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Comment on "Toward a Critical Anthropology of Security" (Daniel Goldstein)

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Comment on "Toward a Critical Anthropology of Security" (Daniel Goldstein)

Abstract

With this article, Daniel Goldstein describes the contours of a much-needed anthropological orientation to security in the contemporary world.His analysis of the relationship between discourses of security and the rise, retrenchment, and situated waning of neoliberalism is particularly acute. Also convincing is his argument that what he calls a critical anthropology of security is needed at two interconnected but distinct levels.
Goldstein An Anthropology of Security and Rights 505
issues that should be part of critical anthropological analyses
postulating grassroots challenges to securitization. There are,
of course, also differences of view at the grassroots, as ex-
emplified by rejection of the abusive pacification by militias
that took over some of Rio de Janeiro’s slums with the sanc-
tion of elected politicians. At the same time, we know that
state interventions often undermine past local institutional
capacity to manage everyday security, nowhere more obvious
than in the area of Chiapas occupied by the original base
communities of the Zapatista movement before and after the
military arrived. As Goldstein shows convincingly, major gains
in understanding why people do things that seem contradic-
tory can be made by shifting the analysis of securitization
from the level of discursive constructions and speech acts to
a sociological understanding of the conditions under which
they make their choices and form ideas about who deserves
to have rights. Yet this is why we must be careful not to
underestimate the depth of the social transformations that
have occurred in the Americas as a result of neoliberalization.
The spectacular forms of violence that now plague much of
Mexico, inexplicable in terms of the instrumental rationality
of drug trafficking, along with the incidence of femicide in
rural Guatemala are symptomatic of a social crisis for which
no political solution seems either possible or even relevant at
the present time.
There is still a need to address the widening securitization
of poverty now apparent, for example, in international mi-
gration and international development. The U.S. border raises
the issue of the social climate that permits reproduction of
the neoliberal utopia created by the partnership between
Homeland Security and private corporations offering global
security and incarceration services. The famous victory won
in Cochabamba’s “water war” was only one battle in what
will prove an increasingly internationalized war of securiti-
zation over that increasingly scarce resource, one in which
the rural poor are cast as a threat to the survival of the
ecosystem as well as the state, as Ecuadorian scholar Juan
Fernando Tera´n has pointed out (2007). There are many levels
at which anthropologists can engage with such cosmologies
of crisis, but none are more urgent than ethnographic inves-
tigation of whether redefinitions of the roles of states, citizens,
and private entities in the provision of security are making
anyone safer.
Mark Goodale
Institute for Conflict Analysis and Resolution, George
Mason University, 3330 North Washington Boulevard,
Arlington, Virginia 22201, U.S.A. (mgoodale@gmu.edu).
26 II 10
With this article, Daniel Goldstein describes the contours of
a much-needed anthropological orientation to security in the
contemporary world. His analysis of the relationship between
discourses of security and the rise, retrenchment, and situated
waning of neoliberalism is particularly acute. Also convincing
is his argument that what he calls a critical anthropology of
security is needed at two interconnected but distinct levels.
At one level, some version of what Agamben (2005) further
theorized as a state of exception has become widely institu-
tionalized both within and across democratic and nondemo-
cratic states. “Security” in this sense stands in for a concern
with the ways in which social actors move within—and are
constrained by—the multiple legal, political, and economic
forms that the state of exception takes. As Goldstein explains,
anthropologists must pay critical attention to these relation-
ships in much the same way they have attended to the re-
lational forms of other normativities, such as human rights,
that share a similar historical and even ideological trajectory.
But at another level, a critical anthropology of security is
a way to relocate the practice of anthropology within an al-
tered and for some nearly unrecognizable political-academic
climate in which precipitous declines in state funding for
universities and a concomitant explosion of federal funding
for private contractors have created the conditions in which
well-meaning scholars offer their services to the highest bidder
as cultural experts. These anthropologists of the “human ter-
rain” are slotted into larger “systems” that can be readily
deployed as a technology of surveillance, control, and ap-
peasement, all intended as an expression of a more culturally
sensitive framework within which at least some states of the
global North project and justify power. For Goldstein, a crit-
ical security anthropology is also a way to hold a mirror up
to the “conditions within which anthropological research and
pedagogy are imagined, approved, funded, and imple-
mented.”
Goldstein makes his case for this new framing of and within
anthropology in two ways. First, he provides a necessarily
abbreviated genealogy of the concept of security within west-
ern political and social philosophy, within political ideology
over the last 100 years, and within branches of international
relations and political science that have carved out their own
approaches to security that, according to Goldstein, overpri-
vilege the role and responsibilities of the Westphalian state.
What I appreciate most about this particular line of critique
is how closely it parallels and indeed helps further explain a
similar fetishizing of the state that I and other anthropologists
have revealed within human rights studies, an equally emer-
gent field of inquiry that has likewise been historically dom-
inated by political scientists and theorists.
As an antidote to the myopia of statecentricity, Goldstein
offers an approach to security that begins in the kinds of
margins that anthropologists know only too well, the kind of
margins whose importance and contested meanings Goldstein
has sympathetically and even definitively illuminated now
across an expanding body of work, the most important of
which is his 2004 book on performative violence in the peri-
urban barrios of Bolivia’s Cochabamba. This context grounds
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506 Current Anthropology Volume 51, Number 4, August 2010
the second strand to his broader argument that the ways and
means of anthropology provide a unique epistemological
framework for problematizing security in the second decade
of the twenty-first century.
As a Bolivianist myself, for years I have been a close reader
of Goldstein on the relationship between security and rights,
and here he brings fresh research findings and much more
expansive theoretical aspirations to this material, which he
draws from to great advantage. Yet it is here that I must
respond to one of the only points of concern I have with
Goldstein’s important ar ticle. It is absolutely true that “human
rights” have been construed by periurban Bolivians in the way
Goldstein has described; I think this point is now settled. But
I would not go so far as to argue that ethnographic findings
from this one case study mean that we should reinscribe our
anthropological understanding of human rights as just one
among several security discourses. There are any number of
reasons for this, not the least of which is the fact that human
rights discourse, in Bolivia and elsewhere, functions not so
much as a kind of promissory note but as an alternative
normative language that might, or might not, be useful for
particular actors in the course of particular social struggles
or in relation to particular needs. Rights and security dis-
courses are rather, as Goldstein himself acknowledges, com-
plementary in many ways, and the kind of critical anthro-
pology of security that he so powerfully articulates breaks new
ground in our understanding of this interrelationship.
Carol J. Greenhouse
Department of Anthropology, Princeton University, Aaron
Burr Hall 116, Princeton, New Jersey 08544, U.S.A.
(cgreenho@princeton.edu). 12 II 10
Max Weber famously formulates a “state” as “a human com-
munity that successfully claims the monopoly of the legitimate
use of physical force in a given territory” (Weber 1958 [1918]:
78). Often read as a definition, the passage assays thehistorical
specificity of a state—and state of affairs—that Weber was
observing around him. More than once, he introduces the
proposition only after a qualifier: “Today . . . we have to say
that a state is . . .” (Weber 1958 [1918]:78; see also Weber
1954:14; cf. Weber 1978:909). These passages speak to violence
as the “decisive means” of politics—means held to ends
through the “organized domination” of administration (We-
ber 1958 [1918]:80, 121). His reference to a “successful” mo-
nopoly claim acknowledges political fields outside the state
that are indexed by such claims and the blended intricacies
of political interest, state legitimacy, bureaucratic organiza-
tion, and legal discourse.
The intricacies extend to sociology. Weber writes from an
explicit sense of political crisis (Weber 1954:127–128) and
grapples with an interpretive dilemma arising from the fact
that domination and freedom have become indistinguishable
by direct observation of state practice (Weber 1954:328). Be-
tween “law” and “society,” then, Weber inserts a third term—
”economy”—as ground where the idealized disinterest of law
and the realizable interests of actual people meet as each
other’s enabling contradiction.
Like Weber, Goldstein is immersed in the ambiguity of
domination and freedom as a particular problem in our time.
Identifying that duality as the conundrum of “security,” Gold-
stein probes the critical and theoretical potential for anthro-
pology. Goldstein’s ethnography of Cochabamba (Goldstein
2004 and above) shows a state conspicuously failing to sustain
its claims to monopolize violence and, perforce, sharing the
“‘decisive means’ of politics” with communities beyond its
administrative grasp. His analysis of the circuits of violence
in relation to neoliberal urbanism informs his thinking about
security as a practical problem, a theoretical object, and a
policy field.
In his essay, Goldstein looks to Weber for a definition of
“the state” (n. 10)—but then turns away on the grounds that
states are top-down arrangements. His own essay is evidence
in favor of some reconsideration on this point. For example,
he meditates on the extent to which state theory and states
in practice are reflexively braided around a notion of society
as a social contract written in the ink of fear. He considers
the pervasive politicization of insecurity in the aftermath of
the events of September 11, 2001, and endorses the well-
established idea that the so-called war on terror represents a
continuity of political interests rather than a new era. He
acknowledges the complex intertwining of neoliberalism and
the militarization of urban and national security over recent
decades, and—notwithstanding his assessment of neoliber-
alism as globally finished—he recognizes that national security
continues to be politically coded in ways that normalize trade-
offs in terms of rights, regulation, and government supports
for social security. His own dynamic positionality hints at
connections between the critical registers of metanarrative
performance and the protean qualities of security discourse
(though these do not make that discourse global—by way of
friendly amendment to his reference to my essay). These are
important insights, drawing attention to the need to rethink
how anthropology’s conventions of the local—borrowed from
a legal notion of jurisdiction—tend to incorporate an admin-
istrative logic that converts social organization into social dis-
tance, thoroughly confounding questions of agency and scale
and losing states in the process.
Weber’s formulation begins to untie that knot. In referring
to a state’s “successful claim” to “the monopoly of the legit-
imate use of force,” Weber (1958 [1918]) is saying neither
that the state holds an actual monopoly nor that all state
violence is legitimate. Rather, he is situating states discursively
in relation to the political opportunism to be found in in-
tracommunity violence. His discussion of domination (Weber
1954, esp. chap. 12; Weber 1978, esp. chaps. 9, 15, 16) gestures
to the many varieties of force that circulate without the state’s
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Article
This article outlines an approach to security that explains its phenomenal growth by examining a peculiarity of its semantic field. In contrast to notions like ‘war’ and ‘violence’, whose antonyms, ‘peace’ and ‘non-violence’, have positive connotations and are therefore well suited to discursively opposing ‘war’ and ‘violence’, the antonym of ‘security’ ‘ namely ‘insecurity’ ‘ does not achieve the same effect. I suggest that this peculiarity leads to situations in which those in the political field who oppose ‘security’ find themselves in the predicament of having to come up with alternative antonymic constructions such as ‘security vs freedom’ or ‘security vs human rights’ to argue their case. Yet, this produces an asymmetric constellation: while ‘security’ tends to be presented as a self-evident category, most of its opposites require more explication and substantiation when they are used to denaturalize security. Thus, my argument is that it is difficult to speak out against security without becoming enmeshed in complex questions of what a desirable social life should look like.
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