Contesting Security

Scholars who think conceptually and critically about “security” ask questions like “security for whom?” “By what means?” “How do the logics of security operate in liberal-democratic states?” “Can the language of security be recuperated for radical projects or must it be abandoned all together?” The literature I have been reviewing in preparation for my research proposal attempts to address these questions in effort to move away from state-centric, militaristic, and hyper-masculine understandings of security.

In the United States, security is often understood as protection from an external or internal threat, typically racialized and gendered as a male bodied person(s) of color. Military and police forces are deployed to keep us safe by capturing (or killing) the threat. Radical abolition envisions a world “where we do not use prisons, policing, and the larger system of the prison industrial complex as an ‘answer’ to what are social, political, and economic problems” (Rose Braz – Critical Resistance). In other words, radical abolition disrupts or troubles common-sense notions of security from to suggest an alternative understanding of safety with; it “means facilitating and creating a kind of safety few of us have likely known, through self-determination and the capacity to struggle with each other” (Shana Agid – Critical Resistance).

How do people understand the security-safety nexus in their everyday lives, particularly as we live in the shadow of what Ruth Wilson Gilmore calls the “anti-state state”? The logic of the “Secure Communities” program (S-COMM) suggests that communities with undocumented people are at risk and therefore, to be “secure” undocumented people must be removed from the communities where they reside. The numerous protests against S-COMM demonstrate everyday contestations over the meaning of security at the sites where various state security projects are enacted. It is these contestations occurring in particular places that I hope to explore in my future research.


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