“You can’t evict a movement.” A review of Krystian Woznicki’s book “Undeclared Movements”

Berlin, New Year’s Eve 2020-21. Long before midnight, police helicopters are circling over Kreuzberg, Neukölln and Mitte, creating a subtle but hard-to-ignore security surround that conflates pandemic containment and urban counterinsurgency on an affective level. [1] The Senate Administration has designated 54 pyrotechnics ban zones, many of which coincide with known crime-ridden locations under Berlin’s police law, the Allgemeines Sicherheits- und Ordnungsgesetz (ASOG). These places have a special legal status, where, for example, police checks can be carried out without a specific suspicion. They include places for which there is a presumption that “persons are arranging, preparing or committing criminal acts of considerable significance” or – until the reform of the Police Act in March 2021 – that “persons who violate criminal regulations under the law on residence” meet there. [2] Here, thus, logics of migration control and crime control met. In the no-pyrotechnics zones monitored from helicopters, a general ban on staying prevailed on December 31 and January 1, based on Section 25 of the Sars COV-2 Infection Control Measures Ordinance (InfSchMV). Only the “crossing” of the special zones was still permitted, turning them into corridors. [3]

Berlin already experienced measures in which the logics of the European border regime intertwined with those of urban counterinsurgency in the summer of 2014. When the Gerhardt-Hauptmann-Schule in Kreuzberg, inhabited by activists of the Refugee Movement, was to be vacated, the Berlin police preventively cordoned off several streets around the building and restricted residents’ and occupants’ freedom of movement. The square became a training ground for police units from all over Germany in fighting riots in the inner city. Around the police cordons, a movement of supporters, neighbors, activists and people walking by spontaneously built up protest infrastructure to prevent the police from storming the building, to provide WiFi and food to the people inside, and to channel information. The counterinsurgency strategy of cordoning off entire streets as a precaution and creating transfer corridors for police, bailiffs, or residents on their way to work was practiced here and applied in 2020-21 during the Covid-19 pandemic, in evicting people from leftist houses and institutions such as the Syndikat and Meuterei pubs and the queerfeminist Liebig 34 house project, and was updated in the New Year’s Eve special rules of the Sars COV 2 infection control measures ordinance.

At the center of Krystian Woznicki’s “Undeclared Movements” are corridors as central components of infrastructures in de jure and de facto states of exception, where the governmental art of movement control and circulation management develops, but at the same time potential for new movement(s) emerge. In his four-part essay, Woznicki draws on theorists of security, surveillance, and governmentality studies, critical migration studies, science and technology studies, and political philosophy such as Brian Massumi and Jean-Luc Nancy to analyze the power of movement in the Schengen area.

He focuses on two corridors, the so-called Balkan corridor of the long summer of migration in 2015, and the transfer corridors of the G20 summit in Hamburg in 2017, which were intended to let politicians pass and channel activists. For Woznicki, both corridors enabled certain movements against the backdrop of the crisis narratives of migration and terrorism; in both, unpredictable movement was intended to be anticipated and managed. At the same time, struggles flared up in or around both corridors – and these are the focus of his investigation, struggles that did not yet have a political lobby and whose actors had not yet become visible as intelligible groupings.

In the idea of the Schengen area, Woznicki argues, both individual freedom of movement and the free circulation of goods, data, and capital play defining roles. Freedom of movement in particular, however, never really applied to everyone, and it is now being undermined by a highly technical securitization-illegalization complex. This complex not only restricts the freedom of movement of those who are either classified as a security risk, are in the Schengen area illegally, or have the ‘wrong’ or no papers, but also subjects all movement to logics of securitization and potential illegalization, among other things with the help of increasingly interoperable databases such as SIS, EuroDac, the Visa Information System or, from 2022, ETIAS (European Travel Information and Authorization System) and various free trade agreements. [4]

After September 11, 2001, discourses of the war on terror were also adopted in the EU, focusing less on population protection and instead on national security and the securitization of the movement of people, goods, capital, data, etc. – with mobile borders internally and externalized militarized external borders. In this governmentality, with its thinking in scenarios, risk calculations, and preemptive security, ostensibly and actually unpredictable migration movements were framed as states of exception, in conjunction with increasingly technocratic movement management discourses. The focus here is not, however, on a split into good or bad mobility or its categorical prevention. Instead, mobility is understood as a resource to be anticipated, managed, and its value extracted. This is the case, for example, for mobile workers from non-EU countries who, on the one hand, live in the EU to some extent on an illegalized basis or at least without claims to social security systems, but whose labor power, on the other hand, is firmly relied on, in, among other domains, agriculture and care. The dominant mode here is preemption, which no longer attempts to govern on the basis of concrete threats, but rather targets potential threats. [5] In this anticipatory logic of preemption, the present is interpreted on the basis of future scenarios. Governmental modes of governance address potentialities, potential movement as well as potential emergent forms of community. That is, in the regime of circulation management, possibilities of association, free assembly, and shared sensemaking are also altered, Woznicki argues.

In the data logics of contemporary security dispositifs, where scenario techniques and threat imaginaries dominate, networked sociality in motion is not necessarily to be prevented at all, but instead contained and made usable. In this logic, unpredictability becomes a problem. Flows of movement must never stop, but they must remain calculable and trackable in order to be made usable. In the G20 corridors, it was the strategy of crowd control itself that created the masses that had to be contained. This is simply because, in the logic of crowd control technologies, every movement is a potential crowd. Thus, security agencies in Hamburg interpreted activists, journalists, demonstrators, people taking a walk or on their way to friends or work as indistinguishable and potentially dangerous masses, and treated them accordingly. [6] If every movement is potential mass in the logic of preemption, there can be no more outsiders.

