Back to the future: STS and the (lost) security research agenda
Location 119
Date and Start Time 02 September, 2016 at 11:00
Sessions 2


  • Elvira Santiago (Universidade da Coruña) email
  • Vincenzo Pavone (Consejo Superior de Investigaciones Cientificas ) email

Mail All Convenors

Discussant Georgios Kolliarakis (University of Frankfurt, 1), Kjetil Rommetveit (University of Bergen, 2)

Short Abstract

The STS community has a circumscribed interest in security. While STS scholars have focused on privacy and surveillance research, this panel addresses neglected areas of security, such as security as a practice, alternatives to techno-security, the security industrial complex and (in)security.

Long Abstract

The STS community has a long, but circumscribed, interest in security as a concept and focus of research. While STS scholars have so far traditionally focused on privacy and surveillance issues, we propose a panel to draw together contributions on neglected areas of security research in STS which merit further engagement. In this panel, we would like to collectively explore the ability of STS to re-articulate its research agenda in order to incorporate a broader array of concerns. More specifically, we invite contributions addressing the following questions:

- What kind of reflexive and analytical studies are being conducted on the emergence and consolidation security research?

- If security is a complex practice made of a variety of local, context specific articulations of explicit and implicit knowledge, what kind of power relationships, sociotechnical configurations, economic differences and interests and contingent opportunities are central to its current framing and implementation?

- Do alternatives exist to current techno-centric approaches that can take into consideration the broader socio technical landscape, allowing for a wider epistemic involvement in reconfiguring that landscape?

- How do current relationships between industries developing security technologies, political institutions adopting and regulating them, security enforcement agencies, technology users, the data protection agencies and privacy NGOs shape current understanding and practices of security?

- What kind of role and impact new technologies and new knowledge practices play in the social construction of security and insecurity?

- What are the main social, cultural and political dimensions influencing the complex articulation of security and insecurity?


This track is closed to new paper proposals.


Contemporary relations between surveillance devices, violence and public safety

Authors: Irme Salete Bonamigo (Federal University of Rio de Janeiro)  email
Rosa Pedro (Federal University of Rio de Janeiro)  email

Short Abstract

It broaches the association of surveillance devices with the public security production, discusses the question of its effectiveness by the population and analyzes the (in)security as a result of multiple elements that connect, figuring socio-technical relations and complex practices

Long Abstract

This paper analyzes existents correlations between surveillance, practices and prevailing concepts of public security related to crime control and violence prevention. The high investments of the public security organs in technological surveillance devices for the crime control and violent practices are the result of political decisions and techniques, and involve the setting of socio-technical networks of actors, exercising power and knowledge. The research is being conducted through a cartography in urban areas that monitors and analyzes some controversies related to prevailing conceptions of public safety and installation of surveillance devices as their efficiency and effectiveness of its use, as the release of funds or not by governments, as the definition of areas to be monitored and the effects that it produces on sociability and modes of subjectivity. By the cartography of controversies, we seek to highlight actors, linkages and agencies involved in the configuration of games forces, giving visibility to the actors associations and what is at stake, assisting in the understanding of the contemporary practices of safety and the construction and stabilization processes of socio-technical networks for the security production. The study results could help to advance understanding of issues as complex and multifaceted that unfold as the actions analysis of today's security agencies, in the demands of the constantly moving people of the urban areas surveyed, as well as the formulation, and as the implementation and evaluation of public policies and social issues related to the public (in)security.

Teargas Epistemology

Authors: Brian Balmer (University College London)  email
Alex Spelling (UCL)  email
Caitriona McLeish (University of Sussex)  email

Short Abstract

We explore how multiple epistemic constituencies contribute to make a weapon and its uses. The historical characterization of CS tear gas inter-twined different forms of epistemic authority (scientists, lawyers, diplomats, military, police etc), each licensed to make specific claims about CS gas.

Long Abstract

International law clearly states that the use of chemical weapons as a tool of warfare is banned. Yet 'use' is not straightforward, as certain chemical weapons have proven utilities outside of warfare but which lie firmly within the 'security domain', including as tools to counter social disorder. STS scholars have shown that this situation constructs ambiguity around so-called non-lethal weapons, such as tear gases: permitted in domestic riot control but banned on the battlefield. Yet, what tear gas 'is' - its properties, utility and legality - has a contested history. One example was the announcement, in 1970 by the British government, that they interpreted international law to mean that CS tear gas was permitted in both domestic and international conflict. Using this case study, we demonstrate how the characterization of CS gas was inter-twined with different forms of epistemic authority, each 'licensed' to make particular claims about these weapons. Experts such as scientists, lawyers, diplomats, civil servants and politicians, military commanders and the police all made claims, based on their own domains of expertise, about what tear gases 'are' and what therefore ought to be done with these weapons. STS has long recognized how science intersects with different forms of expertise e.g. public, legal or military knowledge. In our study, we build on this work and show how tear gases had a large number of epistemic constituencies speaking on their behalf, thus providing a novel opportunity to understand other cases where numerous different expertises compete to make knowledge claims about weapons.

