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Rethinking Critical Security Studies

RoundTable VI-6, 2023 Annual Meeting

On Friday, November 3 at 4:00 pm

RoundTable Description
This roundtable emerges from ongoing discussions situated in Doha, Qatar around critical understandings of security. In 2022, the Beirut School of Critical Security Studies, under the direction of the Arab Council for Social Sciences launched a critical security hub in Doha, in partnership with Northwestern University in Qatar’s Institute for Advanced Study of the Global South. This hub is meant to bring scholars together to think discourses of security and insecurity anew, to create an interdisciplinary space and conversation situated in the Arab region, and to grapple with how to work on such issues from within securitized places and as researchers situated in the region. Critical security, as any discourse that takes a critical turn, is meant to speak against the grain, to be contrapuntal, and a way to write and think from the margins with the intent of building a discourse that is itself multiple and wide ranging (Abboud et al.). To think of (in)security contrapuntally means to take seriously a combination of disciplinary backgrounds, some of which have traditionally tackled questions of security while others that have only dealt with the concept tangentially. In this roundtable, scholars working from a number of disciplinary backgrounds, and in a year-long conversation with each other, will discuss their emerging ideas around meanings of security—its discourses, affects, experiences, and economies. Working in fields of law, critical migration studies, gender studies, political economy, and anthropology, the speakers will open a conversation on what a theory and practice of critical security might look like from global south spaces. They will converse across disciplines to think together about how, for example, a third world approach to international law might open up new relations between law and security? How can we understand migration if security were not the principle ordering tool by which we understood the flow of people? How might politics entrench armed conflicts and war economies? Or how might an attention to narratives help us understand the meaning of security in people’s everyday lives? Together, speakers will put law, gender, migration, economics, and narrative structures in dialogue as they rethink concepts of security and challenge the field of critical security studies. Importantly, this roundtable seeks to open and expand a conversation with an audience to further the overall project and bring new scholars into the network.
International Relations/Affairs
Political Science
  • Critical Security Studies and Gulf Migration : Migration studies as a field represents a fundamental gap when it comes to recognizing, understanding, and critically interrogating ideas of security from a bottom-up perspective. International organizations that develop norms and standards around international migration, the humanitarian aid complex that works to support states manage migrants/refugees/asylees, multinational businesses, and a host of other transnational private actors from labor recruiters to security agencies all play a top-down role in determining how migration and security interact with each other within the Middle East. Middle Eastern states have an outsized role in managing migration flows and create complex security infrastructures to ensure their control over the process. Migrants are not naturally vulnerable nor innately insecure; rather the state is deeply implicated in constructing vulnerability and insecurity for immigrant communities – at least partially through their control over migrants’ mobility rights, the constructing and securing of hard borders, and using both imprisonment and deportation as part of its immigration apparatus. At the community level, both migrants and citizens have formal and informal associations which also express group ideas of security and migration. These community level articulations and expressions feed into and react to both international and state narratives. There is a disconnect between notions of security that are embedded in, inform, and arise from the superstructures of migration governance and migrants’ own ideas about what constitutes their security at an everyday level. Migrants’ anecdotes and stories are often tied directly to ideas of economic and social security. Their migration allows greater security for the family left behind and future security for the next generation. But frequently ‘securing’ the future entails enduring forms of insecurity and precarity in the present. Individual migrant expressions of what “local” security looks and feels like in a Gulf host state are highly subjective and influenced by intersectional positionalities - gender, class, race, religion and ethnicity - as well as conditions in their home state. For some migrants they feel safe in a host state because “nobody bothers me” or “when you are out at night you are not worried about getting robbed or something happening,” or “I feel secure in my job and know I am valued.” For others they feel “a sense of peace and security and stability, it is not like being in other countries with war.”
  • Conceptualizing Gulf (In)Security Using Narrative and Affect: Generally understood, security studies literature covers international relations, national and international security, and peace research. Mainstream security studies, as a subfield of International Relations, tend to solely focus on military force: in terms of its maintenance, its use, and the threat of use. Within this literature, threats are generally defined as “being existential, and they encompass what is seen to threaten the survival of the referent; the implication is that this referent would cease to exist where the threat to be actualized” (Wibben 2011: 67). However, Feminist Security Studies scholars problematize state-centric perspectives within security studies which overlook individuals as actors, focusing instead on militarized interactions between states, analyzing inter-state relationships in terms of the potentiality of war, and within a global system where violence is a common occurrence. They maintain that until hierarchies of gender, class, and race are dismantled a truly comprehensive system of security cannot be devised. Using a gendered narrative approach can help pluralize the discourse on security by making a case for understanding security as an affect, paying close attention to how space, practice, and subjectivities implicate each other in the everyday life of security. Through narratives, individuals engage with the world, produce meaning and knowledge, articulate intentions, and politics to justify action. As many scholars have previously noted, threat identification is an impulse born of fear, and I would further add, is a sense or an ability that develops amongst certain subjects because of prior experiences of feeling unsafe. My approach seeks to explore various meanings of security in people’s everyday lives using examples from contemporary Gulf literature, poetry, and aesthetics as creative samples that represent subjects’ lived experiences amidst state practices of (in)security. My role in this roundtable is to challenge dominant modes of understanding security (and its needs) by paying attention to gender, race, and personal histories as intersectional markers of identity intimately involved in shaping that which is to be secured.
  • Third World Approaches to International Law and Security: This piece advocates for an expansion of scholarly and policy analyses that develop the debates and discussions concerning Critical Security Studies (CSS) and the role of international law. In particular, Third World Approaches to International Law (TWAIL) serves as a useful framework to examine the challenges and opportunities for the pluralization of the security discourse. This piece explores four questions that a study of CSS informed by a TWAIL perspective could usefully generate. First, CSS and TWAIL scholarship share intellectual and practical relevance to the experiences of most of the world. Both challenge our understanding of the histories of (in)security. Second, they also present difficult questions about the role of solidarity because of plural and/or competing ideologies among marginalized peoples and the resulting hierarchy of collaborative resistance strategies. Third, TWAIL and CSS insist on the importance of understanding security by drawing attention to the everyday lived experiences of (in)security. Finally, an exchange between TWAIL and CSS could enhance our understanding of how the politics of knowledge production shapes security policies.
  • War Economies and Insecurity in Syria: The concept of war economies has multiple notions. Historically, it referred to military-industrial complexes and their relationship with economic growth and employment in advanced Western Countries, particularly in the United States. Later, it came to refer to economic circuits within civil wars or other violent conflicts, how these circuits both emerge from and perpetuate the conflict, and the ties these circuits have with regional and international actors and processes. This presentation discusses an alternative notion of a war economy with an application to the Syrian conflict and its regional and international dimensions. This notion has three dimensions. First, it refers to the transformations and distortions in socio-economic processes due to conflict, and traces these back to conscious actions, policy choices or discrete interventions of different actors. However, rather than focusing on a narrow set of actors or supply chains, we broaden the analysis to capture the entire range of interconnections that exist on a regional and international level. Second, it examines how states and nonstate actors have politicized and instrumentalized economic policies to pursue the armed conflict. Third, it refers to how policies with economic, political, and social implications both predate violent conflict and can continue the logic of the conflict even in the absence of armed conflict, in other words, policies that entrench and further injustice and oppression are a continuation of the armed conflict by other means. The presentation will also discuss how participatory methodologies in analyzing war economeis, including dialogue with civil society, individual experts and other relevant groups can both help us understand war economies as they are emerging as well as propose solutions that counter master narratives of conflict.