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Economy of Force
Counterinsurgency and the Historical Rise of the Social

$130.00 (C)

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Part of Cambridge Studies in International Relations

  • Date Published: August 2015
  • availability: Available
  • format: Hardback
  • isbn: 9781107121942

$ 130.00 (C)

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About the Authors
  • Retrieving the older but surprisingly neglected language of household governance, Economy of Force offers a radical new account of the historical rise of the social realm and distinctly social theory as modern forms of oikonomikos - the art and science of household rule. The techniques and domestic ideologies of household administration are highly portable and play a remarkably central role in international and imperial relations. In two late-colonial British 'emergencies' in Malaya and Kenya, and US counterinsurgencies in Vietnam, Afghanistan and Iraq, armed social work was the continuation of oikonomia - not politics - by other means. This is a provocative new history of counterinsurgency with major implications for social, political and international theory. Historically rich and theoretically innovative, this book will interest scholars and students across the humanities and social sciences, especially politics and international relations, history of social and political thought, history of war, social theory and sociology.

    • A historically rich account of the rise of the social realm, of social and political thought, and of imperialism
    • Proposes a new interpretation of both historical and contemporary cases of counterinsurgency
    • Theoretically innovative - offers a new way of 'doing' international theory, which challenges mainstream theories and critical approaches
    Read more


    • Winner, 2017 THEORY Best Book Award, International Studies Association

    Reviews & endorsements

    "This is a genuinely groundbreaking piece of work. It presents a serious and sophisticated challenge to the broad spectrum of international theories and more generally to the domain of social science."
    Kimberley Hutchings, Queen Mary University of London

    "Finally, a definitive work that traces the historical emergence and imperial deployment of the "social". With meticulous care and scholarly precision, Owens uncovers how the concept of the social has been put in service of imperial militaries around the world, revealing that "armed social work" became a dominant tactic of counterinsurgency. Rather than an innocuous notion or neutral object of investigation, the very idea of the "social" has been a tool of empire. This path-breaking work is a must read for anyone interested in social science, militaries, empires and postcolonial studies."
    Julian Go, Boston University, and author of Patterns of Empire

    "In this breathtaking work, Owens unsettles the field of International Relations and contributes enormously to Political Theory as well. Contra realist and liberal traditions, she says the moderation of violence and provision of basic needs in modern society has been the fundamental basis of household rule, not political freedom. From this radical vantage point, Owens documents the operations of counterinsurgency in Malaya, Kenya, Vietnam, Afghanistan and Iraq to offer an entirely new angle on so-called ‘armed social work’. Almost no assumptions about humanitarianism, resistance, war, realism, women’s rights, the social, or the political remains untouched by her powerful genealogical analysis."
    Bonnie Honig, Nancy Duke Lewis Professor of Political Science, Brown University, Rhode Island

    "The Economy of Force reveals the deep entanglement of counterinsurgency with a depoliticizing construct of the social that has motivated, guided, and justified almost two centuries of bloody and failed wars of pacification. Weaving together a compelling account of political theory from Aristotle to Weber and beyond with incisive case studies of counterinsurgencies, Owens shows how a concept of the social modelled on the domestic sphere has blinded counterinsurgent strategists to the politics of their adversaries, initiating a range of "domestic" approaches from so-called armed social work to the planned destruction of villages and mass internment of civilians in the gulag utopias of imperial social planners. This is a compelling and important book for a wide range of fields, as well as for anybody concerned by the seemingly unstoppable compulsion of western states to carry out tragic and brutal interventions around the world."
    Andrew Zimmerman, George Washington University, Washington DC

    "In this imaginative and stimulating text, Owens elucidates the devastating erasure of politics via tropes and practices of 'household administration' that allows for the violence and viciousness of counterinsurgencies to be reinterpreted as "armed social work"."
    Laleh Khalili, School of Oriental and African Studies, University of London

    "This is a wickedly smart and a very much needed book … radical and disorienting in the very best sense."
    Dustin Ells Howes, David J. Kriskovich Distinguished Professor of Political Science, Louisiana State University

    "Through a combination of historical perspective on the colonial world and contemporary inquiry into the imperial enterprise, Economy of Force invites us to rethink the laws of warfare and politics of counterinsurgency by paying attention to the pacification of local populations understood as a form of domestication. It thus unveils the genealogy of the blurred line between military and humanitarian interventions."
    Didier Fassin, coeditor of Contemporary States of Emergency

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    Product details

    • Date Published: August 2015
    • format: Hardback
    • isbn: 9781107121942
    • length: 382 pages
    • dimensions: 232 x 160 x 28 mm
    • weight: 0.7kg
    • availability: Available
  • Table of Contents

    1. Introduction: oikonomia in the use of force
    2. The really real? A history of 'social' and 'society'
    3. Out of the confines of the household?
    4. The colonial limits of society
    5. 'More than concentration camps': the battle for hearths in two late-colonial emergencies
    6. Society itself is at war: new model pacification in Vietnam
    7. Oikonomia by other means: counterinsurgency in Afghanistan and Iraq
    8. Conclusion: 'it's the oikos, stupid'.

  • Author

    Patricia Owens, University of Sussex
    Patricia Owens is Reader in International Relations at the University of Sussex. She is author of Between War and Politics: International Relations and the Thought of Hannah Arendt (2007) and co-edits The European Journal of International Relations. She has held research fellowships at Harvard University, Massachusetts, Princeton University, New Jersey, the University of California, Berkeley, the University of Southern California, and the University of Oxford.


    • Winner, 2017 THEORY Best Book Award, International Studies Association
    • Honourable Mention, 2017 Francesco Guicciardini Prize, Historical International Relations Section, International Studies Association
    • Winner, 2016 Susan Strange Book Prize, British International Studies Association

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