The Median Estate. Breaking down boundaries and reconstituting rights

Authors: Kjetil Rommetveit (University of Bergen)  email
Niels van Dijk (Vrije Universiteit Brussel)  email

Short Abstract

Legal rights and moral principles are becoming matters of engineering. Dissolving institutional and disciplinary boundaries is turning the making of trading zones into imperatives. This shifts innovation away from traditional legitimacy centres and tests the critical currency of STS concepts.

Long Abstract

Policy elites, technoscience and innovation networks push hard to overcome ontological, disciplinary and institutional boundaries between epistemic regimes, such as those of science and law. Existing "silos" have to be broken down and re-directed towards policy challenges and making new markets. Delicate intermediary trading zones between such practices are then transformed into imperatives of an emerging median estate, and legal-technical hybrids turned into business opportunities for entrepreneurs. This contribution focuses on two cases of such trading zones in ICT-driven fields, where legal rights and moral principles become matters of engineering, design and risk management. First, practices of 'privacy by design' aim to hardcode fundamental rights into information infrastructures. Second, coding moral principles into robots is quickly moving from science fiction to a real concern for engineering and robo-ethics. These developments slowly shift the seat of articulation for legal and ethical principles away from traditional sites, to contexts of interdisciplinary innovation coalitions. Trading zones and hybrids move from the periphery to the intermediary region "between" institutional and disciplinary "silos" like policy, law, ethics, science and technology development. Instead they become new centres of jurisdiction ordering their respective roles and contributions. These developments pose important questions for STS. Do concepts like 'hybridity', 'network', or 'trading zones' still have enough critical currency when they become normalized states of things, considering these concepts were instrumental in producing this situation? Or do we need more focus on constitutive and constitutional dimensions, by inquiring into disconnections and checks & balances in ecologies of different knowledge practices?

Formation of the War on Terror: Reflexivity between International Legal Discourse and Security Expertise

Author: Ken Kawamura (Japan Society for the Promotion of Science)  email

Short Abstract

How was the Bush Administration’s War on Terror formed? I shed a light on the reflexivity between the legal arguments in the UNSC and the strategic arguments in the USNSC. I clarify how UNSC’s legal argument for the Afghanistan War rewrote NSC’s threat formulation and posited the target.

Long Abstract

How was the Bush Administration's War on Terror, the doctrine proclaiming preventive military action against even the slightest possibility of terrorist attack, formed after 9/11? While scholars in STS and the critical terrorism studies have pointed out numerous precedent ideas in the security expertise characterizing international terrorist networks as the most potent threat to the United States, they have failed to answer the question of how such prior characterizations were configured to justify the use of military force against the state sponsors, rather than the law enforcement against the terrorist organization immediately responsible for the atrocity, as the only reasonable and legitimate reaction. To answer this question, invoking the theoretical works of a Sociologist Harold Garfinkel and an International Lawyer Martti Koskenniemi, I shed light on the reflexivity between the legal discourse in the UN Security Council and the strategic arguments in the US National Security Council. The concept of reflexivity is invoked here to remind the fact that formulation of the threat and justification of the reaction to it proceeds not linearly, but go hand in hand in the formation of security policy. I clarify how UNSC's legal discourse for the Afghanistan War rewrote National Security Council's threat formulation, and how NSC proceeded to posit the possible link between rogue states and terrorist networks as the "undeterrable but attackable" target of the War on Terror. I argue such reflexive formation of security policy paved the way for the Iraq War in 2003.

Innovating to Manage an Never Occurred security issue: Plant Pathologists and Their Assessment of Agro-Terrorist Threats

Authors: Vincent Cardon (University of Amiens)  email
Marc Barbier (Institut National de la Recherche Agronomique)  email

Short Abstract

Agro-terrorism refers to the deliberate introduction of plant pathogens in crops to scare or starve the people. Such an attack has never succeeded. However it as become a matter for a new security agenda. We study how plant pathologists assess that risk and manage its dual-nature.

