Academic journal article Alternatives: Global, Local, Political

Defining Social Constructivism in Security Studies: The Normative Dilemma of Writing Security

Academic journal article Alternatives: Global, Local, Political

Defining Social Constructivism in Security Studies: The Normative Dilemma of Writing Security

Article excerpt

In Western Europe--but also elsewhere--we have recently witnessed an offensive of security language in the societal and internal-affairs sector. The multiple references in political and academic debates to a new security construction that relates terrorism, drugs, immigration, and asylum has generated a new agenda in security studies. (1) It focuses on how questions of cultural/ethnic identity and public order-traditionally perceived as domestic issues--have entered an international or transnational security agenda. How has this security continuum that interrelates drugs, terrorism, migration, and the internal market been constructed in contemporary Western Europe? (2) What are the consequences of approaching identity questions from a security perspective for the definition of the state and the rearticulation of a European order after the Gold War? This debate is very stimulating from a conceptual or scholarly point of view; however, some of the key authors researching this phenomenon express a certain uneasi ness about the subject, as we can read in, for example, the conclusion of Ole Waever et al.'s book that develops the concept of societal security:

Societal security cannot avoid the risk of legitimising non-state security policy. Accepting other voices speaking for society will always involve a de-legitimisation of the state that "should" be the protector of society. It then becomes a problem that anyone can try to speak on behalf of society.

The closeness to fascist ideology is troubling: is it therefore inadvisable to raise this agenda of societal security? Isn't there a risk that the result is to legitimise xenophobic and nationalist reactions against foreigners or against integration--"We are just defending our societal security!"? This could be a risk, but it seems to us a risk we have to take. This danger has to be offset against the necessity to use the concept of societal security to try to understand what is actually happening. (3)

Slightly different, but expressing a similar displeasure with writing about internal security, is Monica den Boer's reflection on the "internal security gap" ideology:

The question is whether Europe's internal security is at stake as a result of immigrants taking advantage of Europe's exposure. The "internal security-gap" ideology ignores the lack of substantial evidence about the effectiveness of border controls against crime and illegal immigration, and injects a belief into the public that international crime and illegal immigration are new phenomena reinforced by the abolition of internal border controls. (4)

Authors in this field seem to have a degree of discomfort about writings--their own and other people's--on societal issues from a security perspective.

The question does not arise in the same way for all authors, however. Some will argue that there is no objective evidence for regulating migration from a security perspective. And this settles their problem. Their contribution consists of arguing that a misperception is at work and that this should be remedied. But another group of authors, whom I will call social constructivists, cannot so easily escape the nuisance. They share with the former group that transforming migration into a security problem is (partly) the result of a practice of definition; security is what agents make of it. But, instead of making this act of definition dependent on cognitive processes of an agent resulting in a correct or incorrect perception of a threat, they understand the creation of a security problem as a social phenomenon. Security questions such as the internal security continuum result from a work of mobilization in which practices work upon each other and thus create an effect that we call a security problem. This effe ct is a structural effect that is beyond the intentions and control of the individual's practices of definition. Immigration as a security problem is thus not a natural given; it does not just pop up as a new threat manifesting itself and triggering a security policy trying to curtail the danger. …

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