Printer Friendly

Security, spatiality, and social suffering.

This article outlines a schema for developing an alternative knowledge about security, privileging non-European peoples and focusing on the sources and potentiality of insecurity. Urging attention to the everyday and the personal, to the claims of the other, and to forms of social suffering, the analysis foregrounds the part that spatiality can play in reconceptualizing security without making spatiality itself the subject of analysis. KEYWORDS: security, spatiality, social suffering, the everyday, subjectivity


It is symptomatic of our time that universities all over the world are rapidly expanding their international-studies programs to meet demand when established disciplinary formations concerned with the international are unable to offer much in the way of leads about how to break out of the impasse in which we find ourselves; violence in many manifestations, "state failure," and disasters of various kinds challenge Western imagery of a world being set right through the workings of the market, the process of democratization, and the commitment to development.

The gulf between international doctrine and practice on the ground is underscored by the use of the construct of "emergencies" to present recurrent breakdowns as somehow exceptional, rather than endemic to the system. These and other signs of closure in the prevailing narratives of the international speak to the need to reopen the question of the political--a matter that has long been a concern of this journal and that this special issue of Alternatives takes up by addressing the role of spatiality. It should also be said that in the dominant Western tradition, the nub of the question of the political, as it connects the international to the national, is the subject of security. (1)

Everyone would recognize that there are formidable obstacles to attempting to think security differently. If has been asserted, for instance, that the poststructuralist critique of traditional security studies has been largely ignored by practitioners in the field and that it has never had much influence in mainstream international relations. (2) For its part, human security has been criticized for being expansive and vague and therefore of limited utility as a tool of analysis. (3)

It is evident that in the aftermath of 9/11, and to a lesser extent the crisis over asylum seekers and refugees generally, the parameters of acceptable dissent have narrowed substantially. Fear and xenophobia deeply scar public culture in the West. In terms of party politics, there is the apprehension that questioning national-security agendas carries the prospect of being savaged by the electorate. Critics in nongovernmental organizations and academe run the risk of being censured by the state. In the United States, there have been moves by conservative groups to cut funding to international-studies programs that are "biased" against US foreign policy. (4) It has also been reported that professors have been denounced for anti-Americanism and teachers suspended from their positions for criticizing in the classroom US actions overseas. (5) In Australia, a right-wing think tank with the ear of the government has issued a public warning against the danger of political activism on the part of aid agencies. It has recently come to light that the government has vetoed without explanation research proposals, earlier endorsed by panels of experts, that, although not directly concerned with security, ran counter to the government's agenda. (6)

Yet there is another side. Such political excesses provide incentives for fresh thinking and help generate new constituencies working for change. In this way, debate can move forward on different grounds. I want to suggest that the difficulty of rethinking security can no longer--if it ever could--be said to reside in a lack of knowledge. As will be intimated, there are innovative conceptual developments in several discourses, perhaps most significantly in postcolonial studies, and rich insights to be gained from lived experience that are pertinent to recasting the story of security. The problem is that much of this knowledge has not been seen to relate to security in its international context or disciplinary enclosures. The task is, therefore, to extract this knowledge from its various emplacements and bring it to bear on the question at hand.

This article attempts to outline a schema for developing an alternative knowledge structure about security, privileging the experience of non-European peoples and focusing on the sources and potentialities of insecurity. In other words, it reverses established ways of proceeding. After considering the spatial and other limitations of statecentric approaches, a case is made for turning to the everyday, emphasizing the need to be selective and to be attentive to the importance of the personal. The article then turns to consider security, arguing that it can help to bring about recognition of the claims of the other, thereby contributing to the security of all parties concerned. The concluding section examines work on social suffering, which speaks back to some of the themes developed earlier. I go on to suggest that this literature could extend the horizons of thinking about security generally. In places, my treatment of issues is in the nature of hypotheses, perhaps not more than ideas to be pursued. (7) Throughout, I foreground the part that spatiality can play in reconceptualizing security as traditionally conceived, without making spatiality itself the subject of analysis.

