Political Geographies of Security

Security threats such as crime, violence and terrorism, and the thereby generated fears, dramatically impact upon individual lives, shape communities and cause fundamental shifts in public policies. In recent times, the 9/11 attacks and the subsequent ‘war on terror’ are but the most acclaimed examples at hand. The history of any society is also the history of its attempts to live with, to prevent and to respond to its main insecurities and fears. Today, four million CCTV cameras in the UK bear unmistakable testimony thereof.
Yet, in reality, risk and security affect different people and groups, at different places and times, in different ways and with different effects. Depending on where we live, what we wear, how we speak, what we believe, etc., we are more or less exposed to specific security threats, and to the grip of specific security measures and legislation. Responses to risk and security often unequally exacerbate vulnerabilities, social exclusion and discrimination, and thus in turn result in new sources of instability and threats. Examples range from stigmatized urban banlieus to the discriminatory categorizations of ‘terrorist suspects’ in the current climate of permanent emergency.
The political and social ways of dealing with Risk and Security also respond to particular interests and intentions, by particular people, at particular places and times. Security helps politicians to win elections, companies to become rich or nations to achieve geopolitical interests and socio-cultural hegemony. Within this general context, political and social debates on risk and security are often acutely controversial and socially explosive.
The research conducted at the Institute of Geography at Neuchâtel wants to make a well-balanced, yet critical and ultimately challenging contribution to these debates. It aims to explore the multiple processes and relationships through which current developments in security governance are conditioned (1) and to assess the wider spatial, social, political and economic implications of these developments (2). Particular attention is given to issues of risk and security in the urban environment and in the context of mobility. Within these broad objectives, a series of crosscutting interests can be distinguished:
  • The influence of policing and securitization strategies with regard to the transformation (regeneration, splintering, commercialization, social inclusion/exclusion, etc.) of contemporary urban space
  • The processes at work within local, national and international exchanges and interdependences in security governance
  • The growing functional fragmentation of authority in contemporary security governance in general and the growing importance of private companies and technical experts in security matters more specifically
  • Current trends towards an increasing standardization of previously tested and subsequently exemplified 'security models'
  • The role of space and scale in security governance
  • Places of fear in everyday life
  • The relationship between surveillance and mobility

These interests are explored in a range of case studies relating to different fields of technology-based security governance. Four ‘security fields’ are worth highlighting in particular:

  • Surveillance, security and mobility

    Surveillance, security and mobility

    In our globalized world, the administration, control and securitization of various types of flows at local, national and international level is of fundamental importance. The programme of research provides critical accounts of how – and to what effect – multi-layered surveillance assemblages are coalescing around mobile objects, people (for example: the shopper, tourist, refugee, risky passenger, criminal, etc.), information and wealth.

    In order to exemplify the relationships between surveillance, circulation and mobility, it is revealing to point towards a particularly significant example at hand: the imbrications of surveillance and mobility in the post-9/11 context of the ‘war on terror’.  As security and terrorist risks are widely seen to colonize and operate through the everyday systems and spaces of highly urbanized and mobilized societies, so the post-9/11 ‘war on terror’ in particular is seen to emphasize the imperatives of securitizing civil infrastructures and mobility systems against lurking threats. Here the challenges of managing massive scales and densities of circulation within systems of mobility mix uncomfortably with the dilemmas involved in trying to anticipate threats and to manage public perception of risk.

    Thus at the interface of two apparently opposed worlds – the necessary circulation of objects, people, information and wealth, and the institution of security restrictions, measures and interventions – the new geographies of surveillance are defined by a set of practices and techniques whose key challenge is to balance and combine the demands of mobility and security. By contrast with a mode of surveillance and regulation that limits movement, restricts access, prohibits mobility and encloses space, the contemporary politics of surveillance positively embrace mobility as a means of securitizing by managing the circulation and flow of people and objects. In this vision, not only do people, objects and money ‘on the move’ characterize modern life, but they also leave the patterns, traces and transactions that make the ‘network society’ securable. Key questions to address include:

    • How are the core requirements of mobility and security, circulation and surveillance balanced in the contemporary world?
    • How do emerging geographies of surveillance work to align the circulation of mobile bodies, data, objects and services with identification, verification and authentication controls?
    • How do practices and techniques of surveillance – as means and tools of mobility governance – engage with the key infrastructural networks that aim to ‘keep people moving’ through and between cities?
  • Mega-Event Security

    Mega-Event Security

    This work addresses six main research questions:

    • how specific security strategies are planned and implemented at different events & in different countries.
    • how different types of security knowledge and best practices are transferred into these mega-events, from other sports events or social domains.
    • the perspectives of various stakeholders in regard to risk issues at mega-events. Stakeholders include police, security companies, local authorities, and business groups.
    • how security strategies connect to processes of urban development and how mega-event security impacts on local communities.
    • the 'security legacy' that remains after the events e.g. new security technologies, collaborations and legal regulations.
    • the security philosophies and techniques likely to be implemented at future events.

