Negotiating Insecurity: Law, Psychoanalytic Social Theory and the Dilemmas of the World Risk Society

By Cash, John D. | The Australian Feminist Law Journal, June 2009 | Go to article overview

Negotiating Insecurity: Law, Psychoanalytic Social Theory and the Dilemmas of the World Risk Society


Cash, John D., The Australian Feminist Law Journal


- ...Yet in these societies surrounded and traversed by forms of protection, preoccupations over security remain omnipresent. It is impossible to evade the troubling character of this fact by pretending that the sense of insecurity is only a delusion of the rich who have forgotten the price of blood and of tears, and the time when life was harsh and cruel. It bears such social and political effects that it has well and truly become a part of our reality, even playing a large role in structuring our social experience. Let us agree: though the greatest forms of violence and social decline have been to a great extent repressed, concern over security is very much a popular preoccupation, in the strongest sense of that term.

How can we make sense of this paradox? It leads to the hypothesis that it would be wrong to think of insecurity and the forms of protection as opposites, as if they belong to two contrary registers of collective experience. Modern insecurity stems not from the absence of protection, but almost from its opposite, it emerges from the unclarity of the scope of protection in a social universe that has been organized around the endless pursuit of protection and a frantic search for security. What does it mean to be protected in these conditions? It is not to be installed in the certainty of power, with absolute mastery over the risks of existence, but rather to live surrounded by systems of securitization that are complex and fragile constructions, and carry within them the risk of failing in their task and deceiving us by not living up to the expectations which their construction brought with them. The search for protections will itself create insecurity. The reason being that the sense of insecurity is not an immediate given of human consciousness. On the contrary, it is wedded to different historical configurations, because security and insecurity are used to indicate attitudes towards types of protection that a society assures, or does not assure, in an adequate manner. In other words, today to be protected is also to be threatened. The challenge to be raised will be to better understand the specific configuration of this ambiguous relationship between protection and insecurity, or between assurances and risks, in contemporary society.

Robert Castel, 2003(1)

Robert Castel's argument quoted above nicely characterizes the contemporary relationship between the radically enhanced promise of security and the anxiety that reliance on complex and fragile systems of securitization provokes. Such insecurity is further enhanced by what Castel identifies as the lack of clarity - the unclarity - as to the scope of the protection offered by these very expert systems and technologies. Hence Castel draws the conclusion that 'to be protected is also to be threatened', it is to live in the penumbra of systems of securitization that raise expectations as to the levels of security possible while themselves being prone to failure. In such a second modernity, in Ulrich Beck's 'risk society', the expansion of hazards and megahazards radically multiplies the complexity of those delivery systems through which security is apparendy guaranteed.2

My own argument is in full agreement with the position developed by Castel in the paragraphs quoted above, but with one significant exception. That exception is the claim that 'the sense of insecurity is not an immediate given of human consciousness'. Castel makes this argument in order to highlight how changed social conditions have given rise to new expectations. In this way he highlights the novelty of societies in which increased levels of actual security coincide with the heightening of anxiety about insecurity. However, in making the argument in this manner he overlooks the dynamic relation between society and culture, on the one hand, and psychic life on the other. Significandy, it is precisely this dynamic relation that Castel otherwise relies upon to explain how certain target groups, such as youths from immigrant families in France, become the condensation point around which social anxieties are organized. …

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