Nobody But Us

Margareta Kern and Susan Kelly, 2019 - work in progress

Nobody But Us is a research project by Susan Kelly and Margareta Kern that explores the connections between positive psychology, technology, governance and soft military power today.

Nobody But Us looks at the techniques of persuasion, instruction, coercion and prediction used by companies who specialize in big data ‘behavioural change’ and ‘influence operations’ (SCL Group/ Cambridge Analytica, Google etc.) and the history of ‘dual use’ civilian and military research that enabled them. The project interrogates histories of dual psychological and military practice in counter-insurgency struggles in the former British colonies where ‘rehabilitation’ techniques were used to ‘cleanse’ and re-constitute compliant colonial subjects.

The project begins to assemble documentary images, didactic images, instructional visuals, archives and diagrams that piece together a story that traces continuities between seemingly soft power and violence, then and now. Who are the main protagonists? How can we see the subtle techniques through which subjects are governed, made and re-made today? How are ‘technologies of the visual’ imbricated in these processes of subject-making and persuasion?


This project probes at how psychological discourse and techniques provide acceptable cover for often deeply violent practices of subjugation, control and extraction. It seeks to intervene in the complex knot of processes that are today producing a society that is increasingly driven by protectionist, segmented and fascistic formations and is increasingly controlled by techniques of counter-insurgency and surveillance.

‘Nobody But Us’ (or NOBUS) was a phrase used by the NSA (National Security Agency) in the US to refer to security vulnerabilities that they believed only their agencies can exploit (Zeynep Tüfekçi, 2018). NOBUS evokes an image of an exclusive collectivity, where the ‘us’ is made up of those who are the same as ourselves: a unified collectivity that must not be breached.

Image above: The Megascope, Fig. 24, in A. E. Dolbear: The Art of Projecting. A Manual of Experimentation in Physics, Chemistry, and Natural History with the Porte Lumière and Magic Lantern, 1877.

Image above/below: Susan Kelly and Margareta Kern, Nobody But Us, slides from the lecture, 2019

Initial development of the project supported by the Arts Council England and Birkbeck School of Law.