In case you missed it, quite the IR controversy has broken out. In August 2019, Alison Howell and Melanie Richter-Montpetit (hereafter H&RM) published “Is securitization theory racist? Civilizationism, methodological whiteness, and antiblack thought in the Copenhagen School” in Security Dialogue (SD) OnlineFirst. The authors conclude, after a tendentious (my assessment) reading of Security: A New Framework for Analysis(1998) and Regions and Powers (2003) that securitization theory is fundamentally racist and, deemed unsalvageable, should be ejected from security studies—and this would include the word securitization.
Cai’s post brings to an end our two week exploration of securitization theory and its scholarly audience in the United States and elsewhere. We thank all of the distinguished contributors for generously donating their time and energy to this project. This has been an extraordinary experience for us and we hope the Duck community has benefited as much as we have from the result. We also thank the powers that be at the Duck for allowing us to run this experiment. While the forum comes to a close, we hope that it lives on: through discussions in comment sections of the various posts; in classrooms and PhD seminars as a pedagogical tool; and in discussions between scholars in Europe, the United States, and beyond. And perhaps, as Cai suggests, American scholars will reconsider securitization theory and their engagement with it.
A full twelve posts in to the forum, the question posed by Jarrod and Eric about why securitization theory’s travels in the US have been so pedestrian compared to its extensive tour schedule in Europe and elsewhere has already been explored from a considerable number of angles, with various diagnoses made. Details differ, but the overall consensus appears to be that securitization theory (at least in its original theoretical form) is in all respects too alien to the disciplinary ecosystem of American IR to be able to gain any substantive foothold amongst the US discipline’s dominant conceptual and methodological species under current conditions. Furthermore, incentives for its import are lacking on the part of both buyers and sellers: the former argue that it doesn’t provide sufficient added value compared to existing options to justify its price, whilst the strong (mainly) European market for securitization theory has meant that there’s been little incentive to try and crack American IR/Political Science.
Observed from this perspective, the question of whether we need a theory of securitization even in American IR is too easily dismissed. Certainly Juha provides an excellent overview of what sort of insights securitization theory can generate and effectively dispels some common criticisms which may (hopefully) prompt some in the US to (re)consider their view of securitization theory as a result. Many, however, will remain unconvinced and untroubled. After all, an affirmative answer to the question of whether we need a theory of securitization carries a hefty burden of proof, especially when you’re trying to convince a skeptical audience (mainstream American IR) that they need something that they’re sure they don’t need.
It’s still premature to conclude that American and European IR need to agree to differ, however, and exploring a question that follows on from Juha’s can provide new insights into the curious case of securitization theory’s lack of traction in the US: What is lost, omitted or even prevented as a consequence of securitization’s very limited Stateside travels?
Illuminating as this forum has been, it has tip-toed around one uncomfortable but potentially significant reason that securitization theory has failed to be taken up by the American IR academy. It runs counter to dominant political and social incentives that we all face. These keep many American scholars within a narrow range of opinion, most of it tracking closely the conventional wisdom of political and military power-holders. Securitization theory, whether or not there is strong evidence to support it, challenges this conventional wisdom. It therefore holds little appeal to most IR scholars. There are also strong material factors keeping many scholars from testing or adopting securitization theory. Continue reading
This is the eleventh contribution to our securitization forum. Can E. Mutlu is an Assistant Professor of International Relations at the Bilkent University. His research interests are located at the intersection of technology, security, and political sociology of global mobility regimes with a particular focus on practices, technologies, and materialities of border security and mobility. His recent research appears in Comparative European Politics, European Journal of Social Theory, Environment and Planning D: Society and Space, the Review of International Studies, Millennium Journal of International Studies. He is the co-editor of Critical Methods in Security Studies: An Introduction. He writes for the Disorder of Things blog as a regular contributor.