Long Abstract

Globalization implies increased human circulation and exchanges of plants, seeds, and biological material, and hence pathogens. Markets, countries but also science have to face new challenges regarding biosecurity to ensure food quantity and quality. 9/11 gave rise to new fears, in our case, agro-terrorism, meaning the deliberate introduction of plant pathogens in crops or the food chain to starve populations or at least spread panic among them. This risk has never become reality in history. Some American plant pathologists obtained significant funding to assess that risk and prepare a response to it, though. Not to be outdone, EU launched two successive programs to build up "expertise", and develop "awareness" and "preparedness" and to assess possible economic outcomes of such an attack. But how can a risk be assessed without prior relevant data? Does this "awareness" towards a potential future threat change existing plant health specialists' knowledge, missions and networks? Plant pathology is a regulatory science. It committed to face a new puzzle, i.e. to deal with human intentionality, while it commonly regulates accidental or natural introduction of pathogens. This new agenda obliged plant pathologists to innovate in terms of risk assessment methods. But do those innovations do percolate in daily professional practices? The research is threefold. First, it is based on an international comparison between France, Italy and Great Britain. Second: we used scientometric methods in order to explore how scientific communities dealing with biosecurity are structured. Finally, we studied one of the European programs (FP7) mentioned above.

High-tech versus old-fashioned: Nairobi security practices and their threatening subjects

Author: Francesco Colona (University of Amsterdam)  email

Short Abstract

In Nairobi, intensely marketed high-tech security solutions exist alongside everyday unsensational and low-tech security provision. While in these dissimilar practices different types of villains are enacted, I focus on the latter and the unsophisticated and often racialized threat it suggests.

Long Abstract

In this paper, drawing from eight months of ethnographic fieldwork with private security officers and police in Nairobi (Kenya), I detail different practices of the city's security provision industry. I analyze how threatening subjects are enacted in security practices and how class and race categories influence imaginaries of danger. While high-tech security apparatuses - from smart cameras to biometric access control - are spearheaded during security technology fairs in Nairobi, the residents of richer areas can resort to a vast supply of cheap and relatively unskilled labor to protect their gates, mitigating the need to invest in expensive security technologies. The everyday security practices of these officers are rather unsensational, and heavily dependent on old-tech devices such as barbed wire, old-fashioned electric fences, and the officers' own bodies. While the high-tech security fairs I attended allude to a threat resembling a very clever villain engaged in elaborate criminal schemes, who can be stopped only by web-accessible CCTV and iris-scan door locks, I especially focus on the daily practices of security provision populated with unarmed officers on patrol or guarding a gate. In these practices the imagined villain is enacted as an unsophisticated and opportunistic criminal who can be intimidated by high walls and metal bars. This security threat crystallizes in the racialized figure of 'the thug', who most frequently resembles poor black young men from the nearby ghettos.

Days of Future Present? Socio-Technical Imaginaries of Future Catastrophes in Austrian Critical Infrastructure Protection

Authors: Nina Witjes (Technical University of Munich)  email
Sarah Ponesch (Austrian Institute for International Affairs )  email

Short Abstract

Drawing on the concept of socio-technical imaginaries this paper addresses how Austrian stakeholders in the field of Critical Infrastructure Protection relate technological devices to perceptions of future catastrophe and present (in)security in regard to possible terrorist attacks.

Long Abstract

Narratives of inevitable "catastrophes to come", resulting from terrorism are discursively played out on political and public stages. The instruments of possible attacks are far ranging, from "low-tech" bomb attacks to "high-tech" assaults with bio weapons or by cyber-means. In providing what is perceived as the basic needs of society, critical infrastructures are framed as being a likely target and thus at high risk. Security policies are promoting anticipation, preparedness, prevention and protection to address these challenges. Within the assemblage of "future catastrophe", and the perception and exploitation of present (in)security, technologies are key: they can be employed to plan and realize terrorist attacks, are themselves potential targets, and are also conceived of as means of risk reduction by security actors.

Based on a current project on the "Governance of Resilience" within Austria, we are investigating how in the field of Critical Infrastructure Protection Austrian stakeholders describe the connection between future terrorist catastrophes and technological devices. Analytically, we draw on the concept of socio-technical imaginaries (Jasanoff & Kim 2009), as entanglements of visions about social order and technological development. In doing so, we ask which kinds of expectations regarding control and safety are ascribed to security devices, while simultaneously many stakeholders now share the assumption that "absolute" security can no longer be guaranteed. Contributing to the emerging coalitions between STS and Critical Security Studies, we show how these imaginaries are shaping and shaped by present security discourses on possible catastrophes that aim at rendering the unknown future "actionable."

