Security Beyond the State

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Rita Abrahamsen et Michael C. Williams, 2011, Security Beyond the State: Private Security in International Politics, Cambridge University Press. Web



Les auteurs rejettent la grille de lecture offerte par de nombreux travaux sur la montée en puissance des entreprises privées de sécurité. Pour eux, ce processus ne doit pas s'interpréter comme un affaiblissement de la souveraineté des États mais comme un phénomène lié à la reconfiguration du champ de la sécurité au sein « d'assemblages global de sécurité » (global security assemblages) : à l'heure de la mondialisation et des politiques et discours néo-libéraux, les acteurs, leurs techniques, les normes et les discours qui encadrent leurs activités se recomposent selon des logiques qui brouillent les distinction traditionnelles entre le public et le privé, le local et le global, l'interne et l'externe. À partir d'études de cas dans plusieurs pays africains, cette étude croisant l'histoire et la sociologie bourdieusienne propose un cadre théorique permettant de penser l'hybridation public-privé dans le champ largement dé-territorialisé et réticulaire de la sécurité, ainsi que la manière dont cette hybridation et le contexte socio-historique dans lequel elle s’inscrit affecte la capacité des acteurs à mobiliser leur capital matériel, culturel ou symbolique à l'intérieur de ce champs.


Notes de lecture[edit]


  • Private security is quickly becoming a central and pervasive part of everyday life, across the globe. It shows the need to move security studies beyond analysis of the state.
  • Privatization does not necessarily undermine the power of the state and its monopoly of violence :

"Rather than private security eroding the power of the state, or threatening its power and authority, its proliferation is linked to changes inside the state, and its power stems not primarily from the barrel of the gun but from its links to public forms of power and authority. These transformations have led to the emergence of what we call global security assemblages: new security structures and practices that are simultaneously public and private, global and local" (p. 3).

    • Private security often leads to abuses, lack of accountability, etc. But it is enmeshed in broader political processes.
    • One starting point to analyze it is the "historically constitued division between the public and the private": traditionally, citizens are protected by public officiers. This public-private distinction is historically constituted seemingly fixed categories, embedded in the most powerful institutional and conceptual expressions of modern sovereignty. They are used to affirm or challenge relations of power.
  • Methodology: This leads to a set of methodological processes:
    • "Sociologically, we need to capture not only the historical relationship between public and private force, but also the new social forces and rearticulations of the public and private that are part of the striking resurgence of private security" (p. 8)
    • "Theoretically, we need to explore how specific articulations of the public-private-security relationship are constitutive features of modern liberal politics and the international system, and how they too are being influenced, challenged and rearticulated through contemporary processes of security privatization".
  • The authors appeal to Bourdieu's take on Weber, seeing the state as a field of power, where the holders of capital of different species struggle for power over the state. This view can make private security a capital holder in that field, overcomoing the somewhat simplistic public-private distinction. And indeed, private policing for the state has been common in Europe until the late 19th century. True also in the US. Private forces were central in colonization and global power structures.
    • The significance and impact of security can only be understood by moving beyond the public-private distinction, with the recognition of how these distinctions are being reconfigured into networks and practices indicative of new relations of power.'
    • New perspectives and methodologies are needed to capture the reconfigured security field within global seucrity assemblages.
    • Need to break with state-centric approach, especially in the neo-liberal ideological framework.

