercive arm of the state. What about the military, homeland security, prisons, the intelligence agencies? Isn’t it time to put those agencies also under the spotlight and examine whose interests they serve?
 
For ten years, TNI has published a yearly State of Power report to examine who has power in the world today, how they use their power, and how those committed to social and environmental justice should respond. Most of our editions have  focused on corporate power, responding to the trend of ever more concentrated corporate power and the way it has shaped economic policy and had massive social and cultural impacts. 
 
Yet alongside the rise of corporations, the last few decades have also seen a significant strengthening of coercive state forces, especially in the wake of 9/11. Military spending has doubled, world prison numbers have increased 24%, and border agencies have grown exponentially. State security forces not only escaped the post 2008 austerity crunch that afflicted nearly every other state agency, they often boomed without restraint. The rise of surveillance and data technologies has provided many of these agencies with capacities to monitor and control populations that were inconceivable in the last century.
 
How are we to understand the history, trajectory, current state and likely future of coercive state power? How does it differ in countries in the Global North and South?    How does geopolitics and the rise of Big Tech shape coercive state power?  What alternatives exist that can return power to the people?
 
To help us tackle these questions and more, we invited two prominent thinkers with deep and interesting perspectives on these issues. Achille Mbembe is a groundbreaking philosopher,  who has profoundly woken people to the deadly costs of racial capitalism over four decades of work, and Olufemi Taiwo a thinker and prolific writer whose theoretical work draws liberally from the Black radical tradition and anti-colonial thought. Both our guests are very public philosophers, and have written extensively on the intersections of racial capitalism, climate justice and colonialism.

In this wide ranging conversation, they help us to understand modern day coercive state power, tracing its roots in  colonialism and examining the way it has shaped our contemporary security institutions. 

Read the transcript
Read all the essays from State of Power 2021

Keywords:
Coercive Power, security, borders, arms trade, state violence, Police, Policing, national security