It has long been a commonplace to observe that security is tied to the state. What is less commonly acknowledged is that the linkage is of fundamental import. As Michael Dillon puts it, security became the predicate upon which "the vernacular architecture of modern political power, exemplified in the State, was based." (8) It was the successor to the idea of salvation in the Christian church: no salvation outside the church. For Dillon, this transposes into "the defining maxim of modern politics: no security outside the State; no State without security." (9)

In the First World, we have been habituated to thinking of threats to the state as emanating from the outside. Hence the association of the international with danger. Generations of IR students were schooled into the belief that the space of the international was different from the space of the nation. It fascinated precisely because it was exotic; there was in the literature something akin to travel writing or the philosopher's journey back to a state of nature, and there were similarities with forms of science fiction that explored a different conception of the political. Above all, what imprinted itself on the mind was the idea of a struggle between brutal collectivities, with settlement in the last resort being through "blood and iron." So compelling was the imagery, that all kinds of insecurities came to be relocated in the threatening nature of the outside world.

Of course, from time to time it was necessary to look inward--in the early days of the Cold War, for instance, and in the aftermath of 9/11--but the stranger within the nation was mostly understood to be in league with the external enemy. At least until recently, the fear that the state might be undermined from within was much stronger in the Third World because subjectivities could not so readily be shaped to the national imaginary. Witness the longstanding concern of sections of the Indian polity with the question "Can a Muslim be an Indian?" Questions set in a similar frame are increasingly being asked in other national contexts, even in the West.

In a recent turn, there has been a growing interest in the spatialization of the state and its significance for thinking about security. It is now more widely recognized that the seeming "naturalness" of the territorial state and the division of space between nation-states screens from view a politics of domination and subordination, both nationally and internationally. (10) It also helps structure the understanding of the difference between self and other, the other mostly being seen as belonging to some other nation-state. The rise of the modern nation-state was intimately related to the collection of information and the development of practices of making society more legible and people more visible in the interests of social control. (11) Thus it was that the understanding of the political was constructed by the kind of knowledge that was valorized. As Sankaran Krishna has observed: "The making of the nation serves as universal alibi for the violent unmaking of all alternative forms of community." (12)

We see one illustration of this contention in the response to economic refugees and asylum seekers over the past few years. Scholars in many fields have been forthright in denouncing racist state policies and in advocating a more humane approach, but much less has been said about how exclusion is embedded in the imaginary of the state. In terms of research, a start has been made by directing attention to the problems of borders and border control, but as yet comparable interest has not been shown in what might be done to develop meeting places that could contribute to freeing up the fixity of the present territorial order. As it stands, spatial understandings underpin global inequality and, in different ways, impinge on people's security everywhere. On the one side, the Third World as a more or less open site for resource utilization, cheap labor (including outsourcing), and sex tourism; on the other, the way that regulatory regimes lock the bulk of the world's people in place.

It might be contended that not all states act similarly and that the state can be an instrument for progressive change as well as a prop of a statist order. This was certainly the hope of the nationalists who struggled for decolonization. It found partial expression in the 1950s and 1960s in actions such as Nasser's nationalization of the Suez Canal and in the assertive diplomacy of coalitions of Third World states, such as the Nonaligned Movement, Sukarno's "Newly Emerging Forces," and the Group of 77. It is arguable what returns might have flowed on in the way of security for Third World peoples. But the project of an anticolonial revisioning of the international order was cut short by the strongarm tactics of the West. The incipient radicalism of the Organisation of African Unity was similarly stymied, though not by direct action on the part of the West but by the need to strike an accommodation between the divergent politics of African states. In the 1980s and 1990s, the process of neutering the Third World state was all but completed as a result of the globalization of neoliberalism. In the light of our discussion of the approach to refugees and asylum seekers in the paragraph above, it is pertinent to note that, despite occasional expressions of dissent, Third World states as a rule have acted in support of the territoriality of the state. During the exodus of refugees from Indo-China in the 1970s and 1980s, for instance, Vietnam and the frontline states of Thailand, Malaysia, and Indonesia effectively colluded with Australia to stem the flow of boat people to Australia. China acted similarly in the 1990s. It acts in the same way today with respect to North Korean refugees.

