Towards a Critical Securitization Theory: The Copenhagen and Aberystwyth Schools of Security Studies

Introduction

Within security studies, broadly defined, re-conceptualizing security has become what one scholar aptly calls ‘something of a cottage industry’.[1] On one hand, there are those critical theorists (mainly British and partially also continental European security theorists) arguing for a ‘deepening’ and ‘broadening’ of the concept of security by rejecting the primacy given to the sovereign state as the primary referent for and agent of security;[2] on the other hand, there are those traditional security scholars (mainly mainstream US International Relations theorists) who refute redefining security in terms of deepening/broadening because it risks intellectual incoherence of the field. For them, the state is the only referent object of security and the field of security studies is about the phenomenon of war which can only be defined as “the study of the threat, use, and control of military force”.[3]

However, there is not only disagreement between traditionalists and ‘wideners’ but also lack of unity within the ranks of the wideners. One reason for this division is that, like many concepts used in social theory, security is considered to be an “essentially contested concept”;[4] suggesting that the meaning of security “is inherently a matter of dispute because no neutral definition is possible”.[5] The main reason for disagreement within the security wideners, however, is that they come from various theoretical directions. Of the many theoretical approaches and schools within the anti-traditionalist movement, the so-called ‘Copenhagen School’ and the so-called ‘Aberystwyth School’ of security studies are the most prominent and influential. The Copenhagen School tries to be the via media of traditional and critical approaches to security whereas the Aberystwyth School is the most sustained, coherent and radical critique of traditional security studies. However, both schools are part of the post-positivist movement in International Relations which gained momentum after the end of the Cold War. This paper attempts to bridge the two schools’ positions by arguing that they share some (broad) ideas about how to study security. The main problem, thus far, has been the lack of dialogue between the schools – a gap this paper seeks to fill. Accordingly, the main aim of this paper is to develop a critical securitization theory by drawing on the many revisions of the Copenhagen School’s securitization theory as well as by seeking normative guidance from the Aberystwyth School.

This paper will proceed in three parts. Part one will give a brief overview of both the Copenhagen School and the Aberystwyth School. Part two aims to show that there are no forbidding epistemological and methodological hurdles between the schools that would prohibit bridge-building from the beginning. On the contrary, it will be argued that such a venture is desirable since elements of the two schools’ work are complementary. Part three will draw on recent revisions of securitization theory as well as elements of the Aberystwyth School in order to develop a critical securitization theory. The paper will conclude by briefly revisiting the main arguments and discussing why such an approach is important for security studies in general.

Understanding the Copenhagen School and the Aberystwyth School

I.              The Copenhagen School: Securitization and Desecuritization

According to the Copenhagen School,[6] security is about survival. Copenhagen School theorists argue that in international relations something becomes a security issue when it is presented as posing an existential threat to some object – a threat that needs to be dealt with immediately and with extraordinary measures.[7] Apart from sharing this traditional military understanding of security with traditional security scholars, the conceptual apparatus of the Copenhagen School theorists – a mix of neorealist and social constructivist concepts – differs immensely from their traditional colleagues. Three conceptual tools of analysis can be distinguished here: sectors of security, regional security complex theory[8] and securitization theory[9]. Nevertheless, although sectors are used in this paper, it will concentrate on the innovative and influential securitization theory as well as on the under-theorised desecuritization theory.[10]


The main argument of securitization theory is that in international relations an issue becomes a security issue not because something constitutes an objective threat to the state (or another referent object), but rather because an actor has defined something as existential threat to some object’s survival. By doing so, the actor has claimed the right to handle the issue through extraordinary means to ensure the referent object’s survival. Security is thus a self-referential practice: an issue becomes a security issue only by being labelled as one. However, the fact that security is a social and intersubjective construct does not mean that everything can become easily securitized. In order to successfully securitize an issue, a securitizing actor has to perform a securitizing move (present something as an existential threat to a referent object) which has to be accepted by a targeted audience. Only by gaining acceptance from the audience, the issue can be moved above the sphere of normal politics, allowing elites to break normal procedures and rules and implement emergency measures.[11] However, it is important to note that for the Copenhagen School, “security should be seen as a negative, as a failure to deal with issues of normal politics”.[12] Therefore, the Copenhagen School prefers desecuritization, whereby issues are moved out of the sphere of exceptionality and into the ordinary public sphere.

