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Governing Uncertainty in a Secular Age: Rationalities of Violence, Theodicy and Torture

Mavelli, Luca (2016) Governing Uncertainty in a Secular Age: Rationalities of Violence, Theodicy and Torture. Security Dialogue, 47 (2). pp. 117-132. ISSN 0967-0106. E-ISSN 1460-3640. (doi:10.1177/0967010615613489)

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This article explores the problem of governing uncertainty in a secular age by focusing on the theological notion of ‘theodicy’ as the underlying rationale for the use of torture in the so-called ‘war on terror’. With God’s departure from the world, the problem of uncertainty acquires new salience as human beings can no longer explain tragic events as part of a transcendent order and must find immanent causes for the ‘evils’ that surround them. Taking a cue from Max Weber, I discuss how the problem of theodicy – how to reconcile the existence of God with the presence of evil in the world – does not disappear in the secular age but is mobilized through a Foucauldian biopolitical logic. Secular theodicy governs uncertainty through the production of economies of knowledge that rationalize processes of criminalization and securitization of entire groups and justify the use of violence. This process is particularly striking when analysing the use of torture in the so-called ‘war on terror’. Through a comparison with medieval practices and focusing on the cases of Guantanamo and Abu Ghraib, the article shows how secular torture is the product of a biopolitical theodicy aimed at governing uncertainty through the construction of the tortured as immanent evils who threaten our ‘good life’ and ‘deserve’ their treatment. Secular theodicy turns torture into an extreme form of governmentality of uncertainty in which the disciplining of conduct becomes the construction of subjectivities based on essentialist, stereotypical and racist – and for these very reasons, reassuring – economies of knowledge.

Item Type: Article
DOI/Identification number: 10.1177/0967010615613489
Uncontrolled keywords: Biopolitics; governmentality of uncertainty; rationalities of violence; secularism; theodicy and sociodicy; torture
Subjects: J Political Science > JZ International relations
Divisions: Faculties > Social Sciences > School of Politics and International Relations
Depositing User: Luca Mavelli
Date Deposited: 30 Sep 2016 19:51 UTC
Last Modified: 10 Feb 2020 12:16 UTC
Resource URI: (The current URI for this page, for reference purposes)
Mavelli, Luca:

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