Insuring Terrorism, Assuring Subjects, Ensuring Normality: The Politics of Risk after 9/11

By Aradau, Claudia; van Munster, Rens | Alternatives: Global, Local, Political, April-June 2008 | Go to article overview

Insuring Terrorism, Assuring Subjects, Ensuring Normality: The Politics of Risk after 9/11


Aradau, Claudia, van Munster, Rens, Alternatives: Global, Local, Political


Security has been located either in the political spectacle of public discourses or within the specialized field of security professionals, experts in the management of unease. This article takes issue with these analyses and argues that security practices are also formulated in more heterogeneous locations. Since the early days of the "war on terror," the insurance industry has had an instrumental role and "underwriting terrorism" has become part of the global governmentality of terrorism. We explore the political implications of the classificatory practices that insurance presupposes and argue that the technologies of insurance foster subjects who are consistent with the logic of capitalism. Insurance entrenches a vision of the social where antagonisms have been displaced or are suspended by an overwhelming concern with the continuity of social and economic processes. These effects of insurance will be discussed as the "temporality," "subjectivity," and "alterity" effects. KEYWORDS: war on terror, security, insurance, subjectivity, capitalism

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"Terrorism could devastate your organization. An attack on, or near, your facilities could result in loss of life, property damage, denial of access and business interruption. In an increasingly litigious society, liability is also becoming a major concern. " (1) The words came from Chicago-based AON Corporation. AON is a global leader in risk management, insurance, and reinsurance broking, and theirstatement might come as a surprise to those who associate insurance with social security, often viewed as unrelated or in stark contrast to practices of national security.

Whereas national security is often argued to involve more directly differential and exclusionary modes of governing, the notion of insurance is not related to that of peril or danger but, instead, correlated to probability, hazard, and risk management. (2) Rather than being related to danger and the forms of enemy construction entailed by security practices, insurance as a form of collective social security was seen as a "social technology of justice." (3) Michel Foucault, too, envisaged the possibility that insurance might be deployed differently, allowing more liberty and autonomy to the subject. (4) Given this distinction between national and social security--the Copenhagen School, for example, clearly delimits the realm of securitization from social security concerns--the practices of insuring against terrorism have drawn little interest in security studies. (5)

Yet, a quick internet search of some of the main insurance companies that underwrite terrorism post-9/11 would come across statements that engage in threat construction in order to provide a remedy in the form of terrorism coverage. Terrorism is a danger, and the insurance industry tells us they can ensure the continuity of social and economic life by underwriting this danger. If terrorist attacks might not be prevented, security practices shift their attention to what US Senator Joseph Lieberman (Democrat) has called "mitigating the damage from an attack" and "recovering rapidly." (6) Here the role of terrorism insurance is paramount. Insurance enters the "war on terror" as a complementary strategy in the prevention and management of terrorism.

This article argues that insurance is located on a continuum of danger and risk rather than being a separate rationality that can provide a radically different logic for governing the social. As we have shown elsewhere, insurance has become allied with precautionary technologies and has entered the heterogeneous dispositif for governing terrorism. (7) Therefore, insurance is consonant with, rather than disruptive of, the global modes of security practices, and a governmental analysis of risk needs to locate security practices, not just in the bureaucratic field of the "professionals of unease management" (8) but also in the "shadows" of the insurance industry. …

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