II.           The Aberystwyth School: Critical Theory and Security/Emancipation

The Aberystwyth School of security studies or Critical Security Studies (hereafter CSS)[13] works within the tradition of Critical Theory which has its roots in Marxism. CSS is based on the pioneering work of Ken Booth[14] and Richard Wyn Jones[15], which is heavily influenced by Gramscian critical theory and Frankfurt School critical social theory as well as by radical International Relations theory most recently associated with the neogramscian theorist Robert W. Cox.[16] As diverse as these approaches might seem, they all originate in the Marxian productivist paradigm, seeking to develop a social theory orientated toward social transformation by exploring and elucidating human emancipation’s barriers and possibilities.[17]

Like other critical approaches, CSS sets out from a criticism of traditional security studies and its state-centric nature. However, Booth and Wyn Jones not only criticise traditional approaches, but also offer a very clear view of how to reconceptualise security studies – by making human emancipation their focus. Only a process of emancipation can make the prospect of ‘true’ human security more likely. For Booth and Wyn Jones, the realist understanding of security as ‘power’ and ‘order’ can never lead to ‘true’ security. For them, the sovereign state is not the main provider of security, but one of the main causes of insecurity. Indeed, during the last hundred years far more people have been killed by their own governments than by foreign armies.[18] True security, Booth argues, “can only be achieved by people and groups if they do not deprive others of it”.[19] In order to achieve true security, it must be understood as emancipation. For Booth, emancipation “offers a theory of progress for politics, it provides a politics of hope and gives guidance to a politics of resistance (…) Emancipation is the only permanent hope of becoming”.[20] For Booth security and emancipation are two sides of the same coin.[21]

Furthermore, Booth rejects the claim that security is a ‘contested concept’. In order to achieve security, Booth contends, we have to define it; and “[t]he best starting point for conceptualising security lies in the real conditions of insecurity suffered by people and collectives”.[22] What is immediately striking, Booth argues, is that biological drives for security are universal (to have food, shelter, safety etc.) as well as the fact that the lack of security is a life determining condition. Booth calls this condition survival, which he defines as the struggle of a person or a group of people in order to exist. “Survival is not synonymous with living tolerably well, and less still with having the conditions to pursue cherished political and social ambitions”; for the latter, Booth argues, “security is required, and not just survival. In this sense security is equivalent to survival-plus (the plus being some freedom from life determining threats, and therefore space to make choices)”.[23] In short, survival is being alive; security is living.

Towards a Critical Securitization Theory

As the first section of this paper has aimed to show, the two critical schools of security studies are very different indeed. The Copenhagen School’s securitization approach belongs to a category Robert Cox calls problem-solving theory,which takes the world as it finds it and seeks to make it work by dealing effectively with particular sources of trouble and thereby replicating what exists. Critical theory, unlike problem-solving theory, Cox argues, calls prevailing social and power relationships and institutions into question “by concerning itself with their origins and how and whether they might be in the process of changing”.[24] The approach to security advanced by CSS theorists belongs to the latter category.

Despite these differences, the schools have some commonalities. Both schools oppose the assumptions, presumptions, assertions, and prescriptions of traditional security studies. In this respect it is also remarkable that both schools are reflecting on the concept of security as such as well as on the relationship between actor and analyst in the study of security, noting that “[o]ne’s own practice as security analyst is implicated in the politics of security and as such one faces hard ethical dilemmas as security actor”.[25]

In their seminal book, Security: A New Framework for Analysis, the Copenhagen School directly addresses the political role of the security analyst by adopting the securitization perspective. This reflects the hope that raising the securitization debate will “involve other schools of security studies more openly in debates about the political role of security analysts”.[26] As mentioned above, the Copenhagen School holds the view that there are no objective threats and anyone who classifies an issue as a security problem makes a political rather than analytical decision. Therefore, “[t]he role of the analyst cannot be to observe threats, but to determine how, by whom, under what circumstances, and with what consequences some issues are classified as existential threats but not others”.[27] This belief in itself is highly problematic and will be discussed later, but before let me turn to a more problematic aspect of the Copenhagen School approach.


As mentioned earlier, securitization theory is one of three conceptual tools within the Copenhagen apparatus. One of the other two conceptual tools is the ‘sectoralization’ of security. Nevertheless, there is a contradiction here between the claim to ‘relative objectivity’ using securitization theory and not acknowledging one’s own responsibility for widening the security agenda into different sectors.[28] The decision to widen the security concept into sectors other than the military is a political decision which not just influences other scholars in the field, but also policymakers. From a securitization perspective, it seems that the Copenhagen School scholars, “by objectifying sectors, are pushed into the role as securitizers” and securitize issues just as politicians do.[29] Sectors are not purely analytical concepts but rather socially constructed by members of the Copenhagen School.

