Spaces of Security is a richly detailed volume examining the multiple dimensions, practices, and formulations of security that increasingly shape the conditions for modern life, as well as the discourses that have shaped how security is understood. According to editors Setha Low and Mark Maguire, attempts to study “security” have largely failed to attend to the conceptual and logistical complexities of addressing a subject with such varied meanings and foci—for example, when international relations scholars invoke “security,” they do not necessarily refer to the same conversations sociologists do when invoking the term. Thus, it should be approached not as a specifically defined state, but as “an area of concern” (Buzan, 1983). And despite a number of fields generating conversation seemingly centered on a common subject, the inescapable nebulousness of “the rascal concept of security” (page 1) has served to maintain those inquiries as a scattering of largely separated discourses, in the process constraining the efficacy of collaborative work between and across those fields. Further, this critical disjuncture minimizes possibilities for a more robust explication of the precise mechanisms through which security is variously enacted.

This is not to suggest, however, the need for some sort of encompassing framework as an effective solution to understanding security. Recent scholarship on the rise of security and “securitization” has rarely diverged from understanding security as process, or as a discrete arrangement of power flows. Rather, Low and Maguire propose we turn towards a more intentional, prolonged examination of the spatial, which they view as a thus-far understudied element of security. In pointing out that “[w]hether one studies racialized exclusion through gatedness or shifting state-citizen relations by focusing on the privatization of security, spatial images and metaphors abound” (page 8), Low and Maguire argue for anthropology as a site ripe for such an intervention, as “anthropology has not developed a coherent approach to this important dimension of security” (page 1).

Thus, the aim of this volume is to demonstrate the urgency of bringing a more humanistic perspective to bear on inquiries into security and its multiple formulations. It is precisely by closely exploring the material, discursive, and affective details of “how security is worked out” (page 2) that ethnography allows us to “draw the spatio-temporal dimensions of security into the foreground” (page 21). Building on Foucault’s observation that the operations of security frequently express as “spaces of security” (Foucault, 2007), and extending Appadurai’s desire for a construct that encompasses the “disjunctive and unstable interplay” (Appadurai, 1990) of contemporary life, this volume centers the “securityscape” as a generative formulation for reconceptualizing security as “a hard-to-define spatio-temporal configuration that includes the affective and imaginary as well as the infrastructural and concrete” (page 12).

The volume brings together ethnographies of varying global location (and beyond), scale, and scope, and is loosely organized in three thematic clusters. Chapters 1-3 examine how security regimes of the state formulate, constrain, and dictate the everyday existences of people living within, and sometimes without, state borders and zones. These acts of state direction can be both centralized and distributed, and are experienced quite differently by people occupying different social categories.

In his insightful chapter, Zoltan Glück examines how Kenya’s response to the Somali militant group Al-Shabaab’s 2013 bombing of the Westgate shopping mall in Nairobi is experienced by the predominantly Somali and Muslim Eastleigh neighborhood. For Eastleigh residents, the urban counterterrorism intervention “Operation Usalama Watch” and its aggressively violent and exclusionary policing amounts to a continual terror—“emergency” measures of criminalizing, surveilling, and harassing Muslim residents maintain a constant state of insecurity under the guise of the necessary project securitization by the state. Thus, for Eastleigh residents, “counterterror” is experienced as terror, “security” as insecurity.

The resulting “security affects” (Masco 2014) emerge through entanglements of material partitioning and continual fear. Numerous checkpoints maintain zones of exclusion, “produc[ing] fractured and divided urban space” (page 41) the service of what Glück calls “security urbanism” (page 39). But “very few people believe that these checkpoints are effective at preventing or deterring “terrorism,”” and further, guards “don’t seem to know what they [are] looking for” (page 42). Glück suggests that despite popular belief that they therefore “accomplish nothing” (page 42), the primary outcome checkpoints yield is the continual maintenance of anxious subjects through the production of fearful imaginaries—of the constant possibility of terror attacks of different scales, and of the looming spectre of “dangerous others” (page 46) within one’s own community (a fear seemingly confirmed by the limited mobilities checkpoints impose on some populations and not others). Paradoxically, the destabilizing weight of this “securitized urban subjectivity” (page 42) leads many in Nairobi to lament the absence of “security […] a right the state must deliver” (page 49). Glück describes a powerful scene that clarifies the perversely hegemonic security power wielded by the Kenyan state: “that of passionate protestors, assembled before the seat of government, demanding more security as state security forces promptly arrive to disperse them with clouds of asphyxiating tear gas.” (page 50)

In their contribution, Alejandro Grimson and Brigída Renoldi offer another perspective on how state counterterror projects produce security through spatialized zones that determine interiors and exteriors. Examining the continual negotiation of “the invisible border that separates Encarnacion (Paraguay) from Posadas (Argentina)” (page 78), Grimson and Renoldi argue that the contemporary state’s primary concern over borders isn’t in modulating the imagined stability of territories or populations, but rather in controlling the flows that happen across those borders. “Security and borders,” they note, “are concepts that presuppose connections and meanings that derive from worlds they create and where they display themselves” (page 83), and therefore the task of tracing a border and the relational structures it articulates must also attend to the functions the border stimulates or constrains. To make sense of the multiple elements and interactions that shape and are shaped by a border, Grimson and Renoldi propose a theory of “borderization” (page 80), through which political borders can be best understood by their common elements:

1. lines, and the territories they produce
2. populations that live in proximity to the border
3. the lineage of cultural systems that have existed in that space
4. “the different meanings the border acquires” (page 81)

Thus, although a border is in many ways an object—albeit one that obtains as the outcome of numerous historical elements—it can be understood more accurately as a process. Along the border between Encarnacion and Posadas, that process amounts to a securityscape “in which the movement of things and people becomes the movement of naturalized objects” (page 83). Here, state security articulates different kinds of un/belonging ostensibly predicated along the lines that demarcate il/legality, and inextricably tied to discourses of terrorism. As Grimson and Renoldi note, “security forces perceive terrorism as a threat that is combined with a number of other threats, from the illegal drug trade and trafficking to smuggling, and money and asset laundering” (page 88). With this expansion of what gets read as “terrorism,” qualities of “criminality and delinquency [are constructed] based on the porosity of borders” (page 90), and are therefore always already ascribed to those living on or near the border, or traveling through the border. In conditions marked by such an intensification of suspicion, these characterizations become effectively synonymous with the region, and even the land itself—security agents on both sides agree that “the regional geography, modified by rivers and jungle areas, encourages people to start some illegal ventures, and conditions the tasks of prevention and investigation” (page 92)—and agents work in rotation, lest they grow corrupted by prolonged contact with the area. As Grimson and Renoldi remind us, “[i]nsecurity is all-encompassing, and, thus, it has power” (page 95). For bordering state powers, then, the crucial project of ‘making security’ (page 91) against the threat of border-made-terror is assured indefinitely, while at the same time, populations at or near the border seek to build a security “rooted in networks of lived relations” (page 87) across and between the border.

In chapters 4-7, the volume shifts focus to the operations of securityscapes enacted through “architectural infrastructures” (page 16). In her chapter, Carmen Rial looks at the growing role of security during “mega-events,” popular sporting events held in massive, modern stadiums and arenas. Focusing primarily on Brazil’s Beira-Rio stadium, Rial traces the proliferation of systems that increasingly surveil and identify fans throughout the processes that surround live spectating, routinizing the elimination of any possibility for privacy or anonymity. In addition to the “286 cameras […] monitored in real time […that store one’s image] for 30 days, and the 600 human security guards” (page 101), the Beira-Rio mega-event securityscape functions via the materialization of exclusionary zones a checkpoint, and moving barriers to corral spectators. Crucially, the stadium becomes “a territory separate from Brazilian territory, the so-called free area, governed by FIFA, with its own laws” (page 102). These structures not only build on discourses of suspicion to remove the rights of spectators, Rial argues, they conscript “the narrative that “football events provoke violence” (page 103) in order to do so.

As Rial demonstrates, public sport has often been a site for testing and developing sophisticated security regimes, frequently in response to, or anticipation of, the possibility of acts of terrorism—for example, the 1976 Montreal Olympics saw “the first widespread deployment of CCTV” (page 109), along with the use of sophisticated sound recording equipment. But she asserts that the incitement to fear used to justify “such extreme controls in countries, like Brazil, where the terrorist threat is low” (page 103), imagines a threat that doesn’t necessarily exist, and distracts from addressing the actual everyday violence that frequently happens in areas immediately surrounding mega-events. Rial convincingly argues that in examining the structures of mega-event security we must also consider the multiple asymmetries they activate—as we learn, “[i]ndeed, on average, in only four days in Brazil more women are murdered than in 17 years of football-related conflicts.” (page 103)

The final three chapters in this volume foreground the use of specific technologies in producing securityscapes at different scales. In her contribution, Catherine Lutz examines how US military maps and Environmental Impact Statements (EIS) have served as instruments to actively further US imperial interests in Guam. Despite currently controlling “one third of its land surface” (page 184), a US military call to expand its footprint in Guam will further increase land holdings and military personnel, while also increasing the potentials for toxic contamination, and violently displacing native populations. In the proposal, military maps and the required EIS are key to building the case for expansion, as well as obscuring the consequences disproportionately borne by indigenous Chamorro populations. Military maps emphatically omit the interests and presence of Chamorro communities, as well as the ongoing destruction wrought by US military presence in Guam, proposing an implied neutrality neither there nor possible. Contrary to the detailed spatial knowledge announced by an EIS map, Lutz confirms that “it remains oblivious to what is happening on the ground […] eras[ing] any trace of humanity, even while picturing landmarks, natural resources, geologic details, housing plats, and airfields.” (page 201)

And following Deb Cowen’s observation that military strategy has come to center on the logistics and the structures of profit they activate (Cowen, 2014), Lutz notes that although “[t]he EIS and its maps suggest that the move to expand Guam’s military footprint is demanded by military strategy, including the need for “forward presence” and training “readiness” (page 190), the sizable profit motives of such a large infrastructural project suggest otherwise, and are notably absent from the conversation. In the case of US military planning in Guam, strategies of obfuscation are embedded in the securityscape, and carried out through spatializing technologies that claim objectivity.

Spaces of Security attempts to move security scholarship robustly into the realm of ethnography, by demonstrating the dimensional detail frequently elided in the body of existing research. And it does so convincingly, with a sustained attention to the interacting complexities recognizable in different subjectivities, temporalities, practices, and scales the notion of securityscapes proposes. The utility in such a shift is an important one, and gestures toward scholarship to come.


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