Academic journal article Alternatives: Global, Local, Political

Security, Spatiality, and Social Suffering

Academic journal article Alternatives: Global, Local, Political

Security, Spatiality, and Social Suffering

Article excerpt

This article outlines a schema for developing an alternative knowledge about security, privileging non-European peoples and focusing on the sources and potentiality of insecurity. Urging attention to the everyday and the personal, to the claims of the other, and to forms of social suffering, the analysis foregrounds the part that spatiality can play in reconceptualizing security without making spatiality itself the subject of analysis. KEYWORDS: security, spatiality, social suffering, the everyday, subjectivity


It is symptomatic of our time that universities all over the world are rapidly expanding their international-studies programs to meet demand when established disciplinary formations concerned with the international are unable to offer much in the way of leads about how to break out of the impasse in which we find ourselves; violence in many manifestations, "state failure," and disasters of various kinds challenge Western imagery of a world being set right through the workings of the market, the process of democratization, and the commitment to development.

The gulf between international doctrine and practice on the ground is underscored by the use of the construct of "emergencies" to present recurrent breakdowns as somehow exceptional, rather than endemic to the system. These and other signs of closure in the prevailing narratives of the international speak to the need to reopen the question of the political--a matter that has long been a concern of this journal and that this special issue of Alternatives takes up by addressing the role of spatiality. It should also be said that in the dominant Western tradition, the nub of the question of the political, as it connects the international to the national, is the subject of security. (1)

Everyone would recognize that there are formidable obstacles to attempting to think security differently. If has been asserted, for instance, that the poststructuralist critique of traditional security studies has been largely ignored by practitioners in the field and that it has never had much influence in mainstream international relations. (2) For its part, human security has been criticized for being expansive and vague and therefore of limited utility as a tool of analysis. (3)

It is evident that in the aftermath of 9/11, and to a lesser extent the crisis over asylum seekers and refugees generally, the parameters of acceptable dissent have narrowed substantially. Fear and xenophobia deeply scar public culture in the West. In terms of party politics, there is the apprehension that questioning national-security agendas carries the prospect of being savaged by the electorate. Critics in nongovernmental organizations and academe run the risk of being censured by the state. In the United States, there have been moves by conservative groups to cut funding to international-studies programs that are "biased" against US foreign policy. (4) It has also been reported that professors have been denounced for anti-Americanism and teachers suspended from their positions for criticizing in the classroom US actions overseas. (5) In Australia, a right-wing think tank with the ear of the government has issued a public warning against the danger of political activism on the part of aid agencies. It has recently come to light that the government has vetoed without explanation research proposals, earlier endorsed by panels of experts, that, although not directly concerned with security, ran counter to the government's agenda. (6)

Yet there is another side. Such political excesses provide incentives for fresh thinking and help generate new constituencies working for change. In this way, debate can move forward on different grounds. I want to suggest that the difficulty of rethinking security can no longer--if it ever could--be said to reside in a lack of knowledge. As will be intimated, there are innovative conceptual developments in several discourses, perhaps most significantly in postcolonial studies, and rich insights to be gained from lived experience that are pertinent to recasting the story of security. …

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed


An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.