There are many ways that politicians or people in positions of authority in general can “speak security”, meaning there are many ways one can turn an issue by talking about it in a certain manner into a security issue. For example, like Bush did it in his speech on terrorism following the 9/11 attacks, declaring terrorism as a national security issue and thereby justifying for example the invasion of Iraq or stricter security measures in the US. But what about the more mundane, everyday practices of security? Do they “speak security” through the act itself?
While the Copenhagen School was the first one within Critical Security Studies to answer the question of what security is with speech act theory, saying that an issue becomes a security issue through a speech act, meaning an actor talking security and turning an issue into a security issue their focus is mainly on exceptionality. That is, exceptional threats can then (but not necessarily) lead to extreme and exceptional measures. Scholars associated with the so called Paris School build upon that theory, but take a different approach to the exception, bringing the everyday into the analysis. What does it mean to consider the everyday? There are basically two core questions to be addressed: How are practices of security embedded in the everyday? And what are the consequences of this?
There are several reasons why it is important to look beyond the exceptional and further into everyday practices of security. First of all, security projects may have a normalising effect which leads to what Carl Schmitt calls a permanent “state of emergency”. How do we assess it when the exception becomes the norm? Meaning that the exception becomes so included in the everyday, that people stop to see it as an exception. Second, if we draw a rather sharp distinction between normal everyday politics and emergency action we risk missing the processes by which people come to see certain issues as threats in their daily lives. Third, what about the more mundane management of risk and the continuum from normalcy to worrisome to existential threat? There is a need to focus on the gradual and incremental processes of security. Last, by considering the Everyday we can get a more nuanced understanding of security and also better understand gender relations, marginalized groups, those that are usually left out by public discourse. There exists a wide range of security issues concerning for example drug use, street crime, religious, cultural and political identity, migration, public gatherings and so on, that can be captured very well within the Everyday.
In order to achieve this, we have to focus “on the performances of the securitization both in embedding that securitization by making the securitizing move everyday, and then maintaining it subsequently in the everyday” (Croft 2012: 85). This also means that the speech act theory should not be seen as a static concept, but as a process of generating meaning through everyday security talk and everyday security practices. This is what Jef Huysmans calls little security nothings. These little security nothings seem rather meaningless, but they are highly significant because they actually create the securitizing process. When we look at security issues we can see that they don’t only consist of big moments of critical decisions. Instead, they consist of a myriad of decisions in a process which is made and remade, over and over again. So in the end we have a multiplicity of little security nothings that add up.
However, is it then still possible to only consider speech acts or would we have to go beyond language and look at micro practices which are embedded not only in language, but also in the intertextuality of images and silences, or even visual practices such as seeing and showing, a way of profiling and identifying ourselves and others via racialised stereotypes?
This thought then guides us to the direct consequences of security, to how practices of security governance influence our lives, or the lives of different people and groups. There are plenty manifestations of these processes, i.e. surveillance (security checkpoints, biometrics, cameras, monitoring of digital transactions, mass-mediated requests…). By means of such security measures everyone gets caught in a network of surveillance, which is directly embedded into the flow of our everyday existence. Hence, we don’t experience these measures as something merely exceptional, but as something that becomes normal over time. We are guilty or not depending on our risk profile. But how does such a risk profile come into being? A bigger part is made up through a system of classification that divides the world into exclusionary categories that reflect deeply seated cultural assumptions.
Hence, everyday security practices depend heavily upon the perspectives and experiences of the relevant actors, meaning that they depend upon a particular historical context. Through this historical context we classify people into “We” and “Other”. This is by no means a new phenomenon and also not necessarily a conscious one. The particular cultural logic of ordering social life itself already developed around the idea of the formation of the state – a territorially defined sovereign state – that established a physical demarcation and therefore made a clear separation between people who belong to it and people who don’t. So a lot of processes concerning “Othering” actually take place in the Everyday, which makes this level of analysis all the more important. The securitization of particular identities can have a great impact upon the lives involved. Identities are never fixed but in motion, there are constantly being reframed and regrounded. Hence, they get very easily influenced by everyday practices of security. This can happen in a variety of social spaces starting with simple jokes to the classification of people according to the way they look or their identification card.
Let’s further illustrate the meaning of the everyday by giving an example, partly drawing on own experiences I made during a semester abroad in Ürümqi in the winter of 2016/17.