Reflecting more broadly, the affinity between states and the conventions they observed in their relationships with each other in the Concert of Europe and much before have traveled surprisingly easily over time and space. International relations is no longer a conversation between princes, as for the most part it was then. Still, behind all the differences between states that we readily observe today, elements of a shared culture can be discerned: an implicit compact about the ground rules of behavior. Amitav Ghosh's The Shadow Lines brilliantly conveys how, in the matter of violence, the new states, no less than the old, act according to such a compact. The narrator ponders on the silence of the press and the curiously worded exchanges between the governments of Pakistan and India before the outbreak of riots in Dhaka and Calcutta in 1964. Once the riots had started, both governments put a stop to them as quickly as possible:
  In this they were subject to a logic larger than themselves, for the
  madness of a riot is a pathological inversion, but also therefore a
  reminder, of that indivisible sanity that binds people to each other
  independently of their governments. And that prior, independent
  relationship is the natural enemy of government, for it is in the
  logic of states that to exist at all they must claim the monopoly of
  all relationships between peoples.
    The theatre of war, where generals meet, is the stage on which
  states disport themselves: they have no use for memories of
  riots. (13)

Ghosh's last sentence above speaks to a Western tradition. It should therefore alert us to the traffic in thought from North to South, not only about the nation but about security itself. With respect to securing the state and the regime, the position seems reasonably clear. Western approaches readily took root in many non-European societies in colonial times and they have been carefully cultivated and nourished ever since through officer-training programs, defense-aid projects, specialist literatures, and the conference circuit. The non-European world served as a kind of military laboratory where experiential knowledge was gained and applied, (14) though little of it was incorporated in strategic doctrine until after World War II. Nonetheless, much knowledge of a tactical nature was passed on to the new states, making for a continuity of practice after the devolution of power. In states with a revolutionary tradition, the trajectory was different: usually a conflict between politicized formations and approaches carrying forward something of the experiences of the armed struggle and professionalization in line with overseas practice. In time, it was the latter that was the more influential.

When it comes to the geopolitics of security, it is necessary to write with circumspection because, so far as I am aware, there is not a literature that pertains directly to the encounter between North and South knowledges. On the one hand, there were the Western security orthodoxies that circulated in policy-making and university communities as a result of the globalization of Anglo-US international-relations and security studies. On the other hand, there were alternative lines of approach derived from the distinctive circumstances and experience of non-European societies. In this category, think of Gandhi's theology of nonviolence, the politics of guerrilla war, and the doctrine of nonalignment that was associated with zones of peace. That such conceptions challenged the ruling security paradigms is undoubted. But the processes of change at home eroded their constituencies and international developments augmented the pressures to think order and violence in the terms laid down by the center. Increasingly, dissenting opinion appears to be confined to research centers, at one remove from the academy, and to activist networks. Despite the vigorous criticism of Eurocentrism in history, development studies, and international political economy, approaches to security remain to be unsettled. It might thus be said that, shades of nationalism, security is in large part a derivative discourse.

In a suggestive contribution to the literature on spatializing states, James Ferguson and Akhil Gupta identify two registers in which states represent themselves and people experience them as spatial entities: verticality and encompassment. (15) Verticality refers to the state as somehow above civil society, community, and so on. Hence the understanding of the state as intervening in society in a "top down" manner, in contrast to images of political struggle that are imagined as coming from below, that are seen as a product of the grassroots. Encompassment locates the state in a series of ever-widening circles that begins with family and local community and ends with the system of nation-states. Ferguson and Gupta go on to argue that globalization challenges the traditional spatial standing of states. Hence they propose an ethnology of governmentality that embraces nonstate actors and new forms of grass-roots politics to bring into question the continuing efficacy of verticality and encompassment. (16)

This may well be an important project, but the immediate need is to recognize that the spatiality of the state can no longer be considered in isolation from that of the multifarious international agencies and nongovernmental organizations with which it interacts. Very often the state does the work of international organizations; for instance, implementing structural adjustment programs and privatization, as well as opening the door to the inflow of foreign capital. So far as the Third World is concerned, if measures of this kind are not embraced by states, they are forced upon them. (17)

Such maneuvering might be regarded as the "high politics" of late modernity. This directs attention to the ways in which the meaning of the political in time and place shapes the use of space to augment or exercise power. The proposition is strikingly illustrated by Satish Deshpande when he contrasts the spatial strategies employed by the Indian government in the three decades after independence with those employed by hindutva in the 1980s and 1990s. (18) Whereas the nation-space of the Nehruvian era was based on economic geography--in a word, developmentalism--the nation-space of hindutva was shaped by sacred geography. Partly because of its secular nature, Nehru's economism proved difficult to sell except to the Western influenced elite, and by the mid-1960s it had lost much of its hold. On Deshpande's account, "hindutva may be seen as exploiting the ideological vulnerability of the placeless universalism of Nehruvian nation-space, or its failure to articulate abstract space to more personalized concrete places." (19) It did so by means of spatial strategies that centered on sacred places (most crucially Adodhya), areas of intimacy (localities and neighborhoods), and routes of synergy (processions and pilgrimages).

Despite the importance attached to personalized places and to lived experiences at the local level, Deshpande's concern is to tell a story about the state and the contenders for state power. But what if social space is approached from the perspective of outsiders in the struggle for state power? Would that not be a very different story? One in which the space of the nation might well not feature much at all? Here one is reminded of the testimony of a survivor of the communal violence in the Indian subcontinent in 1947: "It was in the bloodshed of Partition that ordinary people saw the shape of independence." (20)

This grim reflection takes us back to security and serves to introduce a crucial proposition: the need to look to the everyday and to the understandings and experience of ordinary people. Proceeding in this way carries the prospect of loosening the linkage between security and the state. A space may thus be cleared for thinking security differently and for locating a politics of security within society, rather than above it. Such an approach brings into the ambit of security international processes that generate fear and suspicion and impinge on peoples' opportunities and well-being. Think, for instance, of the atomization of neoliberalism, the feminization of poverty, the rising stigma of social and cultural difference. So also, within nation-states, it brings into reckoning the role of state power in setting the forms of acceptable identity, the limits of dissent, and the parameters for exploring different forms of community.

Against this background, the nub of our concern is to flesh out the ways in which the everyday constitutes a site for alternative security practices in which local people take the initiative or at least play a major role. An archive needs to be developed on neighborhood and more-dispersed practices of self-securing, the shaping and use of public space to provide meeting places, and on the role of dissent as a form of community building. By working along such lines, people who are usually left out of account would be brought into security discourse: victims, the marginalized, those in pain and suffering. (One might think of the process as analogous to taking account of the views of people defeated in war.) For the most part, the stories recounted are likely to be at some remove from the researcher's own experience. Issues of positionality are therefore involvedm and the research would need to go forward collaboratively. Although not concerned with security as such, the best source of which I am aware for work of this nature is Partha Chatterjee's account of what he calls "popular politics" in Calcutta. (21)

If this thumbnail sketch indicates the direction in which we should move, at the same time it needs to be recognized that the everyday cannot simply be embraced without reservation as proffering a way out of our dilemma. Especially since 9/11, it is apparent that the response of ordinary people, at least in the West, to matters of security is at times not so different from that of the brokers of state power. We should now be well aware of the frequency with which political leaders present security issues in terms that play on the fears and insecurities within society. We are thus led to reflect more critically on the culture of modern societies and on another face of the everyday.

It is instructive here to recall John Kenneth Galbraith's denunciation of the ugly side of the "culture of contentment" (22) that is sharply at odds with much contemporary thinking, as for instance the claim that democracies are essentially peace-loving. Building on Galbraith, it is my contention that over the past decade or two, the sense of self-satisfaction that permeates Western societies appears to have been accompanied by a marked impatience with the Third World and its problems. Alongside the survival of militarist attitudes and orientalist tropes from an earlier era, numerous critics have pointed to a growing assertiveness and intolerance, taking the form of the "new racism" or, more recently, the revival of interest in imperial overlordship. With relative affluence now the norm in the developed world, the pursuit of material benefit has produced a negativity toward those who have not succeeded, especially perhaps overseas. This indifference to the welfare of others has been powerfully reinforced by the way that neoliberalism has changed our understanding of politics, substantially narrowing the range of permissible debate. At least as expressed in elections, the wishes of the majority are taken to proscribe the nature of the political. The principle of number enshrined by the modern nation-state is used to perpetuate a profoundly unequal world, with all the insecurity that necessarily results.

A somewhat similar argument can be developed that in the Third World also, the everyday is by no means always conducive to alternative thinking about security. Indeed, the signs are that in many places it is becoming less so because of the penetration of consumer capitalism, increasing economic competition, sharper ethnic identifications, and the processes of urban ghettoization. In short, modernity in the form of globalization is eroding and recasting traditional worldviews and customary practices.

It follows that the everyday needs to be approached selectively. Rather than being taken as having some fixed character, the everyday should be seen as a relatively fluid resource to be drawn upon to recast security discourses by exploring instances of community self-help and the negotiation of difference. There will be some everydays that are unlikely to yield perspectives of this nature. Others will hold out hope and it is these we should privilege. (23) Related, our approach to the everyday should not be abstracted from lived experience, as is sometimes the case in postcolonial discourse, but be highly personalized, bringing out human aspects such as caring, relating to the situation of others, being hopeful about the possibilities of change. In his inquiry into paranoid nationalism in Australia and what might be done about it, Ghassan Hage infuses the personal into the cultural and provides a splendid illustration of how writing of this kind can redirect thought.

Characterizing Australia as a "worrying" society, he argues that worrying creates citizens who see threats everywhere. Worrying today, he declares, "exerts a form of symbolic violence over the field of national belonging. It eradicates the very possibility of thinking of an alternative mode of belonging." (24) As he presents it, the way forward is to think in terms of a caring society, one that generates hope among its citizenry and thereby fosters a sense of security.

Hage's work serves nicely to introduce our discussion of insecurity. Although specifically directed to the recent Australian experience, his arguments have a much broader pertinence. Putting aside his national frame of reference--which for our purposes is unnecessarily cramping--his analysis speaks to processes at work in many other cultures. Worrying denotes fear, and often enough that which is feared is located or derives from abroad. But the root of the problem is located in the domestic culture, and it needs to be tackled there, not in the ether of the international.

Bringing insecurity to the fore, therefore, enables us to approach security in a different light. It sparks the thought that it may be that we have been looking for answers in the wrong places: Security begins at home, with the self. Perhaps what is required is a spatial reorientation: a shift in focus from the external to the internal. Let us attempt to work this through taking account of the literature, both disciplinary and nondisciplinary.

Our starting point must be that security and insecurity are inextricably linked: The two are mutually constituted. As Michael Dillon puts it, "we have to think security and insecurity together." (25) The tradition of thought, however, is otherwise. In the practice of states and in the evolution of strategic doctrine, security takes on a life of its own. In the disciplinary domains of IR and security studies, the situation has not been much better. Particular constituencies, it is true, have broached issues relating to insecurity--conflict resolution theorists, feminists, critical-security studies advocates, and those at the margins influenced by anthropology and social theory. Their influence on mainstream discourses, however, has been very limited. Late in the Cold War, when public disquiet in Europe over nuclear weaponry threatened the strategic game-plan, the distinguished military historian, Michael Howard, ventured the proposition that deterrence must be accompanied by reassurance. (26) At the time this was seen as something of a breakthrough, but it cannot be said to have left a lasting imprint on security discourse, much less to have spawned broader rethinking. For one thing, the concern with ordinary people cut across the grain. For another, insecurity tended to be subsumed under instability, enabling established security imperatives to remain intact. The commitment to securing international order from the "top down" and primarily by increasing military capabilities was too entrenched for alternative ideas to make much headway.

It is instructive here to briefly consider the situation of very powerful states. For at least a century and a half, big powers have acted big. That is to say, they have been concerned to demonstrate their power, ostensibly in the belief that they have a special responsibility for the maintenance of international security. Yet, paradoxically, very often they appear to be motivated by a deep sense of insecurity. Writing in 1877 about the likely consequence of a British occupation of Egypt (for reason of the security of India), Gladstone observed that "with a great empire in each of the four corners of the world ... we may be territorially content, but less than ever at our ease." (27) Much later, Senator William Fulbright developed a not dissimilar theme with respect to the United States: "Lack of self assurance seems to be based on an exaggerated sense of power and mission." (28) These suggestive quotations take on added significance when it is recognized that the writing on security draws disproportionately on the experiences of the powerful--which in due course becomes the script for the less powerful. On the face of it, there would seem much to be said for working the other way around.

A related thought might usefully be noted at this point. There is an argument to be developed that particularly in the case of powerful states much that is presented in the name of security speaks to the politics of home more than it does to the politics of the outside world. Surveying the course of US defense policy from the Republican "New Look" of 1953 to developments in the Rumsfeld era, I have been struck by the extent to which means determine ends. (29) This can be seen in the way that strategic doctrine has been tailored to maximizing resources in hand, to capitalizing on capabilities that the United States possesses in abundance: the reliance on firepower over manpower (in the words of a one-time chairman of the joint chiefs staff, Admiral Radford, "more bang for a buck"), the commitment to strategic mobility designed to extract advantage from space as against the costs of place, the application of technology to warfare, thus reducing dependence on the "human factor." This was the logic of the strategy of containment, and it found expression in extravagant phraseology such as massive retaliation and, much later, "shock and awe." Such a strategic posture also held out the prospect of disengagement from foreign entanglements, of distancing the United States from the messy business of getting caught up in other people's problems. In short, dominant weapons offered the hope of escaping from politics. But security cannot be reduced to deterring adversaries or winning wars; it requires some recognition of and negotiation with the other; it must look toward a political settlement. This, surely, is the fundamental lesson to be learned from Iraq.

I hope enough has emerged from the last two paragraphs to indicate that a critical reading of the disciplinary literature can be revealing of the trafficking between security and insecurity. But of course this depends upon how the disciplinary material is read, and in the above paragraphs I have read against the grain, taking my cue from writing in other genres, mostly of a dissenting nature. What has been implicit until this point, but now needs to be spelled out, is that outside the disciplinary domain there has been much more recognition of the significance of insecurity and of the extent to which it permeates thought and action. In my own case it has been the novelists who have been the dominant influence, and they have led me to rethink much that I was schooled to think.

It would not be appropriate to rehearse this material at any length here, (30) but my interest was stimulated by how writers such as Kipling, Conrad, and other novelists of the time cut through the brashness and apparent self-assurance of empire to show how the projection of power was tinged with insecurity, how swagger was accompanied by unease, personal anxiety, and social strain. Scholars in different fields have worked on this material in rich and productive ways. Think, for instance, of Ashis Nandy's writing on the damaging effects to the imperial self of hypermasculinity that was so central to British rule in India. (31) Then, with respect to the United States and the Vietnam War, there is Norman Mailer's insightful treatment of insecurity anchored in sexual frustration and an aggressiveness produced by the corporate culture. In The Armies of the Night Mailer suggests that the push to go into Vietnam came from the US small town. Race riots, Las Vegas, suburban orgies--these were not enough: Vietnam was needed as an outlet--"That was where the small town had got to get its kicks." (32) In Why Are We in Vietnam? he explores the same theme by writing about a bear hunt in Alaska. In their last night in the Alaskan wilderness before leaving for Vietnam, Tex and D.J. lie together under the blankets, struggling with their love/hate relationship and their homosexual desires,
  and they hung there each of them on the knife of the divide in all
  conflict of lust to own the other yet in fear of being killed by the
  other and as the hour went by and the lights shifted, something in the
  radiance of the North went into them, and owned their fear, some
  communion of telepathies and new powers, and they were twins, never to
  be near as lovers again, but killer brothers, owned by something,
  prince of darkness, lord of light, they did not know. (33)

There is of course a growing body of contemporary work on the political significance of codes of masculinity, some of which addresses the way they can disadvantage men. A number of scholars hold that partly as a result of globalization, there is a crisis of masculinity that at times leads to violence and other forms of antisocial behavior. One study that bears on our present concern examines the impact of violence in northern Uganda on traditional conceptions of masculinity predicated on marriage and men as the breadwinners and protectors of the family. The war that began there in 1986 so disrupted the pattern of ordinary life that noncombatant men were unable to perform their customary roles, thus becoming humiliated and resentful. They were, therefore, prone to violence and vulnerable to the militarist codes of combatants. The author suggests that there is some evidence the state benefited from and perhaps contributed to the making of a militarist model of manhood that prevented the emergence of alternative forms of masculinity. (34)

I have given a few examples drawn from only one field of study--masculinity--to illustrate how focusing on insecurity might transform our approach to security. For the most part, however, it must be said that insecurity has been taken to point in only one direction: People and states must be made more secure. Overwhelmingly this is true of the disciplinary literature: Invariably insecurity is posited as a problem that needs to be overcome. To a lesser extent, on my reading, it seems the case with imaginative literature--though it is not so prescriptive of course. (I now suspect that a different reading or perhaps a reading of different texts would tell a somewhat different story.)

What is missing in most of the writing is not only that the acceptance of some insecurity is a condition of security itself, but that insecurity can be enabling as well as disabling. It is my view that insecurity can provide the basis for establishing affinities with others; it contains within it the possibilities of change; it is intrinsic to being human. One promising approach that might take this further is Julia Kristeva's proposal that we are strangers to ourselves and that we need to engage with the foreignness within us. (35) This foreignness can never be entirely removed, but it can be given some recognition that will change how we relate to others. In a somewhat different register, Veena Das writes to similar effect. In a powerful and moving essay on the United States' inability to recognize the pain of others after 9/11, she writes of "the fallability and vulnerability to which we are all subject." (36) In short, insecurity cannot be taken to have a single fixed essence, and account should be taken of its different movements and possibilities.

In this concluding section, I wish to take up some lines of argument that emerge in the writing on social suffering. I do so because they reflect back on several of the arguments developed in this article, giving them context, extending them in some respects, raising questions in others. Moreover, introducing this material lends strong support to my view that social suffering needs to be brought into the fold of thinking about security as it has been traditionally conceived in discourses about the international. There is a danger that in drawing on a dense and often diverse literature, the distinctiveness of individual contributions will be ironed out. This is a risk, however, that has to be run.

Three of the pioneering scholars in the field begin their exposition by stating: "Social suffering results from what political, economic and institutional power does to people and, reciprocally, from how these forms of power themselves influence responses to social problems." (37) They go on to assert that often it shows the close links between personal problems of a psychological or medical nature and societal problems, thus revealing that suffering is a social experience. Although suffering occurs almost everywhere, it is most acute among the poor and powerless because they are caught in the web of the global political economy. All this sits well with our earlier insistence on bringing victims into discourse and taking a highly personalized approach to the everyday. From the viewpoint of establishing connections across national boundaries, it would be helpful to have some specific references to victims in the First World, especially people caught up in various ways in the extension of Western power in the Third World. One illustration is prompted by the George Gittoes's film Soundtrack to War, released in 2004. It features the popular music played by GIs as they shot and were shot at in Iraq. Gittoes brings home how many of the ordinary US soldiers were black or Hispanic, with little formal education and with records of drug addiction. The army provided an escape from the back streets of Chicago or Harlem and an institutional home. (38) In Das's terms, they are people "who were never safe even before September 11th." (39)

Another case is that of the "human shields," some eight hundred of whom went to Iraq after an appeal by former US marine and Gulf War veteran Ken O'Keefe in December 2002. Their aim was to protest against the impending war, to protect essential sites, and to "bear witness." They suffered because of the risks and uncertainty of their position and their often fraught relationship with both the Coalition and the Iraqis--not to mention the strains among themselves. (40)

It is said, quite appropriately, that social suffering cuts across disciplinary boundaries, and it therefore destabilizes established categories. (41) Most of the writers in the field, however, come from a background in anthropology, often drawing on ethnology and sociology as well (if these distinctions make much sense today). For all the broad-ranging theoretical insights that emerge, the discourse is firmly grounded in case studies, mostly involving local worlds and everyday life. We are thus presented with a variety of spatial and cultural contexts, different ways of imagining violence and the gendered nature of how violence is told and remembered. (42) This groundedness in lived experience is a vital corrective to the faceless, placeless narratives so characteristic of security texts. (One might add timeless, as well, but that is to get ahead of ourselves.) While the local community is always the central focus of analysis, invariably the state and at times other states or international agencies appear in the narratives as powerful actors or at least as shadowy influences in the background--they lie behind "the soft knife of policies that severely disrupt the life worlds of people," as the editors of one volume put it. (43) For the most part, the state is understood to be a primary cause of suffering, and in its response to social violence it all too frequently intensifies suffering. The bureaucratic machinery of the state can take over the suffering of the victims for its own purposes, while at the same time weakening the codes of restraint that have evolved within local communities.