The Untold Story

  • Growing number of analysis and scholarly commentary on private security firms. The market is to reach around 200 billion by 2015 (for updated numbers, see the last available Securitas annual report). Represents a huge workforce, much superior to the number of public police. We are moving towards public-private "networks of power" (Ian Loader), but little attention is paid to private security besides military privatization.
  • Chapter argument: Privatization is not a challenge to prevailing structures of authority, but is embedded in, and inseparable from, transformations in governance. (p. 23). To do so, they address three dimensions of what they call the "mercenary misconception".
  • Mercenary misconception and the illegal, illicit and invisible: The end of the Cold War and the downsizing in military forces acted as a push and pull. It supplied personnel and equipment to the private sector, while superpower were less willing to intervene in their ally countries. But there are broader economic, political movement that also explain its take-off. Many authors classify PSC as illicit, like mafias and organized crimes in that they are a form of organized violence (power without consent and authority). But here again, they miss the point that PSCs are often not used in opposition to state authority but on behalf of it. Conversely, some authors working on the rise of public-private partnerships, but here again they often tend to exclude it from the discussion as a marginal phenomenon. This leads also the generalizations about Africa as the useful other where PSC is "rampant", while the West remains a field of a state monopoly of violence, even when the latter is being reconfigured (p. 37).
  • The story of privatization: 70% of the market share of private security is located in the Europe and North America. PSC are highly specialized, knowledge-intensive and expertise-oriented providers of "integrated security solutions" (manned guarding, alarm systems, surveillance, close protection services and assets in transit to satellite tracking (p. 41). Authors provide a historical account of the biggest PSC groups: G4S and Securitas. Authors quote Securitas, which presents in this way new market opportunities the "huge economic welfare revolution in Asia and other markets undergoing rapid economic expansion" (p. 46).
  • Securing liquid modernity: Zygmunt Bauman's work on liquid modernity described the work as increasingly formed by flows rather than rigid demarcations. Extraterritorial elites have a global reach: they are the diplomats, the businessmen, the tourists. They need to be protected from the vagabonds who move to survive within their local reach, through guards, fences, boundaries (around ATMs, hotels, global firms, migrant detention centers, flight repatriations, private prisons, etc.).
  • Conclusion: need to looking beyond Private Military Companies and beyond the state.

Late Modernity and the rise of Private Security

  • Modern societies are "risk societies" (Ulrich Beck), calling for the identification, management, containment of danger, while remaining open to social definition and construction (p. 58). The growth of PSC reflects the ever-expanding security agenda. It is a local ang global phenomenon, articulated though a myriad of discourses. To understand it, we must "examine how security privatization and its globalization is linked to three interrelated aspects of late modernity: neo-liberalism and responsibility, new attitudes towards crime and punishment, and, finally modification and the increasing salience of risk in perceptions and practices of security" (p. 59).
  • Neo-liberalism and the responsible security consumer. The rise of neo-liberalism has had various consequences:
    • Usually the rise of private sector is associated with decreasing budgets ("fiscal constraint") and the need for the private sector to fill a gap. But in the North, the rise of PSC went hand in hand with increase in security budgets. In the South, IMF and World Bank programs contributed to privatization and outsourcing, and also weakened the state and increased nepotism with in turn let to the need to intensify "regime security". Hence there is a pluralization of the centers of power.
    • Neo-liberalism also a plays a role in the rise of PSC trough the specific mode of subjectivation it entails.In the words of Nikolas Rose, it leads to the "instrumentalization of a regulated autonomy". The state incentivize non-state actors and organization to promote a new kind of indirect action, leading to networks of less directed, more or less informal form of crime control, which extend the formal controls of the criminal justice state (cf. Garland, "Culture of Control"). Individuals and communities are called to minimize processes of victimization by looking after themselves. Markets and quasi markets come to supplement the work of the police and justice systems (community-watch, etc.) (p. 67). Power is being reconfigured in new security arrangements. "While the numerous processes associated with neo-liberal governance have resulted in a pluralization of actors involved in security delivery and governance, this development cannot be read as a simple extension of state power. Even in the most powerful states, with efficient and well-functioning bureaucracies, private actors once empowered are often able to set agendas and to influence them and act according to their own interests. Moreover, private security initiatives have emerged not only at the instigation or encouragement of the state but alos in situations where the state has, or is perceived to have, a reduced capacity to provide protection. In sum, although the neo-liberal approach leads to a proliferation of security actors, and these actors do not exist in separation from the state, we cannot assume a priori that the state is in a position of controlling and directing them". (p. 69).
  • Security, crime and punishment in risk society: Neo-liberalism has led to a change in socially-dominant attitudes around security.
    • Crime has moved from being a problem to be solved through welfare intervention to a technical problem to be managed through security logics. "Crisis of penal modernism" and humanist penal policy towards more predictive, deterministic, individualistic and moralist approach to crime. This process depoliticize the issue and leads to technical, managerial and technological responses. This, in turn, legitimize the intervention of expert, private security providers.
    • Moralization of criminality and rise of victimization discourse, which are spread globally through Western development actors. This lerads individuals to belive they must contribute to their own security, while private prisons and prisoner management services expand.
  • Security becomes a commodity subject to market mechanisms. The opening of the security sector to private actors is also pushed at the multilateral level (WTO, EU directives). Security becomes a fashion for daily practices, something embedded in horizontal social relations and micropolitics. The commodification of security leads to a "risk mentality", concerned with organizing modern complex spaces in a a away that can collect knowledge, exert control and allow effective agency on risks. Security operates in a web of "security institutions" (Ericson and Haggerty, Policing the Risk Society). It spreads at the global level for instance through the political risks analysis and other techniques of risks management used by global firms and their security service providers.
  • Security, governance and global power: In the neo-liberal context, hierarchical conceptions of governance no longer capture the structure of security provisions, which is increasingly dispersed geographically, functionally, normatively and institutionally. It is made of fragmented but overlapping networks and structures of collaborations between state and non-state actors (p. 82). These networks are structured around nodes of discourses and practices, sites of knowledge, capacity and resources that govern security provisions in a relational and contingent process (cf. literature on "nodal security governance", which is rooted in criminology and overlooks issues of power reconfiguration)

Power and Governance: global assemblages and the security field

The chapter seeks to lay the theoretical foundations to understand how private security is historically and socially constituted.

  • Global security assemblages: Global security assemblages are “transnational structures and networks in which a range of different actors and normativities interact, cooperate and compete to produce new institutions, practices and forms of deterritorialized security governance” (p. 90).
    • The authors use Saskia Sassen's anlysis of globalization as a shift in patterns of governance, not an erosion of state power in a context of increased global flows of products, capital and people. In fact globalization is a construct of national states. Global governance structures rest on three elements:

Disassembly, in which previously public functions are increasingly transferred to private actors; the development of 'capacities' by private actors that allow them to act at a global level; and a process of reassembly whereby new actors and capabilities become part of global assemblages that are embedded in national settings but operate at a global scale” (p. 91).

    • Disassembly is partial, and affect only some components of the states, restructuring power structures within the state. The normativity of the competitive state makes global business discourse more salient in political debates, as economic efficiency becomes paramount in legitimizing public policies.
    • This process is happening in the filed of security, in the context of the rise of neo-liberal policies, subjectivities, with their risk mentalities, and liquid modernity. It has led to the rise of powerful security firms, either directly through outsourcing or indirectly through responsibilization. Disassembly has also provided this firms with legitimacy and recognized expertise. The rise of PSCs has also changed the states, opening institutional venues for these firms to lobby and influence the state, such as public agencies in charge of regulating them. Sassen: “Private logics circulate through public institutional domains” (Territory, Authority, Rights, p. 19). “In the field of security, the result of these processes of disassembly and reassembly has been the formation of complex, multi-sited institutional orders – global security assemblages – where a range of different security agents interact, cooperate and compete to produce new practices and structures of security governance” (p. 95). Leads to new geographies of power.
    • Example of disassembly/reassembly in the security sector with the debate in South Africa around the 2001 Private Security Industry Regulation Bill. Rapid expansion of the private security sector in the 1990s and establishment of multinational PSC; public concerns over security privatizations and proposed bill banning foreign investment in the field; lobbying by big PSCs with the help of their own countries (UK and Denmark especially) on the executive (presidency, ministry of the Economy, ministry of Trade) rather than on the legislative branch; bill is rejected and the sector is then regulated and largely legitimized.
  • Capacities and capital: The authors turn to Bourdieu to understand the field of practice and social power of actors in the global security assemblages. For Bourdieu, there is no direct relationship between the possession of a particular form of capital and effective action or power within a given domain of practice. This is because economic, cultural or symbolic capital is not transferable or fungible, but is only realized in a specific sphere of activity, or field. A field is a structured space of positions in which the positions and their interrelations are determined by the distribution of different kinds of resource or capital relevant to that field. A core focus of investigation is how the forms and relations of capital that operate in a specific field and how they are related, transformed or converted in other forms of capital, within that field or in other fields. The authors propose to read the security field with these concepts to “specify the new normative and material capacities of private security as forms of symbolic and material capital while still appreciating that capacities do not necessarily translate directly into power and effective action (e.g. in the security field, the power of private actors may for instance lead to public concerns and reduced room for maneuver).
    • The private in the security field: How have the material, symbolic and cultural forms of capital evolved within the security field? First, there has been a huge increase in the material resources (technical, economic, organizational of PSCs. Second, the day-to-day relationships of PSCs with their clients and their role in providing the service of protecting property rights and streamlining economic activity. Indirectly, PSCs benefit from the material, cultural and symbolic power of their clients (locally, SMEs, households, public authorities; globally: multinational firms, international organizations, etc.). Third, the central role of PSCs in global security assemblages also gives it cultural and symbolic capital: they are seen as playing a key role in the provision of security when the alter is seen as a commodity to be bought and sold on a free market. Responsibilization and risk mentality that render security an increasingly apolitical and technical issue of design, planning and prevention have reinforced the ability of PSCs to claim an expertise that s recognized by both private clients and states (p. 110-111).
    • Symbolic struggles of “the public”: The positions and capital of private actors in the security field of practice is structured by the notion of "the public". How historically was the notion of "the public" formed within the security field? At the end of feudalism, the public was equated to the state, wich gained monopoly of violence in coercion from private hands and nurtured the constitution of a private economic sphere (though public violence/coercion was often used, and is still often used, by the state to foster private interests). Security became a public good. Today, “. . . the centrality of security as a public good – and its opposition or contrast to security as a 'private' good – in modern conceptions of politics is one of the defining opposition constituting the field of security” (p. 114). 'Public' security is equated to equal protection of citizens, to the rule of law. It is a central source of symbolic, cultural and material capital for the state, and structures its relationship to the private, and still structures the relationship of the state to PSCs. Besides the public/private distinction, the parameters of the global and local levels also play an important role in structuring the field of security and reconfiguring state sovereignty. The spread of global norms and discourses affect local understandings of security. In this complex field, different forms of capital enable or contain actors' power relationships, subject to the different factors that leads different forms of capital to be recognized in specific contexts (e.g. technified nature of security may lead the state to encourage the entrance of PSCs in the security field, which may prompt a debate about their illegitimacy and the fact that they're eroding security as a public good, etc.). These global trends and their impact of relationships in the security field, in turn, are shaped by national histories and the distinctive local-global negotiations they produce.

Case studies

Following chapters show different global security assemblages n Nigeria, Sierra Leone, South Africa and Kenya to show the very different and localized forms of capital at work to show what lies in between the global and the local: zones of politico-economic interactions that produce new institutional forms and novel relationships of power stretched across territories.

Security, Politics and Global Assemblages

“Across the globe, from mega-cities to isolated resource production facilities, security provision and governance take place within assemblages that are deterritorialized in terms of actors, technologies, norms and discourses and are embedded in a complex transnational architecture that defies the conventional distinctions of public-private and global-local. Security, in other words, is increasingly beyond the state” (p. 217).

Assemblages are stretched across national boundaries, embedded in transnational networks of power. “In this sense, global security assemblages are boundary fields in that they are neither private, nor public, either local, nor global but mark analytical spaces that lie between these common distinctions and require their own empirical investigation” (p. 218). What are the consequences for security governance and the possibility of political struggles?

  • Global security governance: The public, the private, the national, the global are categories that constitute forms of capital that actors can mobilize. In this context, security is both an instrument of coercion and a singular neo-liberal technique for the production of self-governing, responsible subjects. Private security plays in both directions. It can serve to further entrench social divisions and repression or promote internationally-sanctioned standards. It can reinforce social divisions and oppression or positively influence state security institutions by enhancing its capabilities and contribute to a less directly coercive environment, depending on the context.
  • Private security and the (global) public: Global security assemblages an be challenges by a growing transnational civil society of “global public” , which change the modalities of capital circulation whiting the security field (p. 226). Example of a global union campaign against low wages and human rights abuses against employees at the multinational G4S. “... within global assemblages, excluded and marginalized groups may gain political voice by drawing on global networks and forms of symbolic capital (e.g. human rights, corporate social responsibility) that play powerfully in distant locales” (p. 230). These distant locales can gain powerful traction in working
  • The public good in global assemblages: Seeing security as a field allows to see the varying forms of capitals possessed by considered actors. For instance, when the state is seen as coercive and predatory, public security actors are not be recognized as agents of the non-discriminatory good of security. PSCs, in this context, may compensate for the lack of effective public security. “Deeply entrenched social divisions, however politically and morally troubling, need not lead automatically to ever-increasing state delegitimation and social fragmentation, and social forces can be balanced in such a way as to prevent a 'downward spiral' from privatization, to fragmentation, to state collapse” (a theme that is often prominent in the literature focused on paramilitaries) (p. 235-236). The notion of global security assemblages allows for a more nuanced and case-by-case approach.