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Willem De Lint & Sirpa Virta “Security in Ambiguity”

De Lint, Willem; Virta, Sirpa 2004. Security in Ambiguity: Towards a radical security politics. Theoretical Criminology 8(4): 465-489.

As Ole Wæver (1995) has written, the ‘securitization’ of social life is a condition in which issues are depoliticized and alternative ways of framing and responding to the problems of order are lost. (466)

In international relations the framing of security draws on political realism and the view that the state is the principal actor in an international system where the raison d’ˆetre is the preservation or expansion of self-interest. (466)

First, what is the episteme of the dominant realist security narrative? As Walzer (1977) demonstrates, it takes its genealogy from Thucydides, in particular his observations about the Athenian decision to attack Melos. Interpretation of this historical incident has been converted into an ahistorical truism about the mandatory properties of a secure order. In Thomas Hobbes’ Leviathan, and Machiavelli’s Prince, realist constructions are elaborated as the necessary conditions between authority and security (Walzer, 1977). This realism is succoured by Cartesian doubt and anxiety. It belongs with what Edwards (1997) more recently has described as a ‘closed world’ epistemology in which the quest is the final measurement—and thereby control—of all objective threats. With the presumed necessity of the fixing of interpretation offered by the heurism of the Leviathan, security discourse is oriented towards the closure of the textual and contextual antecedents. This makes the dominant security discourse ahistorical and positivistic. (469)

Accountability, as transparency to the norm, marks the termination or end of leadership. (470)

Leaders, after all, must fix the signifier, must privilege one value over another, and so prevent endless signification and indecision. Politics, in this construction, becomes techne: it is equated with techniques to simplify those significations and decisions. (470)

The dominant realist discourse security, then, is understood as an object stripped of contextuality, frame or observer. Uncertainty is displaced with knowledge, particularly knowledge about security as an object. Security is then something made up with limits and boundaries. This is aided by a political philosophy that champions necessity and exceptionalism, secrecy, public relations and strong leadership. Security must be known through elite command of information. The authorized subject alone can properly know. As a discursive mobilization this involves the discovery and production of substantive dimensions of security knowledge deficits, known as ‘security gaps’. (472)

So with respect to the epistemic position, we know that, unlike natural or first-order phenomena,
security is already a ‘pre-ordered social structure’ that has been informed by the ‘collective agency of human beings [to] produce regularities that are more or less institutionalized over time and space’ (Gill, 2003: 16). (473)

[…] Hänninen argues that politics may be usefully defined with the term ‘living with ambiguity’. This follows the Pocockian idea that politics ‘deals with the contingent event’ (in H¨anninen, 2000: 27). It is also consistent with Theodore Adorno’s definition of the authoritarian personality: intolerance of ambiguity. Authoritarianism is an intolerance of relationships other than dominion or submission and for the ambiguity that equal standing implies. It is identified with a predilection for decisive judgement and premature closure. A radical security politics, then, is both a rejection of authoritarianism and an embracing of ambiguity. (473)

According to Hänninen (2000), in a ‘society of control’ political action becomes an externality. This is to say, politics is continually conceived as separate from power and dangerous to order. The separations are aided by our inability to imagine politics as bounded in definite territorial and public space and by our thinking of ‘pure political events as always something which has just happened or is about to happen’ (H¨anninen, 2000: 30). Seen as a contingent event or a moment of chance, politics is the object of governmentalization (Holquist, 1997). (474)

Security is a process in which the field of risks are cultivated in the service of ongoing and potential operations. Thus, normatively and substantively, security = uncertainty. (476)

To restate: a radical security politics must serve to make the spaces of politics from which security might emerge. It must then celebrate the dynamism of those spaces. Even doing only this still requires offering some minimal defence of such a project. We believe that since this is already implicitly consistent with the objective of harm minimization, particularly the reduction of harm that derives from the defence of ambiguity, the substantive objective and even a kind of normativity may be reconciled with the urgings to de-normalize and de-individualize. It may be possible to argue that both the broadening of the political and the vetting of security policy ought to be undertaken with the aim of harm reduction. (478)

Security in ambiguity, on the contrary, structures the process of security discovery to afford a multiplicity of standpoints and conduits, maximizing the chances of chance. Built on the politics of events rather than organization, it prioritizes the creation of contingent, open spaces and makes institutions continuously accountable for harm reductions, or the harm that may come from or be prevented by the large array of institutions serving or abusing the need for security. Security in ambiguity and for harm reduction means inserting security as a reason for opening up the political in the long-term aim of reducing catastrophic dangers. Practically, this may be accomplished by subjecting institutions to unpredictability and to minor, particular, yet common interests. Ultimately, interdependency dictates not the balkanization or privatization of benefits and risks in the protection of enclaves, but rather security risk and benefit socialization and redistribution in the re-stimulation of the social. (478)

For us, the problem of security, like the problem of order, demands immediate reference to the political as a source of positive power. A politics of marginality depends on ever-changing action against the terror of the unambiguous order. It requires bringing the genuine idea of the political and politics into the discourse at the outset. (480)

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