When Jarrod Hayes and Eric Van Rythoven approached us to answer a set of questions on related to the “why Securitization Theory has had so little traction in the United States, and why it has been so valued elsewhere,” I was unsure what I was supposed to say. I believe that while these are thought-provoking questions, they are a bit confusing. Continue reading
The scholarly impact of securitisation theory (ST) cannot be overstated in Europe. I would argue that this differs from US scholarship if and when scholars situate ST within the linguistic turn. As Oren and Solomon observe in this forum, linguistic approaches in the US are either ignored, or misunderstood. I suggest that if scholars wish to approach ST in this way, their agency needs to be re-established. Continue reading
This is the eighth contribution in our securitization forum. Juha A. Vuori is acting Professor of World Politics at the University of Helsinki in Finland. <plug> He would like you to order his Critical Security and Chinese Politics (Routledge, 2014) for your library. </plug>
As we can see from the citation counts put forth by Jarrod and Eric, securitization as a keyword or notion has become very enticing, even to the degree that it is used in articles to do things without any references to the securitization studies literature. There seems to be something self-explanatory in the term as such, which may partly explain some of the confusion in the critical literature on it. Other alternative terms that engage similar phenomena, such as security framing or threat politics, do not appear to have the same appeal as the notion of securitization. Intuitively, securitization is about how security comes about.
While how security comes about is an important part of how and why security is studied within securitization studies (which has outgrown securitization theory by now), it is important to note how the theory of securitization goes beyond describing the social mechanisms and causalities involved in the social construction of security. This is the crux of my post. Continue reading
This is the seventh contribution in our forum on securitization theory in the U.S. John Owen is Taylor Professor of Politics at the University of Virginia and, during the Fall of 2015, a Senior Guest Scholar at the Center for Transnational Relations, Foreign and Security Policy at the Free University of Berlin. He is author of The Clash of Ideas in World Politics (Princeton).
I hesitated before agreeing to write this entry, because although I view the Copenhagen School with sympathy and admiration, I neither belong to that school nor have a sure command of its literature. Being an increasingly senior academic, however, I cannot allow a little ignorance deter me from pronouncing on the topic at hand: Why has securitization theory been received so poorly in the United States?
My strong sense is that the reason is related to the indifference with which American IR views much constructivist scholarship in general. Indeed, there are two related reasons. On our side of the Atlantic, it appears that securitization theory is just another form of critical theory, and it is not at all clear that securitization scholars are interested in causal explanation. These appearances may bear little relation to reality, but, as securitization theorists should appreciate, that does not make them any less powerful. Let me take the two reasons in turn. Continue reading
This is the sixth contribution in our forum on securitization theory in the U.S. Monika Barthwal-Datta is Senior Lecturer in International Security at the University of New South Wales (UNSW) Australia. Her research focuses on critical approaches to security, food security, and the international politics of South Asia.
It’s quite simple, I’m told. Securitization Theory doesn’t sell in North America.
Why? Because it’s not a ‘central’ IR theory.
I know this is not an earth-shattering revelation, and that it is actually widely accepted within the discipline that in the US, most people who study and ‘do’ IR prefer to stick to the mainstream theories. Still, it was quite sobering and ultimately insightful to be at the receiving end of this bias. Continue reading
This is the fourth contribution in our forum on securitization theory in the U.S. Ido Oren is associate professor and chair of the department of political science at the University of Florida and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Ty Solomon is Lecturer in the School of Social and Political Sciences at the University of Glasgow and can be reached at email@example.com.
Eric Van Rythoven and Jarrod Hayes ask the timely question of why securitization theory has gained so little traction in American IR. They suggest that we should be puzzled by the absence of securitization theory from American IR given the high citation counts for the theory’s seminal works, its growing attractiveness to scholars in other disciplines, and the thirst for a power-oriented constructivism as an alternative to the liberal idealism that pervades American constructivist scholarship. We wish to make two inter-related points regarding the politics of securitization theory. First, somewhat in contrast to Eric and Jarrod, we argue that the absence of securitization theory from American IR should hardly be puzzling given the embeddedness of American IR in American political science, which is dominated by a neopositivist orthodoxy. Second, we want to sharpen Eric and Jarrod’s characterization of the geography of securitization theory. We suggest that the divide is not merely between the US and Europe, but that securitization theory has begun to take root wherever IR enjoys greater autonomy from political science, and/or wherever political science is not strongly attached to neopositivism, including Australia and Canada. Continue reading
We want to thank the editors of this forum, as well as the Duck of Minerva, for inviting us to this discussion. As Jarrod and Eric note in their introduction, securitization theory is, if not dominant in European IR, then pretty close: one of us recently taught a week-long graduate seminar in Europe, and it was all the students seemed to know about IR theory. But it has barely penetrated the American academy, and deep, explicit engagement with securitization confines one to the margins—as a reviewer of one of our draft book manuscripts once warned, in urging that the relevant paragraphs be excised. We often speak of the transatlantic divide in the scholarly study of international relations: nowhere is it more starkly apparent than when it comes to securitization. This is puzzling not only because the regional difference in the research programs’ relative influence is astonishing, but because scholars of securitization are clearly on to something quite important and because there would seem to be obvious affinities to, or at least large points of intersection with, mainstream constructivism. Continue reading
The following is a lead piece for a forum discussing why securitization theory has had so little traction in American IR. Drawing on established and emerging scholars from around the world, the forum will run from September 16th – 30th and feature guest posts every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday.
