Early Warning Early Response Structures and the Challenge of Illegibility

Virtual to Public. Only those with an active Stanford ID with access to William J Perry Conference Room in Encina Hall may attend in person. 

  • Kamari Clarke

For winter quarter 2022, CISAC will be hosting hybrid events. Many events will offer limited-capacity in-person attendance for Stanford faculty, staff, fellows, visiting scholars, and students in accordance with Stanford’s health and safety guidelines, and be open to the public online via Zoom. All CISAC events are scheduled using the Pacific Time Zone. 


(Stanford faculty, visiting scholars, staff, fellows, and students only)



About the Event: In Nigeria today, frequent conflicts, disappearances and mass violence, especially in the Northern region of the country, have amounted to large-scale destruction of human life and the displacement of large populations as unarmed civilians are caught in the crossfire. The effects of climate change on the Lake Chad basin are key triggers of conflict as herders migrate to other parts of the region to find fodder and water for their cattle. Existing responses to conflict and mass violence in Nigeria have been beset by challenges. The migration patterns of nomadic communities have begun to signal security concerns beyond the immediately impacted regions. In late 2017, state governments within the western and southern parts of the country began to set up community policing strategies to address growing security challenges around their states, including those relating to the (perceived) threats associated with the movement of cattle herders. Complicating this situation, the presence of large groups of cattle has incentivized “conflict entrepreneurship” as armed groups of young men across north-central, north-west and southern parts of the country engage in cattle rustling. Government efforts at various levels, ranging from the creation of legal and policy frameworks to programs on-the-ground, have been inadequate to protect civilians and have led to the development new mechanisms for human protection.  For example, interventions by the Nigerian Federal Government have, at times, accelerated conflict, as with the passage of an anti-grazing law that has fueled controversy over implementation at state and local levels of government. Local civil society initiatives have continued to emerge to address the gap and attempt to mitigate ever growing security concerns in the region. One such strategy has involved the development of Early Warning and Early Response Systems (EWER) using geospatial technologies and other forms of crowd sourcing imagery to enhance local resilience in the face of security threats and strengthen the ability of communities to protect themselves in a sustainable way. However, the potential of such technologies depends on the ability to “see” particular phenomena and render other phenomena illegible. This paper will argue that such geospatial technology’s interpretive power is concerned with assigning to future violence an interpretive code based on its baseline values.  As an act of decoding that is anticipatory, the power of EWER processes lies in its decoding potential. These interpretive code processes provide participants with the potential to engage in analyses that involve mapping patterns and potential risk that have the ability to produce indicators that have material effects. It is these material effects, drawn from visual codes, that are used to justify action that is life preserving as well as render other relations illegible and therefore invisible to intervention.  This paper explores the emergence of EWER strategies used to address widespread violence and the challenge of illegibility that is central to it.


About the Speaker: M. Kamari Clarke is the Distinguished Professor of Transnational Justice and Sociolegal Studies at the University of Toronto where she teaches in the Centre for Criminology and Sociolegal Studies and the Centre for Diaspora and Transnational Studies. Over her career she has worked at The University of California Los Angeles (2018-2021), Carleton University (2015-2018), The University of Pennsylvania (2013-2015) Yale University (1999-2013), and at Yale she was the former chair of the Council on African Studies from 2007- 2010 and the co-founder of the Yale Center for Transnational Cultural Analysis.  For more than twenty years, Professor Clarke has conducted research on issues related to legal institutions, human rights and international law, religious nationalism and the politics of globalization. For more than 20 years, Professor Clarke has conducted research on issues related to legal institutions, international legal domains, religious nationalism, and the politics of globalization and race. She  is the author of nine books and over fifty peer reviewed articles and book chapters, including her 2009 publication of Fictions of Justice: The International Criminal Court and the Challenge of Legal Pluralism in Sub-Saharan Africa (Cambridge University Press, 2009) and Affective Justice (with Duke University Press, 2019), which won the finalist prize for the American Anthropological Association’s 2020 Elliot P. Skinner Book Award for the Association for Africanist Anthropology.  Clarke has also been the recipient of other research and teaching awards, including Carleton University’s 2018 Research Excellence Award.  During her academic career she has held numerous prestigious fellowships, grants and awards, including multiple grant awards from the National Science Foundation and from The Social Sciences and the Humanities Research Council of Canada (SSHRCC), the Rockefeller Foundation, the Wenner-Gren Foundation for Anthropological Research and, very recently, the 2021 Guggenhiem Award for Career Excellence.