The central component of the book is an approximately 100-page visual essay in which Woznicki attempts to visually capture the undeclared movements in the Schengen area with the help of images of police operations during the G20 summit in Hamburg and from the long summer of migration, photographs and screenshots of repression and surveillance technology, etc: photographs of the March of Hope on a highway somewhere in Hungary or Austria; police units in the shade of the artificial palm trees of Park Fiction in Hamburg, which seems to serve as a foil, as it were, to the repressive festivities of the G20 summit as a model of quite different urban politics; mobile surveillance units; clouds of tear gas; border monitoring images of boats on the Mediterranean; NSA earth surveillance images; ads for surveillance and security applications; police in riot gear against the backdrop of the logistics scenery of the Port of Hamburg with its container terminals framed by cranes; the omnipresent helicopters as a sign of the age of preemption, and again and again people about to become a mass, an undeclared movement. Here, Woznicki recontextualizes documentary images from the two corridors and more general visualizations of the securitization-illegalization complex, making the complex and its relationship to movement just as vivid as the urgency with which the affective logics of preemption must be decoded.

Time and again, Woznicki takes a look at the productivity of these attempts at movement enclosure and makes clear that even as-yet-unorganized movements in the making must be understood as political acts. In precisely these undeclared movements, he not only sees  potential for resistance, but also situates an opportunity for other ontopolitics. He refers here to Massumi’s concept of ontopower, the dominant form of power in the mode of preemption, aimed not at specific individuals or entities, but at a siphoning off of potentialities and emergences, and which at the same time signifies an affective becoming of power. [7] In connection with Jean-Luc Nancy’s concept of co-existence, Woznicki argues that, on the one hand, politics of co-existence and togetherness – understood as singular-plural conceptions of togetherness, beyond fixed, delimitable communities – are increasingly subject to the logics of the securitization-illegalization complex. [8]  On the other hand, in the shadow of this complex, the undeclared movements which provide the title could emerge; their potential is to mobilize the common affectation through ontopower as a basis, without having to create artificial unity. Therefore, Woznicki is concerned with taking struggles seriously already at the moment they emerge, since here the possibility of a state of exception from below becomes conceivable, which in turn makes it possible to practice ontopolitics that do not function primarily in the logic of states of exception. For him, it is precisely in de jure or de facto states of exception in the Schengen area that what Isabell Lorey recently described as one of the hallmarks of presentist democracy becomes possible. This “no longer separates movement from institution or organization, the social from the political. Its goal is not the bringing together of the many into the one, but the organizing of diversity in dispersion.” [9] For Woznicki, it is in the shared affordances of preemptive modes of governance aimed at movement management that co-existence can be realized, as perhaps the journey of a slogan that sums up this power of movement clearly demonstrates: in 2014 at the Gerhardt-Hauptmann-Schule in Berlin, in the years that followed on various sections of the Balkan corridor, in no-border kitchens, in squats in Exarcheia, Athens, and finally again in Berlin, at the evacuation of the queerfeminist house project Liebig 34 in 2020 – banners and flyers repeatedly said, “You can’t evict a movement.”

For online orders of Krystian Woznicki’s book “Undeclared Movements”, please contact the publishing house at verlag[at]bbooksz.de. More info under http://b-books.de

Katrin M. Kämpf studied gender studies and cultural history and theory at Humboldt-Universität Berlin, worked as a journalist, editor, translator, lecturer and research assistant at Humboldt-Universität Berlin, Paderborn University and Technische Universität Berlin among others. Her specialist subjects include feminist science & technology studies, history of sexuality and queer theory. She is an assistant professor at the Academy of Media Arts/Cologne, in the art and media theory subject group, with a focus on “queer studies in the arts and sciences” and STS, since April 2019.

This review was originally published in German in Zeitschrift für Medienwissenschaft, online, April 11, 2021: https://zfmedienwissenschaft.de/node/1637

  • 4. On EU data bases see Christina Rogers: Wenn Data stirbt. Grenzen, Kontrolle, Migration, in: Zeitschrift für Medienwissenschaft, Vol. 7, No. 13, 2015, 57–65.
  • 5. See Brian Massumi: Ontopower: War, Powers, and the State of Perception, Durham 2015.
  • 6. On police actions and attacks on bystanders and journalists see: Markus Reuter: Journalistenverbände: Polizeigewalt gegen Reporter auf dem G20, in: netzpolitik.org, July 10, 2017, https://netzpolitik.org/2017/journalistenverbaende-polizeigewalt-gegen-reporter-auf-dem-g20/, (last accessed on Mar. 9, 2021 ); Simon Teune: Das Scheitern der »Hamburger Linie«, in: Blätter für deutsche und internationale Politik, 2017, https://www.blaetter.de/ausgabe/2017/august/das-scheitern-der-hamburger-linie, (last accessed on Mar. 9, 2021 ).
  • 7. Brian Massumi: Ontopower: War, Powers, and the State of Perception, Durham 2015.
  • 8. Jean-Luc Nancy: singulär plural sein. Zürich 2004.
  • 9. Isabell Lorey: Demokratie im Präsens. Eine Theorie der politischen Gegenwart. Berlin 2020, 198.
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