The inspections we put up with at airport gates and the endless warnings we get at train stations, on buses, and all the rest are the way we encounter the vast apparatus of U.S. security. Like the wars fought in its name, these measures are supposed to make us safer in a post–9/11 world. But do they? Against Security explains how these regimes of command-and-control not only annoy and intimidate but are counterproductive. Sociologist Harvey Molotch takes us through the sites, the gizmos, and the politics to urge greater trust in basic citizen capacities—along with smarter design of public spaces. In a new preface, he discusses abatement of panic and what the NSA leaks reveal about the real holes in our security.
Harvey Molotch is professor of sociology and metropolitan studies at New York University. His other books include the classic Urban Fortunes and the more recent Where Stuff Comes From.
"Mr. Molotch . . . present(s) a vivid picture of the ways in which poorly designed security measures can deform everyday life and defeat themselves."--Jordan Ellenberg, Wall Street Journal
"America's obsession with safety makes us angry, alienated, and ultimately less safe, argues this penetrating study of public security. Sociologist Molotch criticizes a range of security structures and protocols: airport security gates that require useless and humiliating body searches while generating long lines that make tempting targets for terrorists; ill-conceived New Orleans water projects that precipitated the Hurricane Katrina flood, and the militarized disaster response that further endangered residents. Even gender-segregated public restrooms (co-ed restrooms, he contends, would be more convenient and safer for women). Molotch recommends simple hardware and procedural improvements, from better stairways and signage to assist evacuations to customer-service regimens that help employees spot trouble. More than that, he argues for a conceptual shift away from rigid, rule-bound 'command and control' toward a security philosophy that empowers ordinary people to handle crises through spontaneous order and mutual aid. Molotch shrewdly analyzes the ways in which anxious, stressed-out people interact with their physical and social environments in a lively, engaging prose that skewers the verities of the post-9/11 security state. The result is a far-reaching re-examination of our culture of public fear, one that stands conventional wisdom on its head."--Publishers Weekly
Table of Contents:
Preface to the Paperback Edition ix
Chapter 1 Introduction: Colors of Security 1
Chapter 2 Bare Life: Restroom Anxiety and the Urge for Control 22
Chapter 3 Below the Subway: Taking Care Day In and Day Out with Noah McClain 50
Chapter 4 Wrong-Way Flights: Pushing Humans Away 85
Chapter 5 Forting Up the Skyline: Rebuilding at Ground Zero 128
Chapter 6 Facing Katrina: Illusions of Levee and Compulsion to Build 154
Chapter 7 Conclusion: Radical Ambiguity and the Default to Decency 192
Another Princeton book authored or coauthored by Harvey Molotch: