Subaltern Voices Series

Speaking & Theorizing from the Disciplinary Margins


Dr. Rob Aitken (Assistant Professor, International Political Economy, University of Alberta)

Topic: “Culture, Geopolitics, and Social Security: The NFB and the Japanese Internment.”

Date: Thursday, 28 September 2006


Abstract: Throughout the fall of 1943 and all of 1944, the National Film Board (NFB) negotiated and managed a complicated documentary film project entitled Of Japanese Descent. The project, which suffered strangely protracted bureaucratic negotiations, sought to portray the internment of Japanese citizens in a way that would serve ‘as insurance when this is all over’. At one level, this project dramatized a familiar narrative which diagrammed (and erased) the violence and dislocation associated with the imposition of order by conflating the interment with the question of geopolitical danger and emergency. At another level, however, the Descent project threaded a number of other, and broader, stories of order and social stability. Beneath the surface of geopolitical and national emergency, the Descent project framed another narrative relating to the question of culture and social security. Mobilizing ‘culture’ as a kind of technology or surface of intervention, the NFB used the film project as an experiment in pursing a particular form of social security. In this paper I both review this experiment in culture/social security and argue that the invocation of social security in this context served as a kind of ‘translation mechanism’. By centering this story of social security, the Descent project sought to translate the internment into a language of social cohesion and humane treatment. In doing so, the film both cleanses the story of internment and contributes to a narrative of the nation as a humane, peaceable and non-imperial body.

Bio: Dr. Rob Aitken is an Assistant Professor of International Political Economy in the Department of Political Science at the University of Alberta. He holds an MA and PhD in Political Science from Carleton University, and a BA (Hons) in Political Science and Development Studies from Trent University. His research interests lie at the intersection of International Political Economy and Cultural Studies. His research and publications focus on the globalization of finance, the culture of everyday economic spaces and the relationship between governmentality, culture and the making of economic space. He is currently completing a manuscript on the role of everyday finance in the global political economy entitled, Performing Capital: Toward a Cultural Economy of Global and Popular Finance (Palgrave, forthcoming).