Critical Security Studies

Any analysis on Security Studies first and foremost requires one to understand what the term ‘security’ entails. This, however, is not an easy task. As scholars like Ken Booth pointed out, this is because Security is a Derivative concept. This implies that one’s understanding of the term is derived from their political outlook and philosophical worldview. Hence, even within the same community, different conceptions of security may exist. In this sense, the process becomes political in nature.

In 1991, Ken Booth gave a minimalist definition of security i.e. security as the absence of threat. This may further be questioned as to what all can be termed as a ‘threat’ is it only physical in nature? Or are other factors involved? This is where Critical Security Studies (CSS) differs from Traditional Security Studies.

The foundations of Security Studies are based on the Traditionalist understanding also known as the Realist approach. This follows a Top-Down strategy that focuses inherently on state-centrism. The problem that CSS notes with this is that it tends to overlook the potential of human agency as it gets marginalized or is rendered absolutely invisible in such an approach. It reflects and constitutes a state dominated field with the belief that liberty can only be achieved through military force. Therefore, CSS deem it as narrow in nature and entirely masculinist as it overlooks aspects of gender inequality, wartime rape, trafficking and among other aspects. They also criticize the traditionalist approach for being Eurocentric in its nature and scope.

As aforementioned, Security is a derivative concept and the process is political in nature. Ken Booth also highlighted that Security has 1) an instrumental value. It provides the freedom to do something other than security from threat. 2) it is a process rather than an end point. That is to say that it enables the possibility of finding ways of coexistence without depriving others of their life chances. Being a pioneer of this approach Booth called for the rethinking of security as Emancipation. One of the first and foremost aspects that he recognized was that security is what we make of it. It is created inter-subjectively and it is possible to expand international security studies and still remain within an asserted neo-realist framework and approach.

A key idea of CSS is Emancipation. Booth identifies Emancipation as freeing of people from physical and human constraints which stop them from carrying out what they would freely choose to do. For him, it is emancipation that produces true security. Security and emancipation are therefore identified as two sides of the same coin. This understanding helps to gauge that the relationship between critical theory and security is crucial to CSS. This enables 1) Broadening i.e. includes a range of issues beyond military force. 2) Deepening i.e. connects our understanding of security to deeply rooted assumptions about political life. 3) Extending i.e. recognizes a multiplicity of issues and actors. 4) Focusing i.e. it has a normative goal in the form of Human Emancipation of security studies.

CSS does have its own share of limitations but it also has inherent potentialities. It attempts to offer a way to change the traditional global security narrative. Its focus is on the development of human potential.