    The pursued aim is to investigate the causes, modalities and effects of Risk and Security at different sport mega-events. I am trying to look beyond taken-for-granted political and societal assumptions, in order to challenge, and to improve, policy responses to contemporary concerns of insecurity at mega-events and the problems caused by attempts to manage that insecurity. The work attempts

    • to examine risk and security issues and strategies within the specific contexts of different mega-events, with reference to different social and sociological factors. These factors include: particular perceived security risks such as spectator violence, terrorism, and local violent crime; frameworks of social inequality and exclusion within the host nation, and with reference to international visitors; specific risk and security philosophies and strategies for each event; and, the mix of public and private security in each location.
    • to examine, with reference to power relationships, how risk and security management strategies are planned, implemented, experienced, negotiated and contested at everyday level by relevant stakeholders. Stakeholders include police officers, local authority and government departments, sport authorities, local community groups, local NGOs and social movements, security companies, journalists, and spectator groups.
    • to investigate processes of knowledge transfer between different social groups and institutions across the various sport mega-events. Knowledge transfer involves in particular the international exchange of risk knowledge, security strategies and related personnel.
    • to investigate how risk and security issues and questions at sport mega-events contribute to wider processes of urban redevelopment and transformation, for example in regard to the commercial renewal of inner cities or the clearing of marginalized communities from particular locales.
    • to examine and identify the relevant security “legacies” that remain from the events. Security legacies may include new post-event kinds of risk and security perception among stakeholders; and new legislation, policing practices, and technologies (such as CCTV systems) that had been introduced originally for the mega sport event. I am also trying to investigate how stakeholders reflect upon the risk and security issues that had emerged during the event.
  • Video Surveillance

    Video Surveillance

    Video surveillance cameras and systems are a defining feature of modern society. Their widespread use, as fixed or mobile devices, deployed for a range of purposes and by a variety of public and private actors, is now unsurprising and generally accepted in most countries. The normality of these surveillance practices, and the technologies used, are a world away from the early tube cameras used for local broadcasting and the isolated monitoring of industrial processing in the 1930s and 1940s. The diffusion processes, which have led to the exponential growth of these cameras and systems, have included evolutions in the design, function and capabilities of systems, especially around opportunities for extended, combined and automated systems offered by new information and communication technologies. These technologies have been shaped by a raft of interested parties, including engineers, manufacturers, clients/service users, politicians and regulators.

    The work conducted in Geography at Neuchâtel looks in empirical detail at the ways in which video surveillance shapes monitored places as they are perceived, conceived and lived. It also investigates the implications of video surveillance as regards the relationships between public and private space, and issues of marginalization, urbanity and social justice. Three broad sets of sub-questions can be distinguished:

    • Individual and societal experiences and perceptions of different forms and phenomena of video surveillance. Relevant questions range from the social acceptability of video surveillance to issues of crime prevention and social exclusion.
    • Everyday practices of video surveillance. This incorporates questions of how video surveillance is used in different institutional settings and geographical locales and how issues of social justice and discrimination are built into everyday surveillance practices and techniques.
    • The manifest and latent functions and logics of video surveillance. In this, emphasis is placed, for example, on the resonances and dissonances between security issues and commercial interests in video surveillance.
  • Airport Security

    Airport Security

    As national entrance gates of critical economic and symbolic importance, international airports are amongst the most iconographic sites of both the opportunities and the vulnerabilities of globalization (Salter 2008a). Consequently, airport security has been a critical issue for decades, from the first airplane hijackings in the 1930s and 1940s to the current context of the war on terror. The history of the airport, thus, is also the history of the security concerns, discourses and practices related to the aviation sector.

    The research conducted at Neuchâtel investigates the multiple public-private exchanges and cooperation involved in airport security. It also critically reflects upon the wider socio-political implications of the extended and redesigned filtering and screening of international mobilities through the airport.