James W. Perkinson
James W. Perkinson is a long-time activist and educator who has lived for 35 years as a settler on Three Fires land in inner city Detroit. He is currently teaching as Professor of Social Ethics at the Ecumenical Theological Seminary and lecturing in Intercultural Communication Studies at the University of Oakland (Michigan). He holds a Ph.D. in theology from the University of Chicago, is the author of five books on theology/spirituality and two poetry chap books. He has also written extensively in both academic and popular journals on questions of race, class and colonialism in connection with religion and urban culture. He is in demand as a speaker on a wide variety of topics related to his interests and a recognized artist on the spoken-word poetry scene in the inner city.
James W. Perkinson, “Liberated From Surveillance; Liberated For Symbiosis: Towards a Political Spirituality of ‘Watching’”
Informed by struggles against newly employed facial-recognition technologies used to police inner-city Detroit (the “Green Light Project”), this inquiry constructs a “political-spirituality of watching.” Seeking liberation from petro-state surveillance and liberation for eco-symbiotic sustainability, the perusal offered roams from indigenous notions of taboo “holy places,” in virtue of an interdicting and dreadful feeling of “being watched” (by the natural world, by ancestors, by spirits) as explored by Dakota theologian-lawyer Vine Deloria (For This Land), to comprehension of the earliest emergence of city-states, re-organizing human labor into coercive regimes of monocrop agriculture, earmarked by lawyer-theologian Jacques Ellul (as indeed by Islamic theologians) as embodiments of “Watcher Angels” and more recently by political scientist James C. Scott as armatures of enforced and abusive “legibility” (Seeing like a State).
Certainly there is great need to ask all manner of ethical questions about the effects of enveloping human life in ever-more comprehensive and invasive “screen-entanglements, ranging from concerns about panoptical policing and the disappearance of privacy in public life to alarm about the biochemical re-structuring of the human nervous system in unmitigated algorithmic feedback loops taking place in the most intimate personal spaces by way of social media (Shoshana Zuboff’s “surveillance capitalism”). But my concern is to provide those inquiries a deeper “political-spirituality” framework for consideration that is comprehensively constructive in nature and evocative in effect. Faced with such, how return “watching” to human-scale and sacred-role as both enlivening and limiting? How red-light the green-light? Or is it impossible today to watch the watchers?