Imagining, Reimagining, and Performing National Security: the Sociotechnical Imaginary of Evil

Author: Natalie Baker (Virginia Commonwealth University)  email

Short Abstract

Findings of a comparative study of the Islamic State and Mexican drug cartels through the lens of a sociotechnical imaginary are presented. The processes by which evil is constructed, performed, and perpetuated within 'security' institutions are examined here.

Long Abstract

In 2015, members of the Islamic State murdered 130 in Paris. Under a month later, 2 individuals killed 14 and wounded 17 more in California; acts attributed to radicalized supporters. Meanwhile, over 60,000 people have been killed in Mexico due to drug cartels. In the context of post-911 risk society, threats of evil acts come about in the interconnectivity of technologies, social networks, and expertise that co-construct U.S. security policy, defined by terror/counterterror, good/evil dichotomies. As such, counterterrorism is 'counter-evil', and depends on and creates dangerous futures as its object.

I examine different ways US national security creates evil through interaction with 2 violent groups. The minimal threat of the IS in the US invokes much more emotion, policy, and technological advances than massive, but mundane murder of citizens in Mexico. One reason rests in the conceptualization of terrorism within the national security culture of the US. Another is that what ostensibly qualifies as terrorism, or in other words, evil, is determined by elites to perpetuate the security machine.

Sociotechnical imaginaries are used to examine the role of evil in the present state of US national security. I examine utopic/dystopic representations in the technologies of 'evil' as well as competing discourses and practices of US security compared to those of the IS, and cartels. This research will provide detail into societal co-constructions of good/evil. Initial findings suggest the IS (re)creates dystopic motivations of national security, whereas cartels do not feed into the good/evil dichotomy of such regimes.

The social and political construction of security technologies: The case of drones

Author: Clemens Binder (Austrian Institute for International Affairs)  email

Short Abstract

Drones have become crucial elements of military and civil security. This paper will describe the growing importance of drones and the changing nature of security technologies from a constructivist perspective and how the construction of security shapes the construction of technology and vice versa.

Long Abstract

Especially in the course of the "War on Terror", drones have become a notorious mean of counter-terrorism. However, drones have developed into viable surveillance technologies, surveying conflict zones, troop movements and border zones. Drones as a symbol of the automatization of technologies symbolize the changing nature of security, they assume an important role in national as well as human security.

Drones symbolize an important innovation in security technology. Their variable possibilities of usage have impacted security operations to a great extent. Important fields of security become progressively dependent on the use of drones, development of drones has become an important aspect in military research. This causes the question why drones are becoming increasingly important to states and societies and how drones can contribute to societal security.

This paper attempts to combine the approaches of constructivism in security and science and technology respectively. Social construction of security, or the securitization of issues is central for describing how social circumstances shape science and technology. Therefore, it will be investigated how the social construction of security has impacted societies' approaches to security technologies. The main research question is, following Pinch and Bijker's (1984) description of technology as social construction, how securitization influences social construction of technologies in the case of drones. It will therefore be investigated if drones as security technology have developed out of changing security perceptions, for example after 9/11 or in the course of the refugee crisis.

Security Studies Borderlands

Author: Linda Madsen (University of Freiburg)  email

Short Abstract

Scholars of security-, securitization- and risk studies as well as STS based security- and bio(in)security- studies tend to create borderlines around our respective fields. This paper aims to creating borderlands; sites for productive encounters between various strands of security and risk studies.

Long Abstract

Scholars working within various schools of security studies (some also attending to matters of insecurity), securitization studies, sociology of risk and STS based security-, biosecurity- and bioinsecurity studies tend to work within, and to create, borderlines around, our respective academic fields. Through studies on biosecurity in agriculture, the distinction between borderlines and borderlands has been addressed (Hinchliffe et al. 2012). The common trust in spatial segregation and closure as means for biosecurity and disease prevention is being challenged by highlighting the relational contingencies within, or, with reference to Barad (2007), the importance of intra-actions, in regards to disease emergence. This paper suggest a reflexive turn: By interrogating academic borderlines and exploring the sometimes awkward relations between academic neighbours (Tsing 2005), this paper aims to create borderlands - sites for productive encounters between various strands of security and risk studies and for critical reflection on our intra-actions, that is our ways of relating within our academic comfort zones. The purpose is to contribute to organize a better analytical "tool box" for understanding the things that (come to) matter (Latour 2005) as (in)security and risk issues - and how to handle these. The paper draws on experiences from an on-going project where the author is involved. The project serves as a borderland where sociologists and STS scholars with heterogeneous approaches to (in)security collaborate with humanitarian workers, it-experts, computer scientists and developers in order to contribute to increased resilience by means of volunteer networks for emergency and disaster relief.

This track is closed to new paper proposals.