In this respect, CSS differs from the Copenhagen School in two ways. Firstly, CSS scholars criticise the Copenhagen School for sectoralizing (thereby objectifying) the objects of security; claiming that not only threats, but also these objects are social constructs. Secondly, CSS differs from the Copenhagen School in that it has an emancipatory intend. CSS scholars, such as Booth, are concerned with questions like: “how threats and appropriate responses are constructed; how the ‘objects’ of security are constructed; and what the possibilities are for the transformation of ‘security dilemmas’”.[30] They are, in contrast to the Copenhagen School, straightforwardly political: “the established realism is blamed for the hostility, instability, and injustice that unfortunately are part of world politics”.[31] The aim of the analyst is to speak on behalf of the voiceless, always pointing to the fact that the world we inhabit is not working for the majority of people.[32] Thus, CSS scholars emphasize the possibility of major change in world politics because things are socially constructed.[33]

The Copenhagen School, in contrast, deliberately claims that their approach differs from that taken by scholars of CSS:

[We] believe even the socially constituted is often sedimented as structure and becomes so relatively stable as practice that one must do analysis also on the basis that it continues, using one’s understanding of the social construction of security not only to criticize this fact but also to understand the dynamics of security and thereby maneuver them.[34]

This, again, is a political choice by the Copenhagen School and does not mean that securitization theory, the core of their approach, cannot be used to talk about what ‘real security’ is for ‘real people’ in ‘real places’.

Indeed, Wyn Jones argues that Ole Wæver’s securitization approach falls into the broader definition of CSS even if Wæver rejects this characterization.[35] Wyn Jones claims that there are two different conceptualisations of CSS:

(1) For some [most notably Ken Booth and Richard Wyn Jones], it represents a distinct project in its own right: CSS is regarded as an attempt to develop an emancipation-oriented understanding of the theory and practice of security. (2) The alternative view is of CSS as a typological device; as a useful label under which to group all those contemporary approaches to the study of security that do not share the narrow metatheoretical assumptions of traditional security studies.[36]

However, “whatever the rhetoric”, Wyn Jones argues, “all proponents of CSS depend on some notion of the existence of possibilities for progressive alternatives – that is, emancipation”.[37] Indeed, in a footnote in his seminal article ‘Securitization and Desecuritization’ Wæver seems to be hinting at some notion of emancipation:

For understandable but contingent institutional reasons, poststructuralists[38] have emerged on the academic scene with the political program of tearing down ‘givens’, of opening up, making possible, freeing. This invites the reasonable question: opening up for what? Neo-Nazis? War? How can the poststructuralist be sure that “liberating minds” and “transcending limits” will necessarily lead to more peaceful conditions, unless one makes an incredible enlightenment-indebted “harmony of interest” assumption? For someone working in the negatively-driven field of security, a poststructuralist politics of responsibility must turn out differently, with more will to power and less de-naturalization.[39]

Another hint on the emancipatory intent of Wæver’s securitisation approach can be found in his collaborative work with the other Copenhagen School theorists, Security: A New Framework for Analysis. Although deliberately trying to differentiate themselves from the ‘narrower’ of the two CSS schools by refusing to “define some emancipatory ideal”, they also proclaim the need “to understand the dynamics of security and thereby maneuver them”.[40] They even argue that with their approach it “becomes possible to evaluate whether one finds it good or bad to securitize a certain issue”.[41] Furthermore, in one of their few explicit normative arguments, they contend that “security should be seen as a negative, as a failure to deal with issues of normal politics”.[42] Therefore, the critical aspect of their approach is their preference for desecuritization. It points to the possibility of progressive alternatives to the status quo that is, as Wyn Jones argues, “what is generally understood as some notion of emancipation”. [43]

However, in contrast to CSS theorists like Booth and Wyn Jones, Copenhagen School theorists do not discuss the nature of their alternatives (desecuritization). Whereas CSS scholars attempt to transpose meta-level understandings of emancipation into visions of concrete utopias, Copenhagen School theorists leave discussions of emancipation (and its meaning at the abstract or concrete level) aside. Their own ‘alternative’- desecuritization – receives little theoretical support in their work.