After the 2009 July riots in Ürümqi, capital of the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region of China, the Chinese government and media reports were quick on declaring the initial peaceful demonstrations as acts of terrorism, separatism and religious extremism, emphasising the urgency of strict security measures and legitimising the forceful break down of the riots. This is a very typical example of an exceptional event taking place, followed by extreme measures (even though one could argue about how to assess “extreme” measures in a non-democratic country, but that is another comprehensive topic). For sure, this step was important for the construction of Uyghur identity as the “Other” and thereby securitising it. But such an exceptional event needs to be placed within a socio-historical context. The Uyghur identity itself is a Chinese construct, before the People’s Republic there was no such thing and the Uyghurs are far from being a homogeneous group. Riots have appeared and disappeared continuously over time, but it was not until China joined the Global War on Terror in 2001 that struggles in the region have been fought out under the pretext of fighting terrorism. But now imagine there would have been a radical break down of the riots without changing the face of everyday live afterwards. Would the “Othering” of Uyghur identity have continued or would there have been a slow reassurance of the situation? It is hard to say. But the securitization process continued and was reproduced in everyday practices of security. That is, surveillance, strict security measures such as checkpoints, which you have to pass even to get on the bus or enter a small supermarket, the classification of people into Muslim Uyghur and Han Chinese, assessing their risk profile every time they go through a checkpoint according to their looks, the clothes they wear, gender, age, spoken dialect and so on. All of this allows a risk management, assessing who has specific characteristics and is therefore a potential threat, based on deep rooted cultural assumptions, determining the chances or obstacles in one person’s life. Adding to and reinforced through this is the pre-existing separation of Uyghurs and Han-Chinese in schools and urban districts, the difficulties of getting visa for foreign travel and being allowed to leave the country and the restriction of practicing religion in general. There are a number of micro practices that help to keep up the securitization process. As said before, this can also happen through jokes you hear in the Everyday about the backwardness of Uyghur people due to their nomadic past, or the propaganda posters that decorate the city, that are supposed to strengthen ethnic harmony in China but actually tend to emphasis cultural differences.
This example hopefully illustrates that there are quite a lot little security nothings that add up and can turn an issue into a security issue and thereby heavily influence upon people’s lives involved. Securing one issue therefore does not only mean to take away freedom through installing cameras and checkpoints. It also introduces insecurity for those being claimed to be the “Other”, or the threat, having to deal with discriminating practices of (in)security everyday.
Abrahamsen, R. (2005) “Blair’s Africa: The Politics of Securitization and Fear” Alternatives 30 pp. 55-80
Amoore, L. (2007) “Vigilant Visualities: The Watchful Politics of the War on Terror” Security Dialogue 38(2) pp. 215-32
Bajc, V. & de Lindt, W. (2011) “Security and Everyday Life” New York: Routledge
Schneier Bruce（2009） “Beyond Security Theater“, New Internationalist 427 pp. 10-13.
Crawford, Adam & Hutchinson, Steven (2016) „Mapping the Contours of ‘Everyday Security’: Time, Space and Emotion“, British Journal of Criminology 56 pp. 1184-1202
Closs Stephens, A. (2007) “Seven Million Londoners, One London: National and Urban Ideas of Community in the Aftermath of the 7th July 2005 Bombings in London” Alternatives 32 pp. 155-176
Croft, Stuart (2012) „Securitizing Islam. Identity and the Search for Security“ Cambridge: Cambridge Univ. Press
Hillman, Ben (2016): „Introduction“, in: Hillman, Ben/ Tuttle, Gray (Hrsg.) (20sg.)tion” (2009):nterteilung der Bevölkerung in “: Ethnic conflict and protest in Tibet and Xinjiang, New York: Columbia Univ. Press.
Huysmans, J. (2011) “What’s in an Act? On Security Speech Acts and Little Security Nothings” Security Dialogue 42(4-5) pp. 371-383
Leibold, James (2016): “Interethnic conflict in the PRC. Cinjiang and Tibet as exceptions?” in: Hillman, Ben/ Tuttle, Gray (Hrsg.) (20sg.)tion” (2009):nterteilung der Bevölkerung in “: Ethnic conflict and protest in Tibet and Xinjiang, New York: Columbia Univ. Press.
Ølgaard, Daniel Møller/ Gill, Tina Sundree Lauge (2012): China & Xinjiang. The Western Development Plan, China’s security agenda & consequences for the Uighurs. (Doctoral dissertation).
Van Munster, Rens (2005): „Logics of Security: The Copenhagen School, Risk Management and the War on Terror“ Political Science Publications, Syddansk Universitet Denmark, Vol. 10.