First remarks on Security as a concept and as practice

Some thoughts about security…. One of the reasons why we need security is because we are afraid; one of the reasons of our fear is, of course, the unknown. The unknown can hide numerous things that can harm us, even kill us. Security thus becomes an existential problem. Furthermore, one of the basic sources of the unknown is difference. I find familiar and known what resembles my self; anything else is potentially dangerous because it is unknown, it is different, uncontrollable and therefore posits a risk. Security is grounded on difference. Translated into concrete words, the other – the neighbour, foreigner, alien – is threatening as long as it escapes the possibility of our comprehension, and therefore, the moment it becomes different, alter. This is how the immigrant, among others, becomes an object of security. As the exponent of difference, it is conceived as a potential threat; thus, certain people are required to take care of this threat, and to make us more secure. These people usually are state officials, and we commonly refer to them as the State (police, military, border guards, gendarmes and so on).

So far so good. But there are some problems. First, what about this potentiality itself – is the risk posed by the Other merely a potentiality, something that might happen, the promise of a dangerous encounter? This is indeed how I stated it initially. And this would mean that we obviously need somebody or something to activate this potentiality, to bring it into the realm of the Real, to give it existence. Here, of course, the media, ‘security professionals’ and the State play the crucial role. But what if the transgression of potentiality into Real happens a lot easier and quicker? What if there is no transgression whatsoever, and we know a priori, we are certain [secure] that the Other is threatening? Do we always need the media, the State and the ‘security professionals’ to tell us what to think about the Other? Allowing such an argument would clearly shift the responsability and agency away from us – common people – towards the manufacturers of consent. We would become mere receptors and executors of ideas and interest which have been decided outside our control. But we might consider that the potentiality of threat is made real in our minds, independently from these manufacturers of consent, that there is something about our perception of the world that makes us demonize the Other. This does not have to be innate, it does not have to be essentialist – it can very well be the product of circumstances, contexts, structures which operate outside our control as well, but over which we retain some agency. In theend, it is us who ask for the elimination of threat, who legitimize the actions that are being made towards this, it is us who demand security.

If security is being thought of as a speech act [Waever] that requires from the audience a legitimizing act, then the audience is being seen as a passive mob, and its consent reflects merely the self-interested plotting of the politicians and ‘security professionals’. When the demand side of security is taken into account, however, the audience is truly endowed with agency. Of course, the demand may also be the result of political demagogy and deceitful communication. Therefore, the analytical task is to distinguish between autonomous and manufactured demand. But looking at the demand for security can show why some people feel less secure than others, varying on the conditions of their living. Poor, unemployed and marginalized people feel more insecure than others. The wealthier can buy security from private actors, in all sorts of forms. They can also afford to live in publicly securitized habitats, with well-lit streets, surveillance cameras, fenced parks and so on.

But of course, one can argue that immigrants are seen as a threat by the middle classes, and less so by the low and underclasses, since, usually, most of these classes actually consist entirely of immigrants. But here we have two empirical counter arguments: as Wacquant shows, the poor neighbourhoods and marginal urban areas of Europe are ethnically heterogenous, consisting mostly of poor ‘locals’; furthermore, as Kitschelt shows, support for extreme-right parties – the main advocates of securitizing the ‘Other’ [on the ‘cultural axis’, since the ‘economic’ one is monopolized by traditional left-right parties], comes chiefly from the ‘losers of modernity’. The demandeurs of security from the state are therefore the very ones who are traditionally thought to be dangerous: the poor, unemployed, homeless. The foreigner is at once spatially close to them, since she lives in the same marginal areas, and at the same time different and excluded. She is at once a threat and a demandeur of security.

If security is seen in strict connection to insecurity, and we accept the idea that the latter is being generated by the ‘managers of unease’ [Bigo], we are facing the same dilemma of a passive audience. My point is that the feeling of unease does not have to be generated from public figures, but it can also result from the social conditions of the community.

What can drive the autonomous demand for security? I used to think, along the lines of Freud and Rene Girard, that there is a cultural and religious [ritual] propensity towards violence; that communities need a scapegoat on which to unleash their violence, in order to remedy themselves. On the other hand, much broader conditions can provide more effective explanations. We can look at the social decay of the area in which people live, as a causal factor. Space thus becomes intertwined with security, not only in the sense that some spaces are more threatening than others, but also that some spaces generate a more vivid feeling of ‘unease’, which in turn creates security demands. We can also look at general structural factors, such as the capitalist culture of competition, which excludes groups and individuals from the ‘good life’ on the basis of their ‘success’. This tends to lower self-esteem, and also leads the marginalized individuals to seek explanations and scapegoats for their failures. Racism and xenophobia are also factors that can drive a person to feel threatened by difference. Clearly, we cannot claim that racism is just a product of state-level propaganda. We are all inclined to fear and detest the Other. Hobbes makes a good reference point here…

This has all stemmed from my concern with the potentiality of the threat, which I considered to be the first problem that immediately jumped when discussing security as protection from difference. The second problem would be that most of the times difference becomes more visible when it is grounded, territorialized, located. In other words, there might be a difference between the perceived dangers of an immigrant [foreigner] living in poor, crime-infested areas, and one living in the City, and obviously working for a multinational corporation. Again, space plays a role in security. Threat is mapped, located, pinpointed into certain places of insecurity. And again, this does not necessarily have to do with State and ‘security professionals’. Poor neighbourhoods, as Wacquant shows, bear ‘stigmas’. Thus, the bad reputation is transmitted from the space to the individual. The immigrant, as well as the homeless, poor, unemployed, is contaminated with the bad aura of its residing place. What we tend to forget, however, is that these people cannot afford, or are not allowed to live elsewhere. The result is therefore a vicious circle of eternal self-propagation of insecurity and security demands in certain urban spaces.

Un răspuns to “First remarks on Security as a concept and as practice”

  1. Viktor Friedmann Says:

    Hey Manu! I really like these ideas. Just a couple of remarks. Don’t you here risk falling back to what Ranciere calls the idea that racism comes from the backward layers of society and not from the state? Or do you argue that there is a need for security within the, let’s say, lower classes but, first, this need for security is always already conditioned by a space that is organized by power (and therefore partly by the state) and, second, that it is still often mobilized or used by the state in order to further its own interests or goals? Also, if it is space that is linked to insecurity, what concept of space allows certain actors to emerge as providers of security? Quite interesting, quite interesting.

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