Two years ago Dan Nexon approached Eric, a petulant graduate student, about organizing such a forum with the support of Patrick T. Jackson. Dan and Patrick soon had to leave Duck of Minerva for International Studies Quarterly. The project was put on hold until Eric met Jarrod at ISA in New Orleans. What follows is almost certainly different from Dan’s vision, but if anything good comes of it, then it is in no small part due to Dan and Patrick’s early entrepreneurship. Finally, both Eric and Jarrod are immensely grateful to the contributors for their time and their insight.
Foreign ideas don’t always go the distance. As Amitav Acharya (2004) has argued, outsider ideas always undergo a process of localisation when they spread. Local forces determine to what extent – if any – an idea can be adapted to domestic circumstances. When looking at the sociology of knowledge in IR finding an idea resonates with a particular region can be revealing, but equally revealing is when an idea is ignored or passed over. While these observations are as old as human society, when it comes to IR theory, they introduce implications that are ill at ease with the conception of IR as a social scientific enterprise. At least in the U.S., the ontological and epistemological underpinnings of IR as a discipline hold that theories are measured not by their foreignness but rather by their ability to explain the world. If that is the case, rejection of foreign theories is deeply problematic. Unless of course the claim is that the theory is invalid, but that begs the question why is it invalid in one place, but not in others? Continue reading
It is shocking how little attention Iran’s recent efforts to satisfy the international community’s demands on nuclear question have received in the news media and academic discourse. As I write this, there are 1182 related news stories on news.google.com related to Rob Ford’s struggles with the crack cocaine and only 85 related to Iran’s nuclear weapons program.
Neill Blomkamp’s “Elysium” packs a punch for an action sci-fi film even if its punches don’t land.
So yeah … Jodie Foster doesn’t give her best performance and the other roles for women in the film are completely lame. A beefy Matt Damon, bless his heart, is poorly cast. The core plot line doesn’t make much sense. Look, let’s face it, there is just no way Blomkamp can match the brilliance of his earlier hit, “District 9.”
Nevertheless, this film plays well with a range of contemporary possibilities/anxieties in the Global North: post-human bodies, surveillance drones, biometrics, the carceral archipelago, the securitization of migration, mega-favelas/globalized Gaza, privatized militaries, socialized medicine, the hierarchy of tongues, etc.
The film reminds us that globalization is as much about the construction of borders as their elimination. It shows just how uncomfortable we are with liberal ideas in practice. And it forces us to think about the reality of structural violence in our daily lives.
For students of international affairs and security, especially from either side of the Atlantic, its that time of year again when we congregate at the ISA Conference to muse on the globalisation of everything in a borderless world…after enduring an increasingly unpleasant border regime at the Airport.
I’m not sure about our readers, but the general experience of Heathrow, JFK or LAX is not exactly border free. In the age of anxiety, about mass casualty terrorism especially, the airport in states that once fancied themselves far away from the troubled places on the planet has become an ever more humorless and irritating place. For those who particularly don’t enjoy the slow strip-tease on the human conveyor belt towards the metal detector, not to mention being touched by uniformed strangers, it is positively humiliating. Bio-security is just no fun.
This is a guest post by Jarrod Hayes. Jarrod is Assistant Professor in the Sam Nunn School of International Affairs. He received his PhD in Politics and International Relations from the University of Southern California in 2009. His research broadly focuses on the social construction of foreign and security policy. He is currently trying to determine what should be on the cover of his forthcoming book from Cambridge University Press while trying to reconcile that with the maxim that books should not be judged by their covers.