But it is also recognized that the state's absence can be a problem and that the state can be an agent--and an important one--for giving hope and support to damaged communities. (44) Reflecting on my earlier argument about loosening the links between security and the state, it thus seems sensible to add the caveat that there are limits to how far the process should be pushed and that we need to rethink how the state can act constructively in relation to pain and suffering.

Not only are the texts on social suffering located in space: They are also imbued with a consciousness of time. Because they privilege the voice of sufferers, we are introduced to how in situations of violence people experience time differently--the way the past becomes the present, when time stops, how the future might be reborn. We thus gain insights into how others construct their worlds and the role played by insecurity. In some instances disaster strikes suddenly and the event becomes the decisive point of reference. Das observes of her study of critical events in the history of contemporary India that her strategy was "to substitute time for space and to take a critical moment in the life of a nation as constituting the object of analysis." (45) At such moments the event smashes through the web of everyday life, the practices of self-securing do not have much purchase, and social relations between the parties cannot provide a reliable guide. Such was the case with the Bhopal chemical disaster in 1984, when those living in the vicinity of the Union Carbide factory could not apprehend what had happened with their existing knowledge and had actively to search for new knowledge. (46)

In other instances, violence is not suddenly visited upon local communities but virus-like it builds up over time. In the non-European world, its roots can be traced to the incursions of modernity and to the uneven processes of incorporating colonial peoples and resources into the international economic system. The studies of suffering, however, are not focused on elaborating structural explanations; rather, they are concerned to show how violence comes to inhabit everyday life and to be refracted in the daily practices of ordinary people. The story they tell is of trust or at least a "live and let live" attitude of mind giving way over time to suspicion, fear, and a sense of vulnerability. (47) Silence, seclusion, and anonymity become the norm. No longer do people feel they can look to their neighbors or to the agencies of the state to secure their well-being; hence, in the war zone of eastern Sri Lanka in the early 1990s, people turned to the temple oracles for comfort and agency. (48) The crucial point is that violence has come to be embedded in everyday life. It may not be realized in a cataclysmic eruption: The possibilities exist that it may be contained or find nonviolent expression. (49) This is not, however, an area that tends itself to broad generalizations: outcomes will largely depend upon the specifics of each case.

An essay by Deepak Mehta and Roma Chatterji is of particular interest to us because it is situated in the gap between a time of acute violence and the resumption of everyday life. (50) It is also a study of how a local world can be reshaped by the penetration of an outside event and the involvement of outside agencies--in this case the local world being that of Dharavi, a shantytown in Bombay. The authors write of the riots in Dharavi that erupted immediately after the demolition of the Babri Masjid in December 1992 and of the subsequent relief work that had as its objective the restoration of the moral community. On the basis of local narratives, Mehta and Chatterji describe how space and time interacted to produce a multiplicity of fractured communities, not a recovery of the cohesive world that existed earlier. During the riots, particular sites functioned as the Indo-Pakistani border, and particular neighborhoods were named as foreign and therefore enemy territory. In a conversation about a drain that signified the border, the daughter of a Muslim informant interrupted to say, "We were playing Hindustan-Pakistan." (51) Similarly, the narratives of the rehabilitation period recreate the topography of Dharavi--although on this occasion in a contradictory manner. Public spaces became places for the distribution of supplies, and hence they were no longer feared. On the other hand, courtyards and roads operated as boundaries of exclusion, reinforcing the divisions created by violence. Thus, the authors argue, relief work plays a significant part in restoring normality, but its qualities as a bridge are ambivalent. The everyday has been reconstituted, but it is underlain by anxieties and a stance of mistrust.

Unquestionably these narratives exploring the relationship between subjectivity and violence add a new dimension to our understanding of the everyday. Clearly they bear upon our earlier discussion about the need to adopt a selective approach. Indeed they could be seen to cut across the gