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What is the value of security? Contextualising the negative/positive debate

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Abstract

Review of International Studies has seen a debate over the value of security. At its heart this is a debate about ethics: concerning the extent to which security is a ‘good’ and whether or not security politics produces the kind of world we want. More recent contributions focus on the extent to which security is ‘positive’ or ‘negative’. However, this article argues that the existing debate is limited and confusing: key authors use the terms ‘positive’ and ‘negative’ in different, and, at times, contradictory ways. The article clarifies the roots of the existing debate, and then draws out two different uses of the terms positive and negative: an analytic frame and a normative frame. In response, it proposes a pragmatist frame that synthesises the existing uses, drawing on pragmatism and practice-centred approaches to analyse the value of security in context. The contribution of the article is thus twofold: it both clarifies the existing debate and suggests a solution. This is key because the debate over the value of security is crucial to thinking about how we want to live.
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What is the value of security? Contextualising the negative/positive debate
Jonna Nyman
Department of Politics, University of Sheffield
Email: jonnaknyman@gmail.com
Review of International Studies has seen a debate over the value of security. At its heart this is a
debate over ethics: about the extent to which security is a ‘good’ and whether or not security
politics produces the kind of world we want. More recent contributions focus on the extent to
which security is ‘positive’ or ‘negative’. However, this paper argues that the existing debate is
limited and confusing: key authors use the terms ‘positive’ and ‘negative’ in different and at
times contradictory ways. The paper clarifies the roots of the existing debate, and then draws out
two different uses of the terms positive and negative: an analytic frame and a normative frame.
In response, it proposes a pragmatist frame that synthesises the existing uses, drawing on
pragmatism and practice-centred approaches to analyse the value of security in context. The
contribution of the paper is thus twofold: it both clarifies the existing debate and suggests a
solution. This is key because the debate over the value of security is crucial to thinking about
how we want to live.
Introduction
Security is usually considered to be a ‘good’ thing. State representatives often use it to justify
and legitimise policy choices – if anything, security is becoming more dominant as a theme in
international politics. But one of the peculiarities of the concept of security is its vagueness: it
has long been recognised that ‘the term “security” covers a range of goals so wide that highly
divergent policies can be interpreted as policies of security’1. It has always had contested
and even contradictory meanings2. Debates over the meaning of security have suggested
that it is essentially contestable by its very nature, and that the very ‘essence’ of security is
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1 Arnold Wolfers, Discord and Collaboration (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins Press, 1962), 150.
2 James Der Derian, "The Value of Security: Hobbes, Marx, Nietzsche, and Baudrillard," in On Security, ed.
Ronnie D. Lipschutz (New York: Columbia University Press, 1995), 28.
Article published in Review of International Studies, final version available on
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contested3. Alongside this broader conceptual interrogation, the field and the pages of this
journal have seen a debate emerge over the value of security4. At its heart this is a debate
over ethics: about the extent to which security is a ‘good’ and whether or not security politics
produces the kind of world we want5. So, the debate over the value of security is crucial to
thinking about how we want to live.
However, the existing debate is limited. Traditional security scholars overlooked the
normative dimension of security. Morgenthau6 and Wolfers addressed morality in security
politics, and the latter also considered the ambiguities of national security politics, but even
here security is considered to be ‘nothing but the absence of the evil of insecurity, a negative
value so to speak’7. Early peace studies engaged with ethics more directly, from the World
Order Models Project to Galtung’s theorising of positive conditions for peace 8. But
mainstream security studies and International Relations largely failed to advance these
debates until the emergence of critical security studies in the 1990s. Here, some early
contributions viewed security as a ‘positive’ value to be fought for, with a strong
emancipatory agenda9. Arguing that being secure is a fundamental human need, they made
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3 Barry Buzan, People, States and Fear: An Agenda for International Security Studies in the Post-Cold War
Era, Second ed. (London: Harvester Wheatsheaf, 1991); Simon Dalby, "Contesting an Essential Concept:
Reading the Dilemmas in Contemporary Security Discourse," in Critical Security Studies: Concepts and Cases,
ed. Keith Krause and Michael C Williams (London and New York: Routledge, 1997).
4 Ken Booth, "Security and Emancipation," Review of International Studies 17 (1991). Felix Ciută, "Security
and the Problem of Context: A Hermeneutical Critique of Securitisation Theory," ibid.35, no. 02 (2009): 316.
Rita Floyd, "Towards a consequentialist evaluation of security: bringing together the Copenhagen and the Welsh
Schools of security studies," Review of International Studies 33, no. 02 (2007); Paul Roe, "The ‘value’ of
positive security," Review of International Studies 34, no. 4 (2008): 777-95; Gunhild Hoogensen Gjørv,
"Security by Any Other Name: Negative Security, Positive Security, and a Multi-Actor Security Approach,"
ibid.38, no. 04 (2012): 851.
5 See also Jonna Nyman and Anthony Burke, Ethical Security Studies: A New Research Agenda (London and
New York: Routledge, 2016).
6 Hans Morgenthau, "The Evil of Politics and the Ethics of Evil," Ethics 56, no. 1 (1945).
7 Wolfers, Discord and Collaboration, 153.
8 See Johan Galtung, "An Editorial," Journal of Peace Research 1, no. 1 (1964): 2. Walker’s early work also
considered the ‘nature and possibility of a just world peace’, see R B J Walker, One World, Many Worlds:
Struggles for a Just World Peace (Boulder, Colorado: Lynne Rienner, 1988), 2.
9 UNDP, "Human Development Report 1994: New Dimensions of Human Security," United Nations,
http://hdr.undp.org/sites/default/files/reports/255/hdr_1994_en_complete_nostats.pdf; Booth, "Security and
Emancipation."
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explicitly normative arguments about what security should be about. On the other hand,
alongside this a growing number of authors emphasised the often problematic and
exclusionary nature of national security politics, arguing that security is best avoided since it
does not lead to desirable politics10. There is not enough space to detail the various
contributions of critical security studies here, only to say that it has pushed research on
security politics in important new directions. Although criticised for assuming there is a
‘universal security logic’,11 the field has produced further debate over what characterises
‘positive’ or ‘negative’ security politics12, centred on what kind of world we can, or even
should, strive for.
But this debate is itself confusing and unclear: authors use the terms ‘positive’ and ‘negative’
security in different, and sometimes contradictory, ways. This paper draws together and
clarifies the contemporary ‘negative/positive’ debate that has been ongoing in the field and
featured prominently in Review of International Studies. I divide the debate into two uses of
the terms negative and positive. The first use is based on an analytical understanding of
positive and negative, drawing on Berlin or Galtung’s respective distinctions between
negative and positive freedom/peace. I label this the ‘analytic frame’: here negative security
represents an absence of threat, while positive security represents further enabling conditions
for human well-being. So, in the analytic frame, negative and positive security work together
to produce a more complete security. The second use is based on a normative understanding
of positive and negative, and tends to draw on securitization theory. I call this the ‘normative
frame’: it makes a normative judgement aiming to understand when security is good or bad
based on various theoretical criteria. Here, negative security is seen as something ‘bad’ to be
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10 Barry Buzan, Ole Wæver and Jaap de Wilde, Security: A New Framework for Analysis (London: Lynne
Rienner, 1998); also Mark Neocleous, Critique of security (Edinburgh University Press, 2008).
11 Browning and McDonald, “The Future of Critical Security Studies”, 236.
12 See footnote 4.
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avoided, and positive security is seen as something ‘good’ to strive for. Therefore, the
normative frame suggests negative security should be rejected in favour of positive security
(see figure 1 below).
Analytic frame
Normative frame
Negative security
Absence of threat
Security in its bad form
Positive security
Security-plus
Desirable/good security
Figure 1: The contemporary debate
These frames draw on different literatures, but their differing meanings have been a source of
confusion and have stalled the debate over the value of security. Although both tackle the
value of security adding valuable insights they consider different aspects. The analytic
frame analyses gradations of security and the extent to which they provide security in a
meaningful sense. The normative frame, meanwhile, recognises that not all security practices
are desirable and tries to understand the normative consequences of particular security
practices. Both are important endeavours, but we need to recognise that in some ways they
are actually different projects and dividing them into two distinct frames will hopefully
encourage this. Lastly, both the analytic and normative frames focus on establishing
theoretical criteria to define positive and negative as opposed to analysing how security
works in practice. As a result, they do not sufficiently recognise contextual variation in the
value of security.
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Having clarified the different uses of these terms, I propose an alternative approach to
overcome these tensions, which I label the pragmatist frame. This brings the contributions of
the analytic and normative frames together, but focuses on studying the value of security in
context. Although there is not enough space to introduce a fully-fledged new theoretical
framework here, the final section is devoted to exploring this further. Here I draw on the
pragmatist philosophy of Dewey and James, practice-centred approaches and contextualism.
Drawing on Ciută’s argument that security does not have an unchanging ‘essence’ or
meaning13, I suggest that it also has no inherent value: this has serious implications for the
negative/positive debate. If the value of security is contextual and unfixed, the focus should
shift from defining what makes security practices positive or negative in the abstract, to
studying actual situated security practices in context and using this to make conclusions about
the value of security in that particular case. Reflexivity is essential here: such analysis has to
be accompanied by a shift from fixed normative commitments towards normative awareness.
This may in turn help practical analysis (and critique) of existing notions of security and
security policy. While further research is needed to develop this, I hope this contribution will
open space for exploring a new way forward for understanding the value of security.
The paper’s central contribution is thus to clarify the debate over the value of security,
drawing out the different uses of the terms ‘negative’ and ‘positive’, and proposing an
alternative pragmatist route. Because the focus here is on the debate over the value of security
and how security is currently used, it does not tackle the bigger question of what or which
issues should or shouldn’t be constructed as security issues, as this is beyond the scope of the
paper. However, studying the ethics of security implies a normative approach, where the
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13 Ciută, "Security and the Problem of Context: A Hermeneutical Critique of Securitisation Theory," 316.
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analyst/s is recognised as ‘active participants in the security discussion’14. The paper begins
with a discussion on the ethics of security, distinguishing between securitization and the
construction of security. It then examines the negative/positive debate, drawing out the
analytic and normative frames in the key contributions on the topic. Lastly, it develops the
pragmatist frame drawing on these uses and building on them to create a pragmatic,
contextual and practice-centred approach to the value of security. The final section discusses
the implications.
Debating the ethics of security
Critical security studies emerged in the 1990s as a critique of dominant state-centred security
studies and politics, to question what security is and who it is for. Most authors writing in this
tradition agree that the meaning of security is constructed. Consequently, critical security
studies has engaged with ideas on the value and ethics of security directly, with two of the
most influential early approaches presenting contrasting views. The Copenhagen School
study security as securitization, viewing security as negative and usually best avoided15.
Meanwhile, the Welsh School define security as emancipation, emphasising its positive value
and potential16. Alongside this, there have been ongoing debates over the referent of security,
including attempts to attach normatively positive adjectives to security to overcome the
negative aspects, from global security to human security, which have made important
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14 Gunhild Hoogensen Gjørv, "Security by Any Other Name: Negative Security, Positive Security, and a Multi-
Actor Security Approach," ibid.38, no. 04 (2012): 851.
15 Ole Wæver, "Securitization and De-Securitization," in On Security, ed. Ronnie Lipschutz (New York:
Columbia University Press, 1995); Barry Buzan, Ole Wæver, and Jaap de Wilde, Security: A New Framework
for Analysis (Boulder, London: Lynne Rienner Publishers, 1998).
16 Booth, "Security and Emancipation."; Critical Security Studies and World Politics (Lynne Rienner, 2005);
Theory of World Security (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2007); Richard Wyn Jones, Security,
Strategy, and Critical Theory (Boulder, London: Lynne Rienner Publishers, 1999); Richard Wyn Jones, "On
Emancipation: Necessity, Capacity and Concrete Utopias," in Critical Security Studies and World Politics, ed.
Ken Booth (London and Boulder: Lynne Rienner, 2005).
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contributions17. These perspectives have provoked growing debate over the nature, or value,
of security. While it doesn’t use the language of the negative/positive debate, the Welsh
School’s understanding of security is closely aligned with the analytic frame, and is therefore
discussed in more detail later. This section now turns to discuss the influence of the
Copenhagen School’s securitization theory on the negative/positive security debate.
Securitization theory has played an important role in fuelling scholarship on the politics and
ethics of security, and many of the contributions in the negative/positive debate explicitly use
securitization as a starting point or even as shorthand for security. The Copenhagen School
argue that issues ‘become’ security when a (usually elite) actor constructs them as such and
this designation is accepted by the relevant audience, moving the issue out of the realm of
regular democratic politics and into the realm of security where extraordinary emergency
measures are enabled18. Securitization is seen to have ‘inevitable negative effects’, including
‘the logic of necessity, the narrowing of choice, the empowerment of a smaller elite’19. The
Copenhagen School argue that security cannot escape its traditional connotations because of
how it is used in the field of practice: in historical terms, it is national security20. They view
the realm of security as opposed to normal politics and based on these assumptions they
argue that in most cases ‘security should be seen as a negative, as a failure to deal with issues
as normal politics’21. As a result, they suggest that while securitization may sometimes be
necessary most issues are best dealt with outside of the security sphere, or ‘desecuritized22.
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17 The extent to which human security in particular should be considered part of critical security studies is
subject to ongoing debate. There is not space to go into these debates in detail here, but a full discussion can be
found in Edward Newman, "Critical Human Security Studies," Review of International Studies 36, no. 1 (2010).
18 Buzan, Wæver, and de Wilde, Security, 29.
19 Ole Wæver, "Politics, Security, Theory," Security Dialogue 42, no. 4-5 (2011): 469.
20 Wæver, "Securitization and de-securitization": 49 and 57.
21 Ibid.
22 Desecuritization is under-theorised by the Copenhagen School, but is generally taken to mean shifting issues
out of security politics and back into the sphere of politics. See Lene Hansen, "De-Securitization, Counter-
Securitization, or Visual Insurgency? Exploring Security Discourses through Responses to the Muhammad
Cartoons," in 51th Annual Convention of the International Studies Association (New Orleans2010).
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The limits of securitization theory have been covered elsewhere so will not be dealt with in-
depth here23.
Many more recent contributions to the negative/positive debate draw on securitization theory,
but the debate suffers from a lack of distinction between ‘security’ and ‘securitization’.
Following McDonald24, I argue that securitization only represents a particular type of security
construction. While arguing that ‘the meaning of a concept lies in its usage and is not
something we can define analytically or philosophically according to what would be “best”’25,
Buzan et al. simultaneously limit the meaning of security to very specific usages by particular
actors. Ciută discusses this in-depth, arguing that the Copenhagen School’s theoretical
definition of security takes precedence over situated security practice, limiting analysis to
how security works when situated actors ‘happen to act in theoretically prescribed ways’26.
Consequently, securitization theory neglects security when it doesn’t fit the framework, such
as when it is framed using a different language of security that does not rely on friend/foe
distinctions and non-democratic procedures. These do not enable emergency measures and
are therefore not cases of securitization. Based on their definition of security, the Copenhagen
School broadly favour desecuritization. However, in privileging a particular notion of
‘security’ that can only be articulated by those in a position of power, they overlook the ways
in which other actors already contest dominant notions of security and threat, articulating
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23 Roe, "Is securitization a negative concept?” provides an interesting critique relevant to this article. See also
Jonna Nyman, "Securitisation Theory," in Critical Approaches to Security: Theories and Methods, ed. Laura
Shepherd (Routledge, 2013).; Michael C. Williams, "Words, Images, Enemies: Securitization and International
Politics," International Studies Quarterly 47, no. 4 (2003); Matt McDonald, "Securitization and the
Construction of Security," European Journal of International Relations 14, no. 4 (2008); Lene Hansen, "The
Little Mermaid's Silent Security Dilemma and the Absence of Gender in the Copenhagen School," Millennium -
Journal of International Studies 29, no. 2 (2000).
24 McDonald, "Securitization and the Construction of Security," 564.
25 Buzan, Wæver, and de Wilde, Security, 29.
26 Ciută, "Security and the Problem of Context: A Hermeneutical Critique of Securitisation Theory," 316.
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alternative, more positive, concepts of security27. The Copenhagen School struggle to see
security when it does not follow their rules. Therefore, I suggest that securitization theory
presents a narrow, particular understanding of security, rather than the understanding of
security.
While critical approaches to security have been concerned with both the politics and ethics of
security they have tended to assume security has a universal logic. The emerging debate on
the value of security presents a more nuanced perspective, exploring which characteristics or
features make security negative or positive28. Yet, as noted in the introduction, there are clear
variations between key authors’ definitions of ‘negative’ and ‘positive’ security and these
differences are not addressed or made explicit. Some of this confusion is inevitable, reflecting
the fact that different approaches have developed from distinctive literatures, focus on
different dimensions of security and have different normative commitments. Most obviously
some focus on security as a state of being, while others analyse security as a process or
practice: those who focus on security as a state of being tend to be more optimistic about its
positive potential, while those who study security as a process tend to point to the
problematic features or consequences of existing security processes29. However, the two are
not always easy to separate30, and few authors who focus on security as a state of being
overlook security as a process. The different uses of the terms positive and negative matters
and needs to be acknowledged, since it stalls the debate as people talk at cross purposes.
While recognising that security can be positive or negative, authors also continue to define
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27 See, for example, Matt McDonald, Security, the Environment and Emancipation: contestation over
environmental change (Abingdon: Routledge, 2012) and Jonna Nyman, "Rethinking Energy, Climate and
Security," Journal of International Relations and Development forthcoming (2016).
28 Key authors include Roe, Hoogensen Gjorv and Floyd (see following sections).
29 For further detail on arguments suggesting security is inherently negative, see Claudia Aradau, Rethinking
Trafficking in Women: Politics out of Security (Palgrave, 2008)., Mark Neocleous, Critique of Security
(Edinburgh University Press, 2008).
30 For a detailed argument suggesting they cannot be separated, see Nils Bubandt, "Vernacular Security: The
Politics of Feeling Safe in Global, National and Local Worlds," Security Dialogue 36, no. 3 (2005): 278.
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what is negative and positive in the abstract. The debate over the value of security raises
important questions about the kind of politics we desire. To move forward we need a
common language, or at least open recognition when we are talking about different things.
We also need to recognise that what is good usually depends on the context: this is discussed
further in the final section.
The analytic frame: an absence of threat and ‘security plus’
The first common use of negative/positive security is based on an analytical understanding of
the terms, drawing on Berlin and Galtung’s respective notions of negative/positive liberty and
negative/positive peace, which are well established in the discipline. It conceives of negative
security as an absence of threat, and positive security as an absence of threat combined with
the presence of conditions furthering human ‘flourishing’ of some form. Positive security in
this sense can be understood as ‘security plus’. This is analogous to the way that negative
peace is about the absence of physical violence/war and positive peace is about the absence
of war plus ‘the integration of human society’31. In the analytic frame, attaining negative
security is about preventing threats from harming the wellbeing of the thing to be secured; in
this sense negative security is essentially a lack, an absence of threat – this is why it is
negative. Meanwhile, attaining positive security involves both protection from threat/s and
the presence of conditions furthering active human ‘flourishing’ of some kind. Following this
approach, being truly ‘secure’ is not simply about being safe from threats but has to involve
also advancing towards some state of the good in which one has the means for active
fulfilment. Thus, the analytic frame analyses gradations of security and the extent to which
they provide security in a meaningful sense. So in this usage, negative security is not seen as
a ‘bad thing’: it is negative because it represents an absence, and is therefore limited rather
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31 See Galtung, "An Editorial," 2. "Violence, Peace, and Peace Research," ibid.6, no. 3 (1969): 183.
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than problematic. In this sense the analytic frame has strong ties to peace research and its
attempts to understand peace as more than an absence of war.
Booth was the first to use this interpretation of negative/positive security, though without the
explicit use of these terms. His seminal 1991 Review of International Studies article ‘Security
and Emancipation’ defines security as the ‘absence of threats’ and emancipation as the
enabling, positive concept: ‘the freeing of people (as individuals and groups) from those
physical and human constraints which stop them carrying out what they would freely choose
to do’. Consequently, he concludes that ‘security and emancipation are two sides of the same
coin’, and ultimately ‘true security’ requires more than an absence of threat – it requires
emancipation32. In his 2007 book Booth expands on this to suggest that genuine security is
more than survival: ‘[s]urvival is not synonymous with living tolerably well, and less still
with having the conditions to pursue cherished political and social ambitions…In this sense,
security is equivalent to survival-plus (the plus being some freedom from life-determining
threats, and therefore space to make choices)’33.
McSweeney presents a different interpretation, developing the first explicit notion of positive
security. He draws on Berlin to distinguish between (negative) ‘security’ as equivalent to an
absence of material threats, and the term ‘to secure’, arguing that the latter provides an
alternative positive image which suggests ‘enabling, making something possible’ – here both
images are necessary34. He differentiates between ‘security’ as referring to the state level or
image, and ‘secure’ as referring to the (positive) human/individual image35. He argues that
the human level has been ignored in favour of the state level and turns to sociology to argue
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32 All from Booth, "Security and Emancipation," 319.
33 Booth, Theory of world security, 102.
34 Bill McSweeney, Security, Identity and Interests: A Sociology of International Relations (Cambridge
University Press, 1999), 14.
35 McSweeney, Security, Identity and Interests, 16.
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that ‘human needs encompass more than physical survival and the threats to it’36. If you
define security simply as the absence of material threats to the state, McSweeney suggests,
you ignore ‘much that is relevant to a policy designed to achieve security’37. He develops the
concept of ontological security to explain what it means to be secure for human beings,
emphasising the ‘security of social relations’ relating to social order and ‘the conditions
which facilitate confidence in the predictability and routine of everyday social life’ 38.
However, external threats to the state also affect ontological security, so here positive and
negative security work together to form a complete whole.
Other authors move between this notion of absence of threat/security plus and using positive
and negative normatively. Roe draws on both Berlin and Galtung to explain his use of
positive security39. In much of his 2008 article on the subject he presents an understanding of
positive security as being about ‘having content’ (security plus) as opposed to an absence
of threat. He draws on McSweeney, aiming to take his notion of positive security beyond
human or individual security. He links positive security to (state) pursuit and defence of ‘just
values’, arguing that the state can and should actively ‘pursue positive security’40 – but here it
is not simply about the presence of positive conditions for human flourishing but about the
type of foreign policy that is pursued by a state and the type of values that it
represents/protects:
Whether we are pursuing ‘freedom to’ or ‘freedom from’, whether we are concerned with ‘security’ or
‘securing’, we are, in doing so, necessarily making a judgment that certain values must be maintained;
that this has to be protected, that this is core. And many orders, including the international order after
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36 McSweeney, Security, Identity and Interests, 92.
37 Ibid., 91.
38 Ibid., 208.
39 Roe, "The ‘value’ of positive security", 778 and 791.
40 Paul Roe, "The ‘Value’ of Positive Security," Review of International Studies 34, no. 4 (2008): 777 and 79.
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the 11 September terrorist attacks, make such judgements. Positive security is, in this way, the
maintenance of just, core values41.
Of course, protecting and maintaining just values could be seen as ensuring or enabling
human development and emancipation, which fits more neatly into positive security as
‘security plus’. However, here both negative and positive security involve a judgement about
what kind of values to protect. This complicates what we mean by an ‘absence of threat’, as
we are no longer talking about the mere survival of a referent object. This pushes beyond the
analytic frame and is discussed further in the next section.
Hoogensen Gjørv also uses the terms positive and negative in this way. She draws on Berlin,
noting that negative security equates to ‘“security from” (a threat), and positive security to
“security to”, or enabling’42 . She uses this to argue that positive and negative security can
work together. She suggests that negative security tends to be associated with traditional
security, whereas positive security is more useful as a critical tool to examine the gaps
ignored by traditional (negative) security43. Here, she links negative security closely with
traditional state and military actors, and positive security with non-state and non-traditional
actors, which makes sense in this usage of the terms. Like Roe, she is reluctant to reject
negative security, suggesting negative security can involve values of justice too44. She
suggests that positive and negative security are conceptually distinct and involve different
actors and different practices, which can be complementary. Overall, the idea of positive
security as being more than a ‘lack’ or absence of threat is key in both Roe’s and Hoogensen
Gjørv’s work. They both link negative security with survival and an absence of threat, and
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41 Ibid., 793.
42 Gunhild Hoogensen Gjørv, "Security by Any Other Name: Negative Security, Positive Security, and a Multi-
Actor Security Approach," ibid.38, no. 04 (2012): 836.
43 Ibid.
44 Ibid., 845.
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often specifically with state practices (including violent practices and the use of force), and
they lean towards seeing it as complementary to positive security.
From this it is clear that in the analytic frame, whether positive or negative, security is
generally considered to be a good thing. Here negative and positive can be used to measure
the level of security in a given situation, with negative security representing a limited version
of security where you are safe from threats and positive security providing additional
opportunities. Together they provide a more complete security or even emancipation.
Theoretical criteria are used to define what characterises negative and positive security, such
as the actors involved, the practices they use, the values they promote, or the referent they
focus on.
The normative frame: security comes in good and bad forms
The normative frame attempts to understand and analyse the normative consequences of
different security practices and understandings of security. It uses positive and negative
security as value judgements: here, negative security is seen as something ‘bad’ to be avoided,
and positive security is seen as something ‘good’ to strive for. This category of usage is
particularly tied up with securitization theory and normative critiques of securitization45.
Criteria are used to determine which characteristics, features or consequences define negative
and positive security, respectively, based on the value judgements of the analyst (declared or
otherwise). These could be attached to procedure: if particular security practices are
undemocratic and I think that is a bad thing, then securitization or treating an issue as security
in this way is negative from my perspective. Conversely, if other security (or even
desecuritized) practices are more democratic or involve a larger number of actors, these
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45 In particular, see Roe, "Is securitization a negative concept?."; Floyd, "Towards a consequentialist evaluation
of security"; Floyd, "Can securitization theory be used in normative analysis?".
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practices are positive from my perspective. Value judgements can also be attached to the
consequences or outcomes of security/securitization. Here, security is positive if the analyst
deems the consequences of security/securitization to be ‘good’, and vice versa. Roe and
Hoogensen Gjørv both use positive and negative in this sense at times, though Floyd has a
more distinct usage so her approach is dealt with separately below.
In a 2012 article on the value of the concept of securitization, Roe draws on securitization
theory and its critics to suggest that security has become seen as negative because of its
processes (non-democratic, fast-tracked procedures) and its outcomes (reproduction of threat-
defence, friend/enemy dichotomies)46. Here negative security is not simply an absence of
threat, but rather the presence of negative [read problematic], violent/undemocratic security
practices and outcomes. He suggests this understanding of security rests on a narrow
interpretation of both securitization and security, arguing that security can also be positive.
Thus while recognising that security/securitization can be ‘bad’, he argues that it is not as
negative as securitization theory suggests, and that different, more positive or ‘good’
constructions of security also exist. Here negative and positive security are defined in the
normative sense.
Turning now to Hoogensen Gjørv, as has been noted she generally distinguishes between
negative and positive security in the analytic sense, viewing the two as different but
complementary. However, her association of the two terms with different actors, practices,
and characteristics suggests a preference for positive security and at times suggests negative
security can be problematic. In her approach, the role of actors is key negative security is
related to traditional militarised and state-centred security. It is hierarchical, rendering
!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
46 For more on this, see Paul Roe, "Is Securitization a Negative Concept? Revisiting the Normative Debate over
Normal Versus Extraordinary Politics," Security Dialogue 43, no. 3 (2012): 2.
16
!
‘passive any possible agents of security outside of the state’47. Meanwhile, positive security is
understood as centred on trust, as ‘multi-actor’ with actors above and below the state as well
as active referents. Thus rather than the concepts being complementary, in another
description of the debate she suggests that negative security is ‘security as a concept we wish
to avoid, one that should be invoked as little as possible…on the other hand, security has also
been known to represent something that is positively valued, or as something that is good or
desired’ 48 . Here positive and negative security are distinct, and not complementary.
Expanding on this, she argues that negative security is about survival, and ‘employs an
epistemology of fear, focused on the identification of threats and the use of violence’49, which
is clearly much closer to the Copenhagen School’s use of security/securitization. In this usage,
Hoogensen Gjørv explicitly distinguishes positive and negative by ‘the epistemological
foundations of each (fear or enabling), the security practices (violence vs. non-violence), and
the actor (state or non-state) that is creating security’50, which suggests positive security is
preferable in most cases.
A different normative approach to judge the value of security has been developed by Floyd.
She draws directly on securitization theory and takes an explicitly normative position on the
terms, defining negative security as ‘bad’ and positive security as ‘good’, or ‘just’, in her later
terminology. In earlier work she uses the terms positive and negative to describe ‘how well
any given security policy addresses the insecurity in question’ 51 , focusing on the
consequences of constructing an issue as security. Here, the value of security depends on
whether there is an ‘objective existential threat’ and a ‘legitimate referent object’ (for Floyd,
!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
47 Hoogensen Gjørv, "Security by Any Other Name," 842.
48 Ibid., 836.
49 Ibid., 839.
50 Ibid., 838.
51 Rita Floyd, "Towards a Consequentialist Evaluation of Security: Bringing Together the Copenhagen and the
Welsh Schools of Security Studies," ibid.33, no. 02 (2007): 338.
17
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it needs to be ‘conducive to human well-being’)52. In this way, securitizations are judged on
their consequences. In later work, she turns to the language of moral philosophy to endorse
‘human well-being as the highest value’53. Again, she argues that security in itself has no
value: rather, only the consequences of securitization matter and these can be judged as
morally right or wrong depending on the extent to which they further human well-being. She
usefully highlights the fact that the consequences of securitization are not always
exclusionary54. The consequences or outcomes differ in different cases, and it is these that
matter.
However, her approach is closely linked with the Copenhagen School’s distinction between
the spheres of politics and security. As a result, Floyd suggests that a positive securitization is
‘faster, better’ and more efficient than politicization55. She thus still subscribes to the
Copenhagen School’s binary distinction between security and political processes. Likewise,
she continues the Copenhagen School’s focus on elites as the ‘speakers’ of security56. While
she puts forward a clear and useful agenda to judge security by ‘the maximisation of genuine
security’ (recognising that ‘security is neither always positive nor always negative but rather
issue dependent’), she nevertheless retains a narrow view of security heavily influenced by
the Copenhagen School and predicated on theoretical criteria for what makes particular
practices ‘good’ or ‘bad’. Moreover, focusing on consequences neglects other factors which
may affect the value of security, including security processes/practices and the number and
type of actors involved, which as Hoogensen Gjørv and Roe both highlight can also affect the
value, or desirability, of security and security practices.
!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
52 "Can Securitization Theory Be Used in Normative Analysis? Towards a Just Securitization Theory," Security
Dialogue 42, no. 4-5 (2011): 431.
53 Security and the Environment: Securitisation Theory and Us Environmental Security Policy (Cambridge:
Cambridge University Press, 2010), 7.
54 Ibid., 193.
55 Floyd, "Towards a consequentialist evaluation of security", 342.
56 Floyd, "Towards a Consequentialist Evaluation of Security," 344.
18
!
From this, it is clear that negative security can be seen either as an ‘absence of threat’, a basic
condition of survival, or normatively, as the presence of conditions or practices that we
should avoid. Positive security, meanwhile, can be understood either as ‘security-plus’, an
add-on to basic survival with the presence of further enabling conditions, or normatively as
security in its ‘good’ form which we should strive for. Both frames have merits, particularly
in starting a more nuanced discussion on the value of security. However, although both
address the value of security and provide useful perspectives on this important issue, the dual
use of the terms positive and negative makes the debate difficult to follow. It masks the
different and important contributions of the analytic and normative frames: the former allows
us to conceptualise security as a good on a sliding scale, from a more limited absence of
threat to a more complete security-plus. The normative frame allows us to recognise that
security politics can also be bad, as noted by a range of authors in critical security studies, not
least the Copenhagen School. The dual usage of the terms also makes engagement between
authors more difficult, which in turn makes it hard to move the debate forward. Lastly, both
the analytic and normative frames focus on establishing theoretical criteria to define positive
and negative. As a result, they do not recognise contextual variation in the meaning and value
of security. With the exception of Hoogensen Gjørv, the debate also continues the
Copenhagen School’s focus on elites as the actors/speakers of security.
This paper now turns to suggest an alternative that overcomes some of these tensions. It
builds on the contributions of the analytic and normative frames, but focuses on studying the
value of security in context. Context is mentioned by the key authors in this debate but rarely
elaborated upon or taken to its logical conclusions. Roe’s 2014 article draws on feminist
19
!
work to emphasise context in positive security (here equated with emancipation) 57 .
Hoogensen Gjørv relates practice and context more closely to the negative/positive debate,
arguing for a ‘multi-actor, practice-oriented security framework’58. However, she still largely
delineates between positive and negative security based on which actors are involved. Floyd
also suggests in earlier work that ‘security is…issue dependent’59. In her case however, this
means looking at how security is used in practice by elite actors following specific criteria of
securitization and judging the value on the outcome. Thus, existing approaches still rely on
theoretical definitions as opposed to analysing how security works in context. The rest of this
paper is devoted to exploring the possibility of using pragmatist, practice-centred and
contextualist contributions to analyse the value of security by looking at how it is used in
different contexts.
Towards a pragmatist frame
The alternative frame I propose bridges the analytic and normative frames but focuses on
analysing how security is used in different contexts to gain practically useful knowledge60. I
retain the normative use of positive and negative as good and bad respectively, to recognise
that security can be problematic, but use the analytic frame to suggest that while we cannot
define what characterises ‘good’ or ‘bad’ security in the abstract, the ‘goodness’ of different
security practices in a context should be understood on a scale rather than in binary terms. I
call this the pragmatist frame, since it draws on the pragmatist philosophy of Dewey and
James to shift the debate away from developing objective definitions or criteria for when
security is good or bad and towards seeking practically useful knowledge about the value of
!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
57 Paul Roe, "Gender and ‘Positive’ Security," International Relations 28, no. 1 (2014): 128.
58 Hoogensen Gjørv, "Security by Any Other Name," 838.
59 Rita Floyd, "Towards a Consequentialist Evaluation of Security: Bringing Together the Copenhagen and the
Welsh Schools of Security Studies," ibid.33, no. 02 (2007): 339.
60 The opening section of this discussion draws on work developed further in a book chapter, see Jonna Nyman,
"Pragmatism," in Ethical Security Studies: A New Research Agenda, ed. Jonna Nyman and Anthony Burke
(London and New York: Routledge, 2016).
20
!
security, which is contingent and context-dependent. Empirically, this lends itself to practice-
centred analysis, and here I draw on a wider notion of practice following Adler and Pouliot.
Lastly, it brings in contextualism. Contextualist contributions on the meaning of security tell
us that security means different things in different contexts, that it doesn’t have an
unchanging ‘essence’61. The meaning and the practice of security is contested and produced
through ‘a process of negotiation’62. I suggest here that if security is contingent, it cannot be
inherently good or bad. Rather, we can only understand the value of security by studying how
it works and what it does in different empirical contexts. Bringing pragmatist, practice and
contextualist literatures together and into this debate provides an important new lens through
which to understand the value of security. While the space to explore the practical
implications of this is limited here, the final parts of this section considers how the
framework could be used to study the value of security and tackles some of the limitations
and questions it raises.
Pragmatism is a philosophical approach drawing on the work of authors like John Dewey and
William James. It has grown in popularity in IR63 but remains overlooked in debates over
security ethics64. A pragmatic approach does not aim to uncover or produce an objective
‘truth’ that is ‘out there’, but rather to gain practically useful knowledge65. Dewey and James
are united in emphasising the importance of uncertainty and rejecting settled ‘truths’, ‘fixed
!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
61 Ciută, "Security and the Problem of Context: A Hermeneutical Critique of Securitisation Theory," 316.
62 Matt McDonald, Security, the Environment and Emancipation: Contestation over Environmental Change
(Abingdon: Routledge, 2012), 17.
63 Jörg Friedrichs and Friedrich Kratochwil, "On Acting and Knowing: How Pragmatism Can Advance
International Relations Research and Methodology," International Organization 63, no. 4 (2009); Gunther
Hellmann et al., "Beliefs as Rules for Action: Pragmatism as a Theory of Thought and Action," International
Studies Review 11, no. 3 (2009).
64 I develop this line of argument in more detail, specifically focusing on the possible contributions of
pragmatism in bridging the divide between emancipatory approaches and their critics, in Nyman, "Pragmatism."
65 Friedrichs and Kratochwil, "On Acting and Knowing: How Pragmatism Can Advance International Relations
Research and Methodology," 713.
21
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principles, closed systems, and pretended absolutes and origins’66. They suggest instead that
truth is contingent on context and experience, and never fixed: thus the ‘quest’ for truth is
never settled. Cochran refers to this as a ‘weak foundationalism’ allowing contingent ethical
claims67. Following this, James emphasises a shift away from first principles towards
consequences – a practice or an idea is ‘good’ it has good results, and only for as long as it
has good results68. Ultimately, good ideas are ideas that ‘are also helpful in life’s practical
struggles’69 and the value of a thing depends on what that thing does or leads to in practical
terms: what sensations, habits or actions it will produce70. This will in turn vary in different
cases and at different times. Dewey also emphasises practice and individual experience as
necessary for ethical enquiry71.
Pragmatism thus suggests that to understand the value of security, we need to conduct
detailed empirical enquiry to see how different actors use it in different contexts and how
individuals experience it, asking what do different security practices do? What actions and
habits do they produce, and how do they affect life experiences? While the answers to these
questions remain contingent, a pragmatic contingent ethics allows us to suggest alternatives
while emphasising reflexivity. We can therefore understand when security is good or bad in a
particular situation. Methodologically, pragmatism emphasises abduction and starting at the
middle level, instead of starting from abstract theoretical principles or inferring propositions
!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
66 William James, "What Pragmatism Means," in Pragmatism: A New Name for Some Old Ways of Thinking
(Cambridge Mass, 1907); John Dewey, How We Think (Boston, New York, Chicago: D.C. Heath and Co
Publishers, 1910).
67 Molly Cochran, Normative Theory in International Relations: A Pragmatic Approach (Cambridge University
Press, 1999), 16.
68 James, "What Pragmatism Means."
69 Ibid.
70 See also Charles Sanders Peirce, "How to Make Our Ideas Clear," in Pragmatism: A Reader, ed. Louis
Menand (New York: Random House, 1997 [1878]), 35.
71 For more detail on Dewey and normative theorising, see Cochran, Normative Theory in International
Relations: A Pragmatic Approach; "Deweyan Pragmatism and Post-Positivist Social Science in Ir," Millennium-
Journal of International Studies 31, no. 3 (2002).
22
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from facts72. In this way, we can analyse when human beings experience security as a ‘good’
(and vice versa). This shifts the discussion away from the abstract potential of security to be
‘good’ or ‘bad’, towards empirical research analysing what it ‘does’ in different contexts.
The way in which pragmatism is used here lends itself to practice-centred analysis. Practice-
centred approaches study practices and how they (re)produce particular ideas and realities73.
Here I draw on a wider notion of practice following Adler and Pouliot, which fits more
logically with pragmatism. Thus ‘practice’ includes discursive practices as well as ideas,
power relations, policies and physical practices undertaken in the name of security74. Vitally,
practices are distinguished from behaviour or actions because they are ‘socially meaningful
patterns of action’75. A wider understanding of practice allows us to study a range of security
practices and processes, including contestation and resistance to dominant security practices.
This means that we can study a range of actors beyond elites, while recognising the
importance of power. Pragmatism is vague on research methods but practice approaches can
provide a clear toolkit for how to study security in a way that is compatible with a pragmatic
approach76. It also gives us an empirical starting point: security practices.
Combining pragmatism and the practice turn provides a fruitful way forward for
understanding and studying the value of security in context. Here I draw on the contributions
!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
72 See Friedrichs and Kratochwil, "On Acting and Knowing: How Pragmatism Can Advance International
Relations Research and Methodology," 709.
73 Common approaches draw on Bourdieu or Latour’s Actor Network Theory: for an overview, see Christian
Bueger and Frank Gadinger, International Practice Theory: New Perspectives (Palgrave Pivot2015). The
practice turn has been more influential in critical security studies, where it is usually associated with what is
termed the Paris School, and authors like Bigo. However, while such studies make important contributions to
critical security studies they focus primarily on state or government security practices and tend to remain critical
of security processes.
74 Emanuel Adler and Vincent Pouliot, "International Practices," International Theory 3, no. 1 (2011). See also
Claudia Aradau et al., "Introducing Critical Security Methods," in Critical Security Methods: New Frameworks
for Analysis, ed. Claudia Aradau, et al. (Abingdon and New York: Routledge, 2015), 3.
75 Adler and Pouliot, "International Practices," 4.
76 See "Introduction and Framework," in International Practices, ed. Emanuel Adler and Vincent Pouliot
(Cambridge and New York: Cambridge University Press, 2011).
23
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of contextualist arguments on the meaning of security, in particular the work of Bubandt,
Ciută and McDonald. Bubandt’s vernacular security draws on anthropological methods to
propose a bottom-up, actor-oriented’ analysis of how security is created which recognizes
that ‘security is conceptualized and politically practised differently in different places and at
different times77. Ciută argues that while a contextual approach privileges how the actors
studied define and practice security, it also ‘engages the contradictions and normative
consequences of contextual definitions of security’78. Contextualising the study of security
has normative implications. Crucially, if we take it to its logical conclusions, a contextualised
and conceptually open study of security necessitates an empirical focus: but if we focus on
how actors use security, we may end up ‘foreclosing alternative political horizons79. Ciută’s
answer to this problem stresses understanding normative awareness as inherent to
contextualized analysis of security: at the end of the day ‘normative judgements are inherent
in the analytical evaluation of the means, ends and consequences of security measures80.
Simply put, we cannot and should not avoid normative judgements when we study security.
For Ciută, a ‘prescriptive observation’ endorsing a particular concept/practice of security
because it is considered to be “better”, ‘cannot therefore be justified analytically, but only
normatively’81. This is an important distinction. He suggests that rather than endorsing a
particular version of security from an analytical perspective, which is problematic, the analyst
can engage normatively by highlighting ‘the ethical implications of different contextual
definitions of security82. Thus, he stresses a normative awareness as opposed to fixed
!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
77 Bubandt, "Vernacular Security: The Politics of Feeling Safe in Global, National and Local Worlds," 291.
78 Ciută, "Security and the Problem of Context: A Hermeneutical Critique of Securitisation Theory," 314.
This also raises the question of the possible dissolution of security if security can mean whatever actors want it
to mean: there is not space to go into this in depth here, but Ciuta deals with it in more detail (see 2009: 320-22).
79 Ibid., 322.
80 Ibid., 323.
81 Ibid.
82 Ibid., 323-4.
24
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normative commitments. This has important consequences for understanding the value of
security. We can study actors’ different understandings and practices of security and what
these do, considering their ethical implications in the context studied. McDonald critiques the
traditional focus on the state, suggesting that if we recognise the contextual and contested
nature of security we need to study how actors beyond the state use it too – particularly since
non-state actors often contest dominant security practices. If we are trying to understand
security by studying how security is used, therefore, we cannot justifiably ignore alternative
voices. Most importantly, focusing just on the state reifies a particular state-centred logic of
security, which is often explicitly rejected by other actors83.
So where do we look for security?84 I have already suggested security practices as a starting
point. Authors used here focus largely on discourse, while this paper suggests going beyond
that to consider practices more broadly. Thus, at its most basic, we should start by looking at
actual security practices in a particular context and asking what they do. I have emphasised
the need for detailed empirical enquiry to see how different actors use security in different
contexts and how individuals experience it, asking what different security practices do, what
actions and habits they produce, and how they affect life experiences. In-depth case studies
lend themselves most obviously to such analysis of the value of security. They are also more
likely to provide situated and practically useful knowledge. Bubandt’s study of security
practices in Indonesia in an excellent example here: he analyses how state and global security
notions/structures are contested or absorbed at local levels, and how local notions feed back
into both. While the focus in his study is on the meaning of security, the methods could be
equally useful for studying its value. An analysis could study global, state and/or non-state
security practices, considering both more ‘high profile’ practices with a lot of influence and
!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
83 McDonald, "Securitization and the Construction of Security," 575.
84 I draw loosely on McDonald’s framework here, developed in Security, the Environment and Emancipation,
24-35.
25
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marginalised or ‘smaller’ everyday security practices85. This necessarily needs to include a
consideration of power: where it lies and how this is reproduced. Thus, a contextualised and
practice-centred approach to the value of security looks at how different actors understand
and practice security and analyses what these different understandings and practices of
security do. The following questions may be useful when undertaking such an analysis:
Who are the key actors?
Who is empowered to practice security and who is not?
How do different actors represent security?
What practices do they undertake, what do they do?
What do they emphasise or call for?
What do they want to protect, how and from what?
What does the practice aim to do, and what does it do?
What effects do the practices produce?
What actions and habits do they produce, and how do they affect life experiences?
Are they helpful in daily struggles (the pragmatist test)?
Do they protect, enable or constrain referents?
What are the ethical implications of the practices studied?
This is not an exhaustive list, but it does provide a starting point. The answers to these
questions will vary in different contexts. Which actors/practices are important to study will
also depend on the project and case/s studied. We also need to recognise the
interconnectedness of security issues86. For example, a security practice may be helpful to the
!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
85 See Jef Huysmans, "What’s in an Act? On Security Speech Acts and Little Security Nothings," Security
Dialogue 42, no. 4-5 (2011).
86 Audra Mitchell, "Only Human? A Worldly Approach to Security," ibid.45, no. 1 (2014).
26
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daily struggles of some but produce insecurity for others. Thus, the wider ethical implications
of the practices analysed need to be taken into consideration.
We are also left with the normative problem of which actors we choose to study: which
practices do we study, whose voices do we listen to, and why? Pragmatism does not give
satisfying answers to questions about power: whose daily struggles should practices be
helpful to, and who gets to decide if the results of a practice are good? McDonald pursues a
normative agenda drawing on emancipation, concerned with ‘locating immanent possibilities
for emancipatory change’ by opening space for alternative voices87. While I am sympathetic
to this approach, it is worth remembering that alternative is not necessarily ‘better’ in ethical
terms: consider right-wing groups using security to advocate for closing EU borders to
refugees escaping war, for example. So who do we listen to and study, and on what basis do
we make this decision? In most cases and contexts studied, there will be a range of actors
practicing and articulating security. Covering a range of actors will help to capture different
ways of practicing security, which will then allow for more depth when we consider the
ethical implications of these security practices. This doesn’t mean all studies have to cover all
actors: a study could focus on a single state, non-state groups, or one or more international
organisation/s: but in each of these there will likely be some contestation, resistance and
disagreement. By analysing how security is contested in different spaces, we also recognise
that security is a ‘situated interactive activity’88 and needs to be understood, and studied, as
such.
To give another example, Bilgic studied security in Tahrir square, focusing on how protesters
experienced and practiced security during one week. He draws on feminist work to rethink
!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
87 McDonald, Security, the Environment and Emancipation, 4.
88 Thierry Balzacq, "The Three Faces of Securitization: Political Agency, Audience and Context," European
Journal of International Relations 11, no. 2 (2005): 171.
27
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emancipation, emphasizing how ‘individuals and social groups’ themselves articulate security:
‘that is, their own expressions of how security is understood by them’89. A similar approach
could be used to understand the value of different security practices in such a case. Looking
at gender, resistance and human security, Hoogensen and Stuvoy suggest that ‘the way to
understand and to establish knowledge about security in empirical terms is to enter people’s
life-worlds and access local experiences of in/securities’90. These examples both emphasise
smaller scale security practices and experiences of security, but studies could equally analyse
how different actors within the United Nations practice security within that institutional
setting and the value of such practices, for example. My own work has looked at how
different actors within the United States and China practice energy security, and the value or
ethical implications of different security practices in this context91.
The introduction to this article noted the importance of considering the role of the analyst in
normative analysis. A pragmatic focus on practice partly removes this problem, by focusing
on detailed empirical enquiry as opposed to imposing analytical criteria for what makes
particular security practices ‘good’ or ‘bad’. In particular, focusing on individuals’ (or groups)
own articulations of security92, and evaluating these normatively. However, we cannot fully
avoid normative judgement, which is where Ciută’s emphasis on normative awareness and
reflexivity is useful. Reflexivity and positionality requires acknowledging the role of the
researcher in the research process and in interpreting the data93. Security analysts are not
neutral, and will always arrive with preconceived ideas and opinions about the concept and
!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
89 Ali Bilgic, "‘Real People in Real Places’: Conceptualizing Power for Emancipatory Security through Tahrir,"
Security Dialogue 46, no. 3 (2015): 273; Gunhild Hoogensen and Svein V. Rottem, "Gender Identity and the
Subject of Security," ibid.35, no. 2 (2004).
90 Gunhild Hoogensen and Kirsti Stuvøy, "Gender, Resistance and Human Security," ibid.37 (2006): 221.
91 Nyman, "Rethinking Energy, Climate and Security."; "Energy and Security: Discourse and Practice in the
United States and China [Phd Thesis]," University of Birmingham, http://etheses.bham.ac.uk/4918/.
92 For example, see Hoogensen and Rottem, "Gender Identity and the Subject of Security."
93 See Peregrine Schwartz-Shea and Dvora Yanow, Interpretive Research Design: Concepts and Processes
(New York and London: Routledge, 2012), 100.
28
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value of security. This only makes openness about normative commitments more important
so these can be recognised and interrogated. The role of the security analyst is always
political: the key is ‘to be aware of [and explicit about] the political significance of
analysis’94. The normative commitments of the analyst will also likely vary between cases
studied in contextual security analysis. For example, in my analyses of energy security
practices I emphasise the connections between human well-being and environmental security,
for the simple reason that without environmentally sustainable energy security practices in
the longer term there will be no individual experiences, no human well-being to consider, no
daily struggles to be helpful to, as the planetary ecosystems on which human survival depend
will fail. What is ‘good’ therefore depends on the context and what different security
practices do in that context, as well as the analyst. This is why we need to be clear and open
about normative commitments. Recognising the subjective and context-dependent nature of
the value of security will in turn fuel and push the debate forward instead of getting
gridlocked in disputes over the (im)possibility of an objectively defined ‘good’.
However, a pragmatist frame also recognises the need to keep these categories open. So how
do we determine what is and isn’t security, and thus which practices to study? The focus here
is on analysing how security is used and using this to further understanding of the value of
security. Thus the focus is on studying existing security practices, and what they ‘do’ in
different empirical contexts – taking a broad interpretation of ‘practice’. Here I mean
specifically practices undertaken in the name of security95. This doesn't mean security
couldn’t be something else, or that there aren’t further things that could or should be secured
which currently are not (which is crucial, but separate, question), but the focus here is on how
!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
94 Johan Eriksson, "Observers or Advocates?," Cooperation and Conflict 34, no. 3 (1999): 327.
95 That said, this is a personal preference intended to help narrow down the number of practices studied, but it is
not inconceivable that the framework could also be used to study practices that practitioners don’t consider to be
part of security.
29
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different existing practices of ‘security’ in empirical contexts can help us understand the
value of security. Here, I argue in favour of pluralism and diversity: rather than narrowing
down what we mean by ‘security’ to very specific uses or particular (elite) actors, looking at
a more diverse range of actors and a more diverse range of meanings of security (beyond
survival), serves to illustrate that the value of security depends on the context.
Security studies needs to open up for the possibility that ‘security’ can mean very different
things, and that in these cases it is characterised by very different processes and outcomes.
Similarly, it is important to view the value of security in non-binary terms. Security is
contested: consequently, to understand security it is necessary to study the full range of
security constructions – from more problematic and undesirable security practices, to limited
practices which secure us from threat, to more emancipatory practices, by a wide range of
actors and in a range of empirical contexts, to really interrogate the value of security. In a
sense this means accepting the range of existing definitions and approaches to the value of
security and studying how they work in practice.
Analytic frame
Normative frame
Pragmatist frame
Berlin and Galtung’s respective
notions of negative/positive
liberty and peace
Moral philosophy, or
consequentialism
Negative/positive debate,
pragmatism, practice theory
and contextualism
Negative and positive work
together to provide ‘complete’
or ‘true’ security. Positive
security here often centres on
the individual.
Negative security as bad
and to be avoided, positive
security as a good thing to
strive for.
Focuses on how security
works in context to
understand when it is ‘good’
and ‘bad’ and best avoided
based on human experience.
30
!
Negative security here involves
an absence of threat (a lack,
which makes it negative), and
positive security includes both
the absence of threat combined
with the presence of conditions
furthering human ‘flourishing’
of some formit is the
presence of these conditions
which make it positive,
grammatically. Thus positive
security can here be seen as
‘security plus’, providing
‘complete’ or ‘true’ security.
Clear criteria are used to
determine which
characteristics, features or
consequences define
negative and positive
security, based on the value
judgements of the analyst.
Understandings of negative
security often draw on
securitization, emphasising
non-democratic emergency
processes and state-centric
threat/defence thinking.
Negative security is bad and
to be avoided, positive
security is good and
desirable, but what is good
or bad is contingent and so
the value of security depends
on the context. Analyses
how security is used in
practice by a wider range of
actors, studying its processes
and consequences to
determine its value in
different empirical contexts.
Negative and positive work
as a scale, not a binary.
Objective observer of value,
often also advocating for
positive security.
Moral arbiter
Observing how security
works in empirical contexts
to determine value. Stresses
normative awareness and
reflexivity.
Booth’s use of ‘emancipation’,
Hoogensen Gjørv, Roe
Morally just and unjust
securitization (Floyd)
Figure 2: Different uses of negative and positive security
Implications and conclusion
The value of security matters: both because problematic security practices can do a lot of
harm and because ‘good’ or ‘positive’ security practices can help us advance towards the
kind of world that we want. But the current debate over the value of security causes
31
!
confusion. This paper has clarified the debate by separating out two different ‘frames’ used
by key authors. The analytic frame draws on positive/negative liberty and peace, and thus
defines negative security as the absence of threat, and positive security as added enabling
possibilities beyond survival: here positive and negative security work together. The
normative frame uses value judgements and deploys the terms positive and negative in a
normative sense, often drawing on securitization theory. Consequently, this frame suggests
that negative security is bad and to be avoided, while positive security is desirable. These
frames have their roots in different literatures and although both theorise the value of security
they look at different aspects, leading to somewhat different research agendas. This causes
confusion and has stalled the debate.
This paper has argued that the value of security depends on how it is used and what it does in
different empirical contexts, developing a pragmatic framework for understanding the value
of security in context. This approach allows us to recognise that security can be bad, but that
it can also be something worth striving for, while avoiding imposing abstract theoretical
definitions of ‘good’ and ‘bad’. Bourne and Bulley suggest abandoning attempts to establish
secure ethics, arguing that we should instead be ‘treating moral choice as explicitly unsure,
uncertain and insecure’96. Accepting this, a pragmatist frame helps us move forward with a
practical research agenda that avoids defining the ‘good’ in theoretical terms while allowing
us to evaluate the normative implications of different existing security practices in a
particular context. Thus the paper opens space for empirically grounded research on the value
of security.
!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
96 Mike Bourne and Dan Bulley, "Securing the Human in Critical Security Studies: The Insecurity of a Secure
Ethics," European Security 20, no. 3 (2011): 455.
32
!
The paper focuses on clarifying the existing debate and suggesting an alternative, so it
presents a conceptual analysis rather than an empirical application. There is therefore much
potential for future research on the value of security in different contexts. Beyond this, two
problems not addressed by this framework come to mind as possibilities for future research.
Firstly, what about cases where some experience security as a good, but others do not? The
ongoing debate over the surveillance society provides an excellent example: some experience
surveillance as reassuring, while others find it an imposition on their freedom to go about
their daily lives unwatched. In such cases the role of the analyst becomes much more
complicated and needs to be considered in more depth. Secondly, what about those who
cannot practice security? This framework is merely intended to understand the value of
different existing security practices. More research is needed into the silences and gaps this
creates, as it overlooks those who cannot speak or practice security but may be deeply
affected by insecurity, whether this be silenced or marginalised groups or non-human
elements in need of protection, such as local or global ecosystems. This paper has clarified
the debate over the value of security and suggested a new framework for analysing it in
context, but while it pushes the debate forward it also raises new questions. Security is
powerful and contains potential for harm as well as ethical progress. But ultimately,
understanding the value of security is crucial in order to move towards the kind of world that
we want.
Acknowledgements
This paper has evolved through several drafts, and many people have kindly read it and provided helpful
comments at different stages. I need to thank the anonymous reviewers and Editors for their constructive and
helpful feedback throughout the submission process. Andrew Neal, Matt McDonald, Lene Hansen, Anthony
Burke, Kacper Szulecki and Olaf Corry have all provided valuable comments on earlier drafts. Thanks also to
Adam Quinn, Rita Floyd and Liam Stanley for helping me to figure out what I wanted to say.
33
!
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Associationism and the Literary Imagination traces the influence of empirical philosophy and associationist psychology on theories of literary creativity and on the experience of reading literature. It runs from David Hume's Treatise of Human Nature in 1739 to the works of major literary critics of the twentieth century, such as I.A. Richards, W.K. Wimsatt and Northrop Frye. Cairns Craig explores the ways in which associationist conceptions of literature gave rise to some of the key transformations in British writing between the romantic and modernist periods. In particular, he analyses the ways in which authors' conceptions of the form of their readers' aesthetic experience led to radical developments in literary style, from the fragmentary narrative of Sterne's Tristram Shandy in 1760 to Virginia Woolf's experiments in the rendering of characters' consciousness in the 1920s; and from Wordsworth's poetic use of autobiography to J.G. Frazer's exploration of a mythic unconscious in The Golden Bough.
Book
This edited volume addresses the potential for ethical visions of security and what such visions might look like.The key contribution of this book is in bringing together the emerging theoretical discussions on ethics and ethical reasoning within security studies to speak to this common theme. These ethical ‘visions’ of security engage directly with the meaning and value of security and security practice, and present a new research agenda directly concerned not only with what security is, but with what securityshould be, and as such consider these questions:Who, or what, should be secured?What are the fundamental ontological grounds and commitments of different security ethics?Who or which actor/s are legitimate agents, providers or speakers of security?What do ethical security practices look like? What ethical principles, arguments, or procedures, help generate understandings of ethical security practices?In a world of increasing insecurity and threats, security studies critically needs to engage directly with these normative questions to consider what securityshould be about and for whom it exists.The first part of the text discusses ontologies of security in relation to ethics, outlining first the critical ‘anti-security’ perspective, before discussing the ethical potential within security; it then considers world security, the referent of security, and posthuman ethical security. The second part surveys a wide range of different visions of ethical security and security practice, from just securitisation theory to human security, cosmopolitan security and positive security. The editors use ‘Ethical Security Studies’ as an umbrella term, representing a new field comprised of a wide range of perspectives on ethics and security rather than advocating a specific vision. What brings the field and these authors together is a common faith in the idea that security either is or can be, a good thing. A key aim is to create a richer and more constructive engagement t—both between traditional and critical security studies, and streams within critical security studies and theory which divide on the merits of opposing, or seeking to reform, security practices and ontologies.This book will be of much interest to students of critical security studies, ethics philosophy, and IR.
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How does the practice turn play out in international relations? This study offers a concise introduction to the core approaches, issues and methodology of International Practice Theory, examining the design, strategies and technique of practice theoretical research projects interested in global politics, and outlining issues for a future agenda. © Christian Bueger and Frank Gadinger 2014. All rights reserved.
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In 1993 the first Clinton administration declared environmental security a national security issue, but by the end of the Bush administrations environmental security had vanished from the government's agenda. This book uses changing US environmental security policy to propose a revised securitisation theory, one that both allows insights into the intentions of key actors and enables moral evaluations in the environmental sector of security. Security and the Environment brings together the subject of environmental security and the Copenhagen School's securitisation theory. Drawing on original interviews with former key players in United States environmental security, Rita Floyd makes a significant and original contribution to environmental security studies and security studies more generally. This book will be of interest to international relations scholars and political practitioners concerned with security, as well as students of international environmental politics and US policy-making.