Derek John Gregory


Relevant Degree Programs

Affiliations to Research Centres, Institutes & Clusters


Graduate Student Supervision

Doctoral Student Supervision (Jan 2008 - Nov 2019)
Reproduction redux : nature, women, and sovereignty in the Zika public health crisis in Puerto Rico (2020)

In 2015 a new strand of the Zika virus emerged with a single genetic mutation. Suddenly, a virus that had once had an innocuous impact on human life could interrupt a fetus’s physiological development, producing a condition known as “microcephaly.” With dual transmission mechanisms of mosquitoes and sex, Zika ignited fears about the permeability of nation-state borders to infectious disease, as well as rising healthcare costs. Health economists and other experts “priced” a single case of microcephaly at USD $10 million or more across a lifetime, such that “Zika babies” were seen to compromise the futures of other children. In the United States, these fears were mapped onto the “unincorporated territory” of Puerto Rico, where one-fifth of the population was predicted to contract the virus. In this dissertation I explore how Zika was culturally, aesthetically, and scientifically constructed as an emergency in the United States and detail U.S. government Zika intervention in Puerto Rico. I argue that public health expertise and practice positioned Puerto Rican women as the threshold between Zika and the economic future of the U.S. nation, “responsibilizing” them for that future. This hinged on the contradictory mapping of Puerto Rico as inside the United States in terms of disease risk and outside the United States in terms of political rights, which allowed chemical fumigation to be undertaken without consent and the insertion of contraceptive implants into bodies without providing infrastructures for safe removal. Altogether, I take the diffusion and management of Zika in Puerto Rico as a point of departure for a wider discussion about health and reproduction—note that the contemplation of these two concepts is not exhausted by “reproductive health”—amidst global ecological tumult. It is my contention that poor women and teenage girls in particular places are being positioned as a massified bodily threshold between an unruly nonhuman world, on one hand, and economic and biological human futures, on the other. I posit that this emergent logic is much broader than the making and management of Zika, is destructive for women, and is continually subverted by them.

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Lines of communication: American psychological warfare in the twentieth century (2019)

This dissertation traces the construction and evolution of the concept of “psychological warfare” in the United States, from its beginnings in the early 1940s. It is argued that psychological warfare is an “ouroboric” concept: produced by propaganda campaigns about the power of propaganda campaigns, psychological warfare produced and continues to produce geographical imaginations of warfare in which individuals and populations are enlisted through their thoughts, feelings, and beliefs. Chapters 1 and 2 provide introductory and historical context for the emergence of psychological warfare, while chapters 3 and 5 trace the rhetorical evolution of this geographical imaginary from the Second World War to the Cold War period. Chapters 4 and 6 show how, conversely, psychological warfare existed and evolved in American theatres of war. It is argued throughout that meanings of psychological warfare are largely determined by their two geographical contexts, split between domestic rhetorical strategy, and strategies for occupying and pacifying civilian populations abroad. Furthermore, it is shown that these contexts are often incommensurable, with domestic constructions leveraged to support narratives of ‘non-kinetic’ and humanitarian warfare, while actually existing American psychological warfare provides both rationale and justification for violence against foreign civilian populations. This dissertation concludes by considering the contemporary revival of domestic psychological war rhetoric in the United States.

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"We're not counterinsurgents": development and security in Afghanistan, 1946-2014 (2017)

It is not possible to understand international development in isolation from the geographies of military, political, and capitalist violence. In particular, it is necessary to analyze the interconnections between development and security: the development-security nexus. In order to illuminate the role that development plays in the West’s historical and ongoing efforts to pacify insurgent populations, it is important to interrogate the assemblages of actors, knowledge, and power that enliven diagnostic moments of counterinsurgency warfare. More specifically, the dissertation explores the ways in which the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) has, from the Cold War onwards, practiced development as an ostensibly humanitarian form of counterinsurgency warfare in Afghanistan. It shows how USAID, for most of its institutional history, has been forced to grapple with Afghanistan as an ongoing – and seemingly insurmountable – problem of development-security. Three case studies – the Helmand Valley Project (1946-1978), the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan (1980-1992), and the ongoing assault on the Afghan narco-economy (2001-present) – reveal the shifting contours of development-as-counterinsurgency praxis in relation to broader institutional, political-economic, and geo-strategic contexts. These allow three substantive claims to be advanced. First, USAID has historically championed increasingly “total” forms of rural development as the key to transforming populations of potential insurgents into “governable subjects”. Second, these “total” forms of development practice are fundamentally geographical in the sense that they strive to pacify insurgent populations through the production of spaces that are meant to “model” new forms of modern and liberal life. These new spaces served as laboratories in which development professionals forged new counterinsurgency techniques, put them to the test, and subsequently, evaluated their utility. Third, while these development practices are represented by USAID as productive, humanitarian, and therapeutic, they are nonetheless undergirded by – and provide a legitimating armature for – techniques of population management that are destructive of life, such as kill-capture operations and crop eradication schemes.

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The war lawyers: U.S., Israel and the spaces of targeting (2017)

The full abstract for this thesis is available in the body of the thesis, and will be available when the embargo expires.

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The Afterlives of Counterinsurgency: Postcolonialism, Military Social Science, and Afghanistan 2006-2012 (2014)

This dissertation examines the United States military’s counterinsurgency campaign in Afghanistan from 2006-2012. In recent years, the U.S. military has relied upon the methods and research of social scientists to model the Taliban-led insurgency in southern Afghanistan in hopes of predicting and mitigating the movement of the insurgency. The U.S. military has also used social scientists to gather “cultural intelligence” for surveying and interpreting the general population in Afghanistan in order to develop methods for “winning the hearts and minds” of civilians. This dissertation makes three central arguments. First, contrary to the “winning hearts and minds” narrative, counterinsurgency in practice has consistently produced two outcomes: the arming local defense forces, and massive population displacement. Second, “cultural intelligence” has been utilized to produce a narrative that Pashtuns in southern Afghanistan are “naturally” inclined towards local tribal structures as the desired mode of political order and legitimacy. Whether or not this is true, the U.S. military has used this Orientalist “local” narrative to set up place-bound tribal strongmen and warlords to counter what is perceived as a transnational, networked, and therefore locally “inauthentic” insurgency. The dissertation identifies this move by the U.S. military as the “weaponization of scale” at both a global and local level. Third, the dissertation examines the worldview that governs the U.S military’s approach to Afghanistan, and argues that it is one where populations are “de-coded” as “networks.” To see like the twenty-first century U.S. military is to see a world of networks. This world of networks is a secular cosmological vision derivative from the human-machine assemblages where U.S. military personnel and institutions are imbricated. These human-machine assemblages have been violently extended within the general Afghan population through new technologies like iris-scan biometrics devices and data-base management. The dissertation draws the important point that many new twenty-first century technologies, like “big data” mining and computational social network analysis, are rooted in colonial practices.

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Making space for peace: international protective accompaniment in Colombia (2007-2009) (2012)

International protective accompaniment is a strategy used in conflict zones which puts peoplewho are less at risk literally next to people under threat because of their work for peace andjustice. Thousands of human rights workers, grassroots organizations, and communities havebeen protected in this way. The term accompaniment was first used for this work by PeaceBrigades International (PBI), which sent the first international team to Guatemala in 1983. Thereare now international accompaniers working with 24 organizations in ten countries. Colombia isthe country with the largest number of international groups, with twelve. Accompaniment inColombia is widely used to protect small farmers resisting or returning from being displaced byparamilitaries tied to large agribusiness. These campesinos are organized in what are oftencalled ‘peace communities’.I spent 15 months in Colombia (2007 – 2009) holding ongoing conversations with accompaniersabout how accompaniment works, or to use Peace Brigades’ slogan, how it ‘makes space forpeace.’ Paradoxically accompaniers use the fact that their lives ‘count’ more (because ofpassport/economic/racial privilege), to build a world where everyone’s lives ‘count’, where itmatters when a small farmer is killed in the Colombian jungle. I was hoping thataccompaniment was using privilege in such a way that it could ‘use it up’, that is, that it coulddismantle the systems that make some lives count more. I did not find that, but I argue thataccompaniment can wear down the structures that grant privilege unequally – but it can alsoreinforce those, depending on how it is done. It is easier for accompaniers to fall into colonialpatterns that make some lives worth more than others when they understand themselves asnonpartisan civilian peacekeepers, rather than emphasizing building and activating chains ofsolidarity to make accompaniment work. It is also easier to fall into those traps whenaccompaniers see space as abstract and elide how race and other privileges shape their work. Tochange structures of domination, accompaniment needs not only to leverage difference, but alsosimultaneously engage in building connections across difference and distance, through chains ofsolidarity.

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Master's Student Supervision (2010 - 2018)
Si(gh)ting Israel/Palestine: the slow violence of international tourism (2017)

This thesis explores the ways in which the scopic regimes of tourism shape the production of “Israel” and “Palestine” as geopolitical entities by focusing on international, primarily non-Jewish tourists. I examine the extent to which spatial practices—both representational and material—reinforce or renegotiate dominant geopolitical imaginaries. Through discursive analysis and participant observation on guided tours in Tel Aviv, Jerusalem, and the West Bank, I analyze the contrasting imagined and performed geographies of Israel’s territoriality. I argue that the tourist gaze functions as a form of slow violence in Israel/Palestine, as disputed narratives are legitimized and naturalized through the concealment of the dispossession and occupation that are fundamental to the Israeli geopolitical project. In exposing how tourist processes serve as a critical juncture in which geopolitical contestation occurs, I seek to rethink the parameters of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict by examining its entanglements with seemingly apolitical, banal cultural practices.

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Pacific[ations]: Security, nonviolence, and the "war on drugs" in Merida, Yucatan, 2007-2012 (2014)

Drug-related conflict has perhaps been the central question of Mexican politics since President Felipe Calderón initiated the "war on drugs" in 2006. From 2007-2012, military and police presence in everyday life deepened across the country, and tens of thousands of people were killed. It in opposition to this scene of extreme violence that Mérida, Yucatán was relentlessly celebrated as the most secure city in Mexico, the "City of Peace." Through interviews with government officials and activists in Mérida, this thesis explores reverberations between i) the politics of Mérida's continuing declaration of nonviolence; ii) the mobilization of the abstract concept of security; and iii) the reconfiguration of state power under the "war on drugs." Chapter 2 explains the policies and practices enacted by Mexican and U.S. governments under the anti-drug banner. The ways in which life and landscapes in Yucatán were re-organized around protection against drug-related conflict is the subject of Chapter 3. This, what I term securitization, attempted to bring the circulation of bodies, drugs, and rumors in Mérida under control for the sake of the security and reproduction of the state. Chapter 4 explores the relationship between securitization, the story of nonviolence, and colonial identity categories. Here, I argue that the "City of Peace" is premised on the formation of pacified state subjects. These storylines converge in my central argument: constructions of nonviolence in Mérida from 2007-2012 were bound up with many different forms of state violence, ranging from the use of brute force to the quiet restriction of everyday conduct.

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Seeing through NGOs: Poverty, Visuality and the first and third worlds (2011)

Poverty alleviation, both at home and abroad, is a major preoccupation of socially aware and ethically motivated individuals in Canada. Examining the work of Canadian nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) that work explicitly towards this goal, I explore the ways that discourses surrounding poverty alleviation are influenced by the dominant imaginative geographies of separate First and Third Worlds. I examine recent public relations material distributed by Canadian-based NGOs, both those that target Third World poverty (working in the field of “development”) and those that focus on domestic poverty. I explore the dominant visualities employed by these organizations when they represent poverty in their fundraising and publicity material, and investigate the way that these representations reflect (and occasionally challenge) prevailing understandings of the First and Third Worlds as fundamentally separate and internally coherent geographies. Judith Butler (2004) theorizes the United States’ experience of suffering and vulnerability on September 11, 2001 as a moment that offered a clear choice between two possible responses: “[D]o we now seek to restore [First World complacency] as a way of healing from this wound? Or do we allow the challenge to First World complacency to stand and begin to build a different politics on this basis?” (p. 7-8) My thesis will explore a parallel question in the context of a different kind of suffering and vulnerability: that that arises from poverty (experienced differently – but experienced nonetheless) in nations of the First World as well as nations of the Third.

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The Misrule of Gaza (2010)

This thesis explores the relationship between war, law and visuality. It focuses on Israel's 23-day assault on Gaza that began in December 2008. The thesis has three main aims. First, to historicize the assault, and put forward the idea that Israel's resort to violence takes not only militaristic but crucially also legalistic forms (chapter 2). Second, to problematize the relationship between war and law through a discussion of the post-assault discourses on the indeterminate legality of the war (chapters 3&5). I suggest that in the age of what commentators are calling lawfare, law has reached its maximal instrumentalization and has become a military tactic. Third, to interrogate the visual archives of the assault in order to explore the ways in which war is being fought through visual fields and visual tactics which I call imagefare (chapter 4). The turn toward the legal and the visual in Israeli military strategy presents political, ethical and pragmatic problems for resisting and opposing war and so in relation to the current situation in Gaza and the ambivalent status of international law I conclude by posing the question: ‘what now?’ (chapter 5).

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