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Jacqueline Berman “The ‘Vital Core'”

November 19, 2013 Leave a comment

Berman, Jacqueline 2007. The ‘Vital Core’: from Bare Life to the Biopolitics of Human Security. – Giorgio Shani, Makoto Sato, Mustapha Kamal Pasha (eds). Protecting Human Security in a Post 9/11 World: Critical and Global Insights. Basingstoke; New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 30-49.

[…] human security discourse seeks to move the debate away from national sovereignty and towards individual survival – towards security as a matter of adequate food, water, shelter, work, a clean environment, individual and public health, freedom of religion and human dignity. (30)

That is to say that subjecting biological life to ‘security talk’ reconstructs the link between personal and national security and reinvests the state with the authority/purpose of providing security not just to the state but of human life itself. (31)

In human security discourse, the state is put in charge of the bodily security of the citizen and the meaning (if not the structure) of sacrifice is reconfigured. Placed in charge of biological life, the state can no longer be constructed through individual sacrifice; it must instead become party to ensuring sufficient food, shelter and freedom for the individual to survive. (31)

Among the effects of human security’s extended purview over biological life is the encroachment of the state on the human body, giving the state a greater stake in and control over that body. The body becomes both individualized and massified, singled out and aggregated as the needs of the state and global capital demand (and upon which, they depend). (32)

Rather than a goal or a pursuit, it is now possible to interrogate security as ‘a principle of formation that does things’ – as a discourse of Western modernity that deploys danger, violence and fear to control what can be imagined as the political but never finally ascends to any fixity (Dillon 1996: 16). Security is not a final moment, but a final moment that never comes, a modern technology of political practice. (35)

The oft-cited 1994 UNDP Human Development Reportdefines human security in relation to seven dimensions: economic, food, health, environmental, personal, community and political security. Its main focus is on a globalized vision of ‘freedom from fear’ and ‘freedom from want’, where the state serves as only one means by which to provide individual security. More specifically, the report refers to human security as (a) ‘safety from such chronic threats as hunger, disease and repression’; and (b) ‘protection from sudden and hurtful disruptions in the patterns of daily life – whether in homes, in jobs or in communities’ (UNDP 1994). That is to say that among human security’s most immediate concerns are the ‘basic needs (i.e. sustenance, protection)’ of individuals, needs that engage fundamental ethical and moral questions (Graham and Poku 2000: 17). (37-38)

Human security is about the ‘lives of human beings – longevity, education, opportunities for participation’, about ‘the conditions that menace survival, the continuation of daily life’ (CHS 2003: 10). In other words, human security concerns itself, first and foremost, with basic human survival and bare life. (39)

Human security relies upon a similar juxtaposition of secure/insecure or security/threat, locating ‘otherness’ at the site of the state which it simultaneously and contradictorily relies upon to provide, at least in part, that security. (41)

From this perspective, it would seem that human security, a concept designed to diminishthe centrality of the state, functions as a form of biopolitics. It does so by positioning human bodies and populations as central to the question of security, thus rendering human bodies a central component of and resource for security, even as it seeks to save them. (42)

Because it focuses on biological life, human security as a discourse delivers the bare life of the citizen and the death of others to national security’s disciplining dominion; it functions as a technology of access, measurement and control over biological life itself, placing ‘basic material needs’ and biological human survival at the centre of ‘security talk’. (43)

To consider ‘bare life’ a subject of security is to subject it to the state’s security demands. It does not remove the state from the calculus but in fact positions the state ever closer to ‘the patterns of daily life’ and thus better able to designate life and death in terms commensurate with the productivity of the state. Rather than liberating security discourse from national priorities, human security inextricably links and thus subjects food, health, shelter, work, etc. to them. In the end, human security can function to reinforce rather than disrupt the centrality of the state and as such, reinforce a national focus for security. (44)

[…] human security’s focus on the individual cannot overcome the limitations of an oppositional discursive structure. (47)

As a form of biopolitics, human security puts security discourse in immanent relation to biological life such that these realms once considered beyond or irrelevant to the machinations of the state become security’s central focus. In an era of a ‘war on terror’, biological life as a security concern subjects individual bodies to the demands of state security, to be carefully controlled and regulated less they become bodies out of control, bodies of insecurity. From this perspective, only the state remains equipped to provide the security necessary to fend off fears of encroachment and penetration. And bare life becomes a vital core of national security’s eternal return. (48)

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