Southeast Asia Studies Seminar Program
The MacMillan Center at Yale University
Oct 10 , 2012

"Epistemology of Empire: Asian Wars, Information Regimes, and the future of U.S. Global Power"

Alfred W. McCoy, History Department, Center for Southeast Asian Studies, University of Wisconsin-Madison

Over the span of a century, three successive Asian wars have played a seminal role in shaping a distinctive information infrastructure for U.S. global power. Eschewing the deep cultural study of European Orientalisms, US colonial officials applied America's first information revolution to pacifying the Philippines by amassing dense empirical data whose sum constituted a first, manual information regime for the exercise of global power. During the Vietnam War, the US spent billions of dollars in developing a second, computerized information regime that simultaneously contributed to a foreign policy debacle and laid the foundations for continuing advances in the nation's information infrastructure. During a decade of pacification in Afghanistan, the US has begun fusing biometrics, cyberwarfare, and a triple-canopy aerospace shield into a third, robotic information regime that may represent its best bid for maintaining global dominion in the face of waning economic influence.

Alfred W. McCoy is the J.R.W. Smail Professor of History at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. After earning his Ph.D. in Southeast Asian history at Yale University in 1977, his writing has focused on two topics--the political history of the modern Philippines and the covert netherworld of illicit drugs, syndicate crime, and state security. His first book, The Politics of Heroin in Southeast Asia (New York, 1972), sparked controversy over the CIA's attempt to block its publication, but is now regarded as the "classic" study of global drug trafficking and has been translated into nine languages, most recently Thai and German. His recent book Policing America's Empire: The United States, the Philippines, and the Rise of the Surveillance State (Madison, 2009, winner of the George McT. Kahin Prize from the Association for Asian Studies, draws together these two strands, covert operations and modern Philippine history, to explore the transformative power of police, information, and scandal in shaping both the modern Philippine state and the U.S. internal security apparatus.

On October 11, 2012, Alfred W. McCoy will receive the Yale Graduate School of Arts and Sciences highest award, the Wilber Lucius Cross Medal, given to Yale's most outstanding alumni. The medal recognizes distinguished achievements in scholarship, teaching, academic administration and public service.


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