Mob Law

By Anthony Iles, 10 March 2002

Christian Nold’s book, Mobile Vulgus, puts recent actions such as J18, N30, Mayday 2001 and Genoa, into relation with shifts in police tactics and the rapid development of non-lethal weapons technology. Flicking between images of actual events, to those of interactive computer animations and mock-riots used to train the police and military in crowd management, the book reconstructs the crowd in history (the vulgar mob) and the paranoid corollaries of state and military technology used to suppress it.

Unfortunately, the new type of crowd that has characterised recent demonstrations is overlooked. Nold’s thinking replicates the tendency of both the police and activists’ mentalities to correspond and become mutually dependent. Glossy gaming graphics and images from recent disturbances on the streets of Genoa and London may expose the weakness of police psychology, but they also index how limited the ‘mobility’ of the real crowd has become in comparison with that of its pixelated avatars. The book flirts with, but ultimately never arrives at, an analysis of the specific linkages between non-lethal weapons, coercive technologies, media manipulation and bureaucratic nation states. It also ignores the more fundamental questions. What does the crowd want? Why has it gathered? How does it move beyond the limits imposed upon it?

The last section of this book presents the author’s ideas for protest tools and the accompanying CD puts these at the disposal of would-be protesters. These ingenious tools work on the vulnerability of architecture to the human body, and the possibilities of producing disturbance through invisible sound waves. Whilst these tools provide food for thought, they produce problems beyond coordinating a crowd. Strategies inspired by, and developed in response to, police behaviour reproduce the disempowering fantasy of state dominance. It is evident that we need a more precarious thinking for protest and communicative action to move and circulate outside the theatre of this static game of war.

Anthony Iles <a_529 AT> is a writer-researcher

Mobile Vulgus // Christian Nold // Bookworks // London // 2001 // ISBN 1870699564 // £7.50