In her article ‘The Little Mermaids Silent Security Dilemma’ Lene Hansen points to two further ‘silences’ in the securitization approach.[44] First, by using the case study of honour killings in Pakistan, Hansen argues that there are situations in which it is not possible to speak about the security issue. The women in Pakistan for example cannot talk about their dreadful situation because doing so would increase the threat to themselves. These ‘silent security dilemmas’ cannot be addressed with the securitization approach since it depends on the ability to speak about security. The second silence is that for the Copenhagen School, securitization can only take place when a referent object is existentially threatened. Neither gender-based (in)security issues nor any other kind of ontological (in)security issues fit within any of the Copenhagen Schools definitions of the referent object. The dilemma here is that one can have physical security without having ‘ontological security’ – the security of the self, the subjective sense of who one is, which enables and motivates action and choice.[45] Both silences are due to the Copenhagen School’s joint foci of societal security and the state (while ignoring individual or group security) as well as their definition of security as survival. For CSS theorists, on the other hand, individual humans are the ultimate referent and security is not only survival but living a life without fear.

As the foregoing discussion has shown, the Copenhagen School’s securitization approach has indeed an emancipatory intent. Throughout the discussion of the security analyst’s role Wæver and his colleagues hint on progressive alternatives to traditional security studies but themselves are unwilling to go all the way down. Their securitization approach has three major weaknesses: (1) the relationship between security actor and analyst (“relative objectivism”), (2) the state as the referent object of security (silence over the voiceless) and (3) the definition of security as survival (silence over ontological security). However, these can be easily overcome by seeking normative guidance in the more radical CSS project. In the following I will show that securitization theory can be used (and is being used) to address ‘real’ security problems larger than those propagated by elites in order to change prevailing social and power relationships and institutions. By doing so, I will show that the main difference between the Copenhagen School and CSS, namely the false dilemma of problem solving theory and critical theory, is a matter of political choice. What gives securitization theory its normative direction is the analyst.

Deconstructing Securitization Theory: Bringing Morality and Ethics Back in

Rita Floyd was one of the first scholars to critically engage with the Copenhagen School and the ethical dimension of security. Opposed to the Copenhagen School’s formulation, she proves that neither securitization nor desecuritization are in and of themselves positive or negative. Floyd claims that the security analyst should not only explore how, but also why actors securitize because their intentions can indicate the potential outcome of a securitizing move. Inspired by consequentialism, Floyd argues that the moral rightness (or wrongness) of a securitization finally depends on its consequences. In other words, for the security analyst to decide whether a securitization (or desecuritization) is positive or negative, s/he has to find out if the securitization (or desecuritization) in question achieved more, and/or better results than a mere politicisation (or securitization) of the issue would have done.[46]

In her recent publication, Security and the Environment, Floyd concentrates on US environmental security policy – an area which was identified as security sector by the Copenhagen School – and impressively demonstrates that both in the case of securitization of the environment during the Clinton administration (1993-97) and its desecuritization during the Bush administration (2001-09), the beneficiary was the national security establishment. In the first case, the Clinton administration securitized the environment by awarding the Department of Defense with financial support in order to address environmental degradation within the military domain.[47] In the second case, the Bush administration not only desecuritized the environmental sector but also depoliticised it. Floyd claims that the Clinton securitization was not positive because the beneficiary (or referent object) were not the American people but the state. The consequence of the double move (desecuritization/depoliticisation) of the Bush administration, Floyd claims, was even worse because neither humans nor nature could benefit.[48]

However, Floyd as well as CSS and effectively the Copenhagen School theorists recognize that the ‘mobilization power’ inherent to securitization can be used for good ends. How can a security analyst determine when securitization is morally right or wrong? Floyd argues that securitization is only morally right if it fulfils three criteria:

(1) there must be an objective existential threat, which is to say a threat that endangers the survival of an actor or an order regardless of whether anyone has realized this; (2) the referent object of security must be morally legitimate, which is the case only when the referent object is conducive to human well-being defined as the satisfaction of human needs; and (3) the security response must be appropriate to the threat in question, which is to say that (a) the security response must be measured in accordance with the capabilities of the aggressor and (b) the securitizing actor must be sincere in his or her attentions.[49]

However, Floyd argues that it is not possible to extent the original securitization theory by the three criteria, as that theory rejects theorization of actors’ intentions and instead advocates objective threat assessment. Therefore, Floyd further develops securitization theory from its original version (securitization = securitizing move + acceptance by audience) to “securitization = securitizing move (existential threat justification that amounts to no more than a warning or a promise) + security practice (a change of relevant behaviour by a relevant agent that is justified by this agent with reference to the declared threat)”.[50] Floyd separates the audience from the securitization process and instead concentrates on the security practice. For her, a securitization is complete only if the warning to the aggressor and/or promise for protection to the referent made in the speech act is followed up by a change in relevant behaviour by a securitizing actor. The advantage of Floyd’s revision is that it makes it possible to examine whether a securitizing actor is sincere. Lying to other states and to one’s own people in order to reach strategic goals is a tool of statecraft which is deeply embedded in modern democracies.[51] Thus, in contrast to the original securitization theory, Floyd’s revision enables the security analyst to examine whether state leaders (or other securitizing actors) really intended to “safeguard the referent objects of security they have themselves identified or if they securitized the given object for different reasons altogether”.

Floyd’s revision eliminates three flaws of securitization theory and brings it closer to CSS. Firstly, it enables the security analyst to directly engage with uncomfortable contradictions and moral dilemmas inherent in the practice of security. Secondly, for Floyd, the ultimate referent object is the individual human and not the state. Thirdly, she does not equate security with survival but rather argues that security (or human well-being) is a condition of freedom, “which leaves [humans] in a position to promote or achieve objectives they value… What matters, in short, is the capability to flourish”.[52] Floyd’s concept of security as ‘human well-being’ is particularly interesting, for it is similar to the CSS’ concept of security as emancipation.

However, Floyd’s revised securitization theory has a major weakness: it fails to recognize a myriad of security practices that operate below the level of exceptionality. In a recent article, Scott D. Watson not only reconceptualises humanitarianism[53] as a sector of security – thereby expanding the applicability of securitization theory beyond states and societies to humans as referent objects – but also challenges the Copenhagen School’s conceptualisation of normality and exceptionality.

Watson argues that humanitarianism, as a distinct sector of security, has its own logic and procedures: (1) what qualifies as existential threat for the referent object (human life/dignity) can vary greatly depending on the security actor making the claim: from poverty and injustice as primary existential threats to large-scale loss of human life; (2) the appropriate means of implementing emergency measures can also vary greatly: from impartial and neutral delivery of relief (and nothing but relief) to military interventions; and (3) securitization can refer to a range of practices situated along the spectrum of exceptional-institutionalized.[54]

The third point is particularly important, for it challenges the Copenhagen School’s equalization of securitization with the implementation of exceptional measures by recognizing a myriad of security practices that operate below the level of exceptionality. This brings the Copenhagen School’s theorists much closer to the approach of securitization advanced by the Paris School of security studies. Didier Bigo, the most prominent scholar of the Paris School, argues that “[s]ecurity is often marked by the handing over of entire security fields to ‘professionals of unease’ who are tasked with managing existing persistent threats and identifying new ones”.[55] These professionals, to use the Bourdieuian language of the Paris School, are nothing but one out of many different (in)securitizing actors (e.g. the state) in a given field; and their speech acts are not decisive but rather themselves the result of structural competition between actors (with different forms of capital) over contradictory definitions of security and different interests.[56] Bigo contends that “some (in)securitization moves performed by bureaucracies, the media, or private agents are so embedded in routines that they are never discussed and presented as an exception but, on the contrary, as the continuation of routines” or institutionalised security.[57]

In his article, Watson contends that humanitarian security is best understood along this spectrum of exceptionality/institutionalisation. Some forms of activity have been institutionalized and handed over to standing bureaucracies that specialize in dealing with these types of security crises in accordance with norms of intervention based on consensus; “whereas other measures, such as humanitarian intervention, violate the norm of consensual intervention and are not yet fully institutionalized, meaning that they still need to be publicly debated and legitimized”.[58]

Regarding the case study of the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami, Watson uses securitization theory to gain a “precise understanding of who securitizes, on what issues (threats), for whom (referent objects), why, with what results, and under what conditions (i.e., what explains when securitization is successful)”.[59] In contrast to the Copenhagen School, however, Watson uses this knowledge to speak on behalf of the voiceless; pointing to the fact that social, political and economic processes contributed to the vulnerability of local human populations facing the tsunami. He writes:

In this case, it is the economically advantaged populations (and their home states) that are bestowed with agency, while the framework of state sovereignty or of global economical order that enables tourism and bestows riches on the global ‘north’ while contributing to poverty and human vulnerability to natural disaster in the global ‘south’ is rarely questioned. Rather, the moral impetus to provide emergency assistance allows the advantaged to address symptoms of vast global inequality without addressing underlying structural causes, or in some cases by extending the very economic practices that contribute to poverty and human vulnerability.[60]

Although Watson welcomes humanitarian aid, he points to the fact that the current routines of international society within the humanitarian sector are nothing more than attempts to fight the symptoms of poverty and human vulnerability, but not their causes.[61] Watson implicitly uses what I now call critical securitization theory.

Conclusion

It was the aim of this paper to identify some common ground between the Copenhagen School and CSS in order to bring them together and advance a critical securitization theory based on elements of the two schools’ work that are complementary.

As mentioned above, neither securitization nor desecuritization are in and of themselves positive or negative, which enables both schools to say something interesting about security. However, CSS theorists as well as Copenhagen School theorists recognize that the mobilization power inherent in securitization can be used for good ends. It is this shared assumption on which a normative theory of securitization should be build. This is so, because the mobilisation power of security can be abused by securitizing actors for self-seeking reasons. It was suggested here that for the security analyst to determine whether securitization is positive or negative, s/he has to analyze both the securitizing move (existential threat justification that amounts to no more than a warning or a promise) of a securitizing actor as well as the security practice (a change of relevant behaviour by a relevant agent that is justified by this agent with reference to the declared threat). The security practice is only morally right and considered to be positive if it benefits human well-being and promotes human emancipation. In contrast to Copenhagen School theorists, the critical securitization approach outlined here enables and encourages the security analyst to directly engage with uncomfortable contradictions and moral dilemmas inherent in the practice of security. As Hidemi Suganami argues, “[t]he reason why, in some cases, our moral judgements seep through our causal explanations is simply that some questions turn out to be, or may plausibly be interpreted as, asking for our moral views on that matter”.[62] These questions were mostly ignored or inadequately addressed by the Copenhagen School because of their “relative objectivism”.

Furthermore, the critical securitization approach outlined here does not equate securitization with the implementation of exceptional measures but recognizes a number of security practices that operate below the level of exceptionality. By doing so, it not only brings the Copenhagen School and CSS much closer to the approach of securitization advanced by the Paris School of security studies, but also allows the analyst to address (in)securitization moves that are not discussed and presented as an exception but, on the contrary, as the continuation of routines. This revised securitization theory, thus, enables and encourages the security analyst to engage with ‘real’ security problems larger than those propagated by elites in order to change prevailing routines, social and power relationships and institutions.

As we have seen, elements of the Copenhagen School and CSS as well as the Paris School are complementary to each other. Attempts to find common ground between these critical schools of security studies can build the basis for more constructive communication within the anti-traditionalist movement. This can result in a more unified critical security studies project, thus offering a stronger challenge to the traditional mainstream of security studies. Furthermore, the more united the academy the more adoptable are its theories for policymakers (EU or otherwise).[63] 

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  • Jervis, R. ‘Morality, Policy, and Theory: Reflections on the 1954 Conference’, in The Invention of International Relations Theory, edited by Nicholas Guilhot (New York, Columbia University Press, 2011) pp. 33-53.
  • Krause, K. ‘Critical Theory and Security Studies: The Research Programme of “Critical Security Studies”’, Cooperation and Conflict, 33 (1998) pp. 298-333.
  • Suganami, H. ‘Causal Explanation and Moral Judgment: Undividing a Division’, Millennium: Journal of International Studies, 39 (2011) pp. 1-18.
  • Walt, S. M. ‘The Renaissance of Security Studies’, International Studies Quarterly, 35 (1991) pp. 211-39.
  • Watson, S. ‘The ‘Human’ as Referent Object? Humanitarianism as Securitization’, Security Dialogue, 42 (2011) pp. 3-20.
  • Williams, M. C. ‘Words, Images, Enemies: Securitization and International Politics’, International Studies Quarterly, 47 (2003) pp. 511-31.

[1] Baldwin, D. A. ‘The Concept of Security’, Review of International Studies, 23 (1997) p. 5.

[2] Buzan, B. and Hansen, L. Chapter 7:’Widening and deepening security’, in The Evolution of International Security Studies (Cambridge, Cambridge University Press, 2009), pp. 187-225.

[3] Walt, S. M. ‘The Renaissance of Security Studies’, International Studies Quarterly, 35 (1991) pp. 212-13.

[4] See Buzan, B. People, States and Fear: An Agenda for International Security Studies in the Post-Cold War Era, 2nd ed. (London, Harvester Wheatsheaf, [1983] 1991), p. 7. Gallie first coined the term ‘essentially contested’ for a category of concepts whose meaning and usage would always be open for disagreement. See Gallie, W. B. ‘Essentially Contested Concepts’, Proceedings of the Aristotelian Society, 56 (1956) pp. 167-98.

[5] Smith, S. ‘The Contested Concept of Security’, in Critical Security Studies and World Politics, edited by Ken Booth (London, Lynne Rienner, 2005), p. 27.

[6] The name ‘Copenhagen School’ refers to a small group of IR theorists (with Barry Buzan and Ole Wæver as the School’s most prominent members) formerly based at the Copenhagen Peace Research Institute (COPRI) in Copenhagen, Denmark. The label ‘Copenhagen School’ was suggested by one of their critics. See McSweeney, B. ‘Identity and Security: Buzan and the Copenhagen School’, Review of International Studies, 22 (1996) pp. 81-93.

[7] Buzan, B., Wæver, O. and Wilde, J. Security: A New Framework for Analysis (London, Lynne Rienner, 1998), p. 21.

[8] Both concepts were originally developed by Barry Buzan. See Buzan, B. People, States and Fear: An Agenda for International Security Studies in the Post-Cold War Era, 2nd ed. (London, Harvester Wheatsheaf, [1983] 1991). See also Buzan et al., Security, pp. 7-20; 49-141. For the most comprehensive account of regional security complex theory see Buzan, B. and Wæver, O. Regions and Powers: The Structure of International Security (Cambridge, Cambridge University Press, 2003), esp. Chap. 3.

[9] Securitization theory was originally developed by Ole Wæver. See Wæver, O. ‘Securitization and Desecuritization’ in On Security, edited by Ronnie D. Lipschutz (New York, Columbia University Press, 1995).

[10] Please note that this paper does not carry out a chronological analysis of the development of the Copenhagen School as has been done by Huysmans, J. ‘Revisiting Copenhagen: Or on the creative Development of a Security Studies Agenda in Europe’, European Journal of International Relations, 4 (1998) pp. 479-505.

[11] See Buzan et al., Security, pp. 23-26. See also Balzacq, T. ‘The Three Faces of Securitization: Political Agency, audience and context’, European Journal of International Relations, 11 (2005) p. 173.

[12] Wæver, ‘Securitization and Desecuritization’, p. 29.

[13] Note that there are two distinct critical security studies. The first is the Aberystwyth School which will be referred to as CSS throughout this article. The second is critical security studies as introduced by Keith Krause and Michael C. Williams in 1997; which is theoretically inclusive in the sense of involving many different perspectives including the Aberystwyth School. See Krause, K. and Williams, M. C. (eds.) Critical Security Studies Concepts and Cases (Minneapolis, University of Minnesota Press, 1997).

[14] See Booth, K. ‘Security and emancipation’, Review of International Relations, 17 (1991) pp. 313-26; Booth, K. ‘Security in Anarchy: Utopian Realism in Theory and Practice’, International Affairs, 67 (1991) pp. 527-45; Booth, K. (ed.) New Thinking About Strategy and International Security (London, HarperCollins, 1991);

[15] See Wyn Jones, R. ‘”Message in a Bottle”? Theory and Practice in Critical Security Studies’, Contemporary Security Policy, 16 (1995) pp. 299-319; Wyn Jones, R. ‘The Nuclear Revolution’, in Fin De Siecle: The Meaning of the Twentieth Century, edited by Alex Danchev (London, I. B. Taurus, 1995), pp. 90-109; Wyn Jones, R. ‘”Travel Without Maps”: Thinking About Security After the Cold War’, in Security Issues in the post-Cold War World, edited by Jane Davis (Cheltenham, Edward Elgar, 1996), pp. 196-218.

[16] See Booth, K. Theory of World Security (Cambridge, Cambridge University Press, 2007), especially pp. 37-87. Note that these thinkers became influential for Booth after he first expressed his ideas in his 1991 article. His influences before were Kenneth Boulding, Johan Galtung, and Richard Falk. See Smith, ‘The Contested Concept of Security’, pp. 41-42.

[17] See Wyn Jones, R. ‘Introduction: Locating Critical International Relations Theory’, in Critical Theory and World Politics, edited by Richard Wyn Jones (London, Lynne Rienner, 2001), pp. 5-10.

[18] See Human Security Centre (HSC), Human Security Report 2005: War and Peace in the 21st Century (Oxford, Oxford University Press, 2005), p. VIII.

[19] Booth, ‘Security and emancipation’, p. 319.

[20] Booth, K. ‘Three Tyrannies’, in Human Rights in Global Politics, edited by Tim Dunne and Nicholas J. Wheeler (Cambridge, Cambridge University Press, 1999), p. 46.

[21] See, Booth, ‘Security and emancipation’, p. 319.

[22] Booth, K. ‘Introduction to Part One’, in Critical Security Studies and World Politics, edited by Ken Booth (London, Lynne Rienner, 2005), p.22.

[23] Booth, Theory of World Security, p. 102.

[24] Cox, R. W. ‘Social Forces, States and World Orders: Beyond International Relations Theory’, Millennium: Journal of International Studies, 10 (1981) pp. 128-129.

[25] Floyd, R. ‘Towards a consequentialist evaluation of security: bringing together the Copenhagen and Welsh Schools of security studies’, Review of International Studies, 33 (2007) p. 335.

[26] Buzan et al., Security, p. 206.

[27] Eriksson, O. ‘Observers or Advocates? On the Political Role of Security Analysts’, Cooperation and Conflict, 34 (1999) p. 315.

[28] Eriksson, ‘Observers or Advocates?’, p. 315.

[29] Eriksson, ‘Observers or Advocates?’, p. 316.

[30] Krause, K. ‘Critical Theory and Security Studies: The Research Programme of “Critical Security Studies”’, Cooperation and Conflict, 33 (1998) p. 298.

[31] Eriksson, ‘Observers or Advocates?’, p. 318.

[32] Booth, Theory of World Security, pp. 11-31

[33] The Copenhagen School would implicitly agree on the latter point.

[34] Buzan et al., Security, p. 35.

[35] See Wyn Jones, R. ‘On Emancipation: Necessity, Capacity, and Concrete Utopias’, in Critical Security Studies and World Politics, edited by Ken Booth (London, Lynne Rienner, 2005), pp. 217-218.

[36] Wyn Jones, ‘On Emancipation’, p. 215.

[37] Wyn Jones, ‘On Emancipation’, p. 217.

[38] Wæver considers himself to be a poststructural realist.

[39] Wæver, ‘Securitization and Desecuritization’ p. 86.

[40] Buzan et al., Security, p .35 (emphasis added).

[41] Buzan et al., Security, p 34.

[42] Wæver, ‘Securitization and Desecuritization’, p. 29.

[43] Wyn Jones, ‘On Emancipation’, p. 218.

[44] See Hansen, L. ‘The Little Mermaid’s Silent Security Dilemma and the Absence of Gender in the Copenhagen School’, Millennium: Journal of International Studies, 29 (2000) pp. 285-306.

[45] See Mitzen, J. ‘Ontological Security in World Politics: State Identity and the Security Dilemma’, European Journal of International Relations, 12 (2006) pp. 341-370.

[46] See Floyd, ‘Towards a consequentialist evaluation’, p. 337.

[47] Floyd, R. Security and the Environment: Securitization Theory and US Environmental Security Policy (Cambridge, Cambridge University Press, 2010), pp. 84-86, 117-21.

[48] Floyd, Security and the Environment, pp. 166-73.

[49] Floyd, R. ‘Can Securitization theory be used in normative analysis? Towards a just securitization theory’, Security Dialogue, 42 (2011) p. 428.

[50] Floyd. ‘Can Securitization theory be used in normative analysis?’, p. 437.

[51] See Mearsheimer, J. Why Leaders Lie: The Truth About Lying in International Politics (London, Duckworth-Overlook, 2011).

[52] Floyd. ‘Can Securitization theory be used in normative analysis?’, p. 431.

[53] For an critical account of the moral dilemmas inherent in humanitarian endeavours see Edkins, J. ‘Humanitarianism, humanity, human’, Journal of Human Rights, 2 (2003) pp. 253-58; Rieff, D. A Bed for the Night: Humanitarianism in Crisis (New York, Simon & Schuster, 2002).

[54] See Watson, S. ‘The ‘Human’ as Referent Object? Humanitarianism as Securitization’, Security Dialogue, 42 (2011) pp. 6-12.

[55] Bigo, D. ‘Security and immigration: Toward a critique of the governmentality of unease’, Alternatives, 27 (2002) p. 65, summarized in Watson, ‘The ‘Human’ as Referent Object?’, p. 8.

[56] Bigo, D. and Tsoukala, A. ‘Understanding (in)security’, in Terror, Insecurity and Liberty: Illiberal Practices of Liberal regimes after 9/11 (Oxon, Routledge, 2008), pp.  4-5.

[57] Bigo & Tsoukala, ‘Understanding (in)security’, p. 5.

[58] Watson, ‘The Human as a Referent Object?’, p. 12.

[59] Buzan et al., Security, p. 32.

[60] Watson, ‘The Human as a Referent Object?’, pp. 14-15.

[61] For a similar critique based on Ken Booth’s Theory of World Security see Butler, K. Z. A Critical Humanitarian Intervention Approach (Basingstoke, Palgrave-McMillan, 2011).

[62] Suganami, H. ‘Causal Explanation and Moral Judgment: Undividing a Division’, Millennium: Journal of International Studies, 39 (2011) p. 16.

[63] Floyd, ‘Towards a consequentialist evaluation’, p. 327.


Written by: Ali Diskaya
Written at: Aberystwyth University
Written for: Dr. Kamila Stullerova
Date written: May 2012

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