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Foreword: Rusing risk

ByBILL MAURER

A ruse, says the Oxford English Dictionary, is a ‘‘detour; a doubling or turning of a hunted animal to elude the dogs.’’ The term derives from the French ‘‘ruser,’’ from which English also acquired the word ‘‘rush,’’ as in a frontal impact that drives an opposing force away, leading it in turn to ruse, to flee and scatter in all directions. This quality of turning about and scattering in all directions, like game in the hunt, also lends the word its more common and more modern English meaning of trickery. Hunted animals, it would seem, deceive in order to escape their pursuers. In doing so, they take unexpected tacks and twists in direction, thwarting the hunters’ forward rush. The chapters assembled in this fascinating collection lend new sig-

nificance to the techniques of misdirection and meandering of the ruse. For, in documenting efforts to govern through risk in the recent history of the ‘‘war on terror,’’ the authors demonstrate that new forms of governance are attempting to meet the doubling and turning of an apparently elusive prey with increasingly complicated probabilistic models, the complexity of which may itself be a ruse masking older forms of power. What is being evaded, too, by those who would ‘‘protect’’ by governing through risk, is the relationship between truth and justice, the latter held in abeyance by the drive to secure the former through more and more complex probabilistic models. I am reminded of the ruse in reading these chapters by the iconic image

of the man, woman and child running across the border on signs lining the freeway between Irvine and San Diego, California, reproduced in Rita Raley’s chapter here and targeted for mockery by a performance art group she discusses. In the artists’ resignification, the figures (let us for the sake of argument call them a family) are both rusing from pursuers and rushing toward jobs in the name of the free market. The art group thus draws attention to shifting modalities of governance tracked in the volume as a whole, from the territory-based governance of sovereignty to the market-based governance of risk and uncertainty. The difficulty in trying to account for these emerging modalities of gov-

ernance, however, is that, in attempting to track the present and recent past,

we frequently lose sight of the past in the present and the contorted temporalities that infuse past, present and future with one another, sometimes out of phase and sometimes in sync. Our grammar does not help us here. In the construction ‘‘from . . . to . . . ’’ in written and spoken English, the position of the prepositions in the sentence mimics their meaning: an unfolding over time. Like the fleeing family, the sign that resembles what it signifies, this grammatical construction demonstrates the linguistic property of iconicity (Haiman 1980). Like the family in the sign, however, the prepositional construction, as it is colloquially used, may also suggest an array of unrelated objects and objectives, a meandering or scattering through space or time. ‘‘She conducts research on everything from statistics to kinship terminology.’’ Grammar books frown upon this usage. But I think that this ‘‘ungrammatical’’ sense of the phrase can be useful in coming to terms with governance through risk. For what we discover in the chapters that follow is a diversity of aims and targets and, in fact, a series of competing and often contradictory notions of risk, calculation, governance and sovereignty, sometimes coming into phase in the same instant, other times oscillating from one to the next and back again, and still other times overlaying one another like the patina on an African fetish object on which offerings have been poured since unrecorded time. Take risk itself. Paired with uncertainty, as in Frank Knight’s classic early

twentieth-century discourse on economic profit, risk signifies a calculable probability, as opposed to the unmeasurable uncertainty of the incalculable future. It was in the latter that Knight saw the potential for profit:

Profit arises out of the inherent, absolute unpredictability of things, out of the sheer, brute fact that the results of human activity cannot be anticipated and then only in so far as even a probability calculation in regard to them is impossible and meaningless.