One of the important areas of debate in securitization theory is the applicability of the approach outside the West. It is pretty clear that Ole Wæver and Barry Buzan wrote from a Western European perspective. Their view of normal or ideal politics is Arentian at its core, and really only fits well with modern Western or Western-style democracies. Lene Hansen and Cai Wilkenson have, among others, written trenchantly on this, but my thinking in this post is more directly driven by Monika Barthwal-Datta’s thought provoking piece in a 2009 issue of Review of International Studies.
In that article, Barthwal-Datta argues that the basic state-centrist nature of securitization theory means that it cannot account for securitizing moves made by non-state actors and—perhaps more problematically—does not provide any basis for understanding the exceptional measures that comprise security when securitizing moves are mounted by non-state actors. This is especially the case in weak or mismanaged states, where the state is either unable or unwilling (because it is the source of threat) to undertake the extraordinary measures that accompany securitization.
Cyberwar is a pressing international security problem. The news media breathlessly covers any potential attack before the facts are in. Policy briefs and reports are produced on all levels of government and private industry. It would then behoove us to take a step back and examine opinions about the cyber security threat according to perceptions among policymakers, academics, and cyber security experts in order to understand how the threat emanating from the cyber security realm is constructed in the public discourse. Each constituency has its own view on the issue and how these views manifest is critical to perceptions about the wider societal threat coming from cyberspace.
Corey Robin’s Jacobin essay is getting a lot of attention, including from Jon Western at the Duck and Scott Lemieux at Lawyers, Guns & Money. I don’t think that it detracts from Robin’s essay to note that the argument he’s making is long-standing in international-relations scholarship. It appears in David Campbell’s seminal Writing Security and, more recently, in the form of “securitization theory” (PDF), complete with similar invocations of Thomas Hobbes.
Scott’s criticisms of Robin gets at an ongoing issue with securitization theory. Scott notes that security threats, particularly in the context of warfare, have also led to the expansion of rights:
To bring Klinkner and Smith, Dudziak, and Graber into the discussion security has not only been the most powerful justification for the suppression of rights; it’s been the most powerful justification for the expansion of rights. The two major expansions of civil rights in American history were the result of an incredibly bloody civil war and the Cold War.
Indeed, securitization theory often suffers from, among other problems, and overly simplistic story. Speech acts by powerful actors–or some similar processes–render an object an existential threat to a political community. A state of exception comes into being. Rights suffer. The endless debates about securitization theory have, of course, complicated that story. But what’s interesting about Scott’s quick empirical criticism is that it brings, in essence, work on state formation into the picture. Bellocentrictheories of state formation have long held that warfare, and the mobilization for warfare, constitute significant moments for the evolution of the state.
The fifteenth Duck of Minerva podcast features Barry Buzan. Professor Buzan discusses his academic and intellectual biography, his major works, and his ongoing projects. For additional background readers might consult the interview at Theory Talks or at the London School of Economics Department of International Relations blog. In short, Buzan is a toweringly influential figure in international relations in general, and outside the US in particular. He is also, among numerous contributions to the discipline, a former editor of the European Journal of International Relations.
…obesity rates among children and young adults in Kentucky are significantly higher than the national average. Weight problems have become the leading medical reason why young adults are unable to serve in the military, both in Kentucky and nationwide…
“Today, in Kentucky and across the country, otherwise excellent recruit prospects are being turned away because they are simply too overweight,” Major General [D. Allen] Youngman said.
The report says that 51 percent of young adults in Kentucky were overweight or obese in 2007-09, up from 38 percent in 1997-99. Indiana’s rates, meanwhile, rose from 37 percent in 1997-99 to 40 percent in 2007-09.
Nationally, the report found that about one in four 17- to 24-year-olds is too fat to serve in the military….
“As we look to the future, military defense will remain an important issue for our country. We are confident we’ll have the tanks and ships.…What we’re really concerned about is who will be able to join the military,” said retired Army General D. Allen Youngman of Bowling Green. “In Kentucky, we are worse off than elsewhere.”
Obviously, there are many good reasons to be concerned about childhood nutrition and obesity — particularly given high rates of childhood poverty and hunger as well. The Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act is probably desirable policy. However, I do wonder about the need to sell the policy by framing it as a national security issue. Even a human security frame would be preferable, but that’s not likely a persuasive message in the US.