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Objects of security

Securitisation has been seen as largely part of the linguistic and social constructivist turn in international relations. Risk, security, disaster and war have been unpacked as discursive and institutional practices that constitute both that which is to be secured and the threat. As a performative and intersubjective practice, securitisation has largely ignored the role of ‘things’ in the articulation of insecurities. Although analyses of security and risk have incorporated discussions of technologies and institutions, non-human objects have been relegated outside the realm of securitisation, either as simply ‘facilitating’ conditions for securitization (see for example Buzan, Waever and de Wilde, 1998). The terminology of ‘objects’ of security has even been taken to task as reifying subjects. Have we actually missed the point in focusing exclusively upon subjectivity, identity, culture, self/other relations? Has the concept of discourse as formulated by Michel Foucault allowed us to turn a critical analytical eye upon ‘objects’ and materiality?

Arjun Appadurai has coined the term ‘the social life of things’ to refer to objects that do not only have a social life, but they have a ‘life’ in themselves and enter within many types of relations with the social. From gifts to commodities and the other way round or from sources of inequality to protection against crisis, there are numerous ways in which objects ‘act’ in the social world. In cultural geography for example, the rematerializing turn is formulated against the preoccupation with cultural processes, with the constitution of intersubjective meaning systems, with the play of identity politics through the less-than-tangible, often-fleeting spaces of texts, signs, symbols, psyches, desires, fears and imaginings (Philo 2000: 33). Although this non-cultural material can be understood both as social structures and as embodiments (for example, Bourdieu), the role of things as a form of materiality has mostly been inspired by Bruno Latour’s actor network theory. Inspired by Latour, Graham and Thrift have argued that ‘[t]hings are not just formed matter, they are transductions with many conditions of possibility and their own forms of intentionality’ (Graham, 2007).
In security studies, objects are either taken to be there, essentialised or effaced. Does social construction efface the ‘thingness’ of objects and the many ways in which subjects and objects interact – or rather, intra-act, to use Karen Barad’s term? What would securitization mean as object-oriented practice and not just subject-oriented?

Methods: Method 3: Discourses and materialities

Tags: securitisation, actor network theory, things, objects, subjects, Foucault, Latour, Bourdieu