ACCESS Seminar Series

Presenter: Elliot Child, University of British Columbia, Canada


‘Management is an indispensable element of the American Way of War’. As Leo McCann argues, the disciplines and practices of management and accounting have long ‘filtered between corporate, government and military organisations’. In this seminar I pursue that filtering to America’s war in Vietnam, where intelligence interrogation was identified as a technical-managerial challenge. Against the conventional image of contained rooms and physical examinations, late modern military interrogation unfolds across a dispersed geography of advanced logistics, record-keeping apparatuses, calculative tools, and, often, large-scale confinement. From 1965, US planners in the Republic of Vietnam rehearsed and reworked these geographies along the lines of managerial science. They hoped to rationalise a vast intelligence apparatus. Interrogation operations were standardised and made repetitive, war prisons were redesigned, intelligence information management was automated and computerised, and quantitative measures of progress were venerated. This seminar, however, reveals that the mechanics of expert interrogation continually broke down in Vietnam. The calculable logics of managerialism contrasted with turbulent performances on the ground. This episode forms part of a larger study of the genealogies and geographies of late modern US military interrogation from 1945 to today.


Elliot is a doctoral candidate in the Department of Geography, the University of British Columbia, Canada. He is also an honorary fellow at the School of Geography, University of Melbourne.

Elliot's research finds the connections between science and technology studies and cultural and political geography. At UBC he works most closely with Prof Trevor Barnes (his supervisor) and Prof Derek Gregory (committee member, and through Research Assistant work). His upcoming thesis is titled Bits of Truth: The Technopolitics and Geographies of US Mass Interrogation. It traces how large-scale military interrogation has developed and been performed in US wars since 1945, its entwining of expert tools and practices from the military and beyond, including the spheres of management and medicine. The study focuses on US interrogation in early Cold War Europe and Japan; Vietnam from 1965 to 1973; and at Guantánamo Bay during the war on terror.

Elliot's work has recently been published in the Journal of Historical Geography and Political Geography.