The Plasma of Violence | Review of International Studies

My latest article ‘The Plasma of Violence: Towards a Preventive Medicine for Political Evil‘ is now forthcoming at Review of International Studies. The article follows-up from my previous work exploring the ontology of political violence from a Science and Technology Studies (STS) perspective. You can download a pre-print of the article here (or below).


How do people know how – very practically speaking – to be violent? This essay explores that question through a Science and Technology Studies perspective. It does so to go beyond the usual location of global political violence at a structural level that attributes its emergence principally to hierarchical orders, formal training, or deep cultural, political, or ideological factors. The alternative explanation offered here draws on Bruno Latour’s concept of ‘plasma’ to sketch a theory of how practices of violence are embedded at a distributed ontological level through the historical accumulation of (popular) cultural, textual, technological and other epistemic objects. In making that claim, I seek to stress how violent knowledge circulates outside the formal domains associated with it (the military, police) and is instead preconsciously accessible to each and every person. To support this argument, the paper draws on empirical examples of the use of torture, including interviews conducted with Syrian perpetrators of torture, as well as by tracing the paradoxical entanglements between scientific practice and the practice of torture. I conclude by engaging the field of preventive medicine to speculate on the need to develop modes of violence prevention that appreciate political violence as a population level socio-political problem.


For kind comments, suggestions, and critiques of earlier drafts of this paper I would like to first extend my gratitude to the (2020) members of the Doing IPS Transnational Hub (Jef Huysmans, Stephanie Perazzone, Linda Monsees, Rune Saugmann, Andreas Baur, Renata Summa, Katja Freistein, Lucy Hall, Marijn Hoijtink). In addition, a very early draft of this paper was presented at the EISA Pan-European conference. For comments on that panel, I would like to thank David Chandler, Oliver Richmond, and Anna Leander. Additionally thanks are due to Iver B. Neumann and Isabel Bramsen.


Austin, Jonathan Luke. (Forthcoming). “The Plasma of Violence: Towards a preventive medicine for political evil,” Review of International Studies, in press.


You can read The Plasma of Violence below or download a copy here.