Helsinki Seminar for Governance and Institutions: Oliver Belcher, "Objective Violence: War and the World Viewed"; 25 March, HKI


Dr. Oliver Belcher (University of Oulu)

"Objective Violence: War and the World Viewed"


On Wednesday, 25 March 2015, 15:00-16:30

Metsätalo (Unioninkatu 40), Sali 13

The discussant is Dr. Sergei Prozorov (Department of Political and Economic Studies).


This paper examines how U.S. military visual epistemologies shifted when computational maps were introduced in the Vietnam War. Computational mapping enabled not only a movement away from traditional forms of manual cartography, but marked the emergence of novel forms of interpretation into the U.S. military due to the "higher resolution" images, namely a reifying discourse of "precision," as well as ontological claims that Vietnamese and military social space was "networked." I look closely at the U.S. military's Hamlet Evaluation System (HES), an ambitious automated data collection system launched in January 1967 that was used to geographically survey, catalogue, calculate, and measure population patterns and trends in the villages and hamlets of South Vietnam. During its time (1967-1975), the HES was the largest geographical information systems (GIS) database ever compiled. My focus in the presentation is on the techno-material practices that made the HES and its attendant ways of seeing possible, specifically the rise of new post-war disciplines of the body that became integral for automation machine use (e.g., anthropometrics, ergonomics, and human factors research). Following the work of philosopher Theodore Schatzki, the operating principle in the paper is that techno-material practices are the site where understanding is structured and intelligibility articulated. Thus, the paper concludes with the claim that it is impossible to understand late-modern modes of violence and biopolitics without accounting for the paradigmatic shifts inaugurated by mid-century computation, as well as its accompanying machine-body arrangements.

Oliver Belcher (PhD, University of British Columbia, 2013) is a postdoctoral researcher at the RELATE Center of Excellence, Department of Geography, University of Oulu. His research examines the interrelationships between late-modern war, experience, aesthetics, and technology. He has written widely on the U.S. wars in Iraq, Afghanistan, and Vietnam, as well as contemporary conflicts in the Middle East. He is currently writing a book manuscript titled “Contortions: Designing the Military Body for Machine Use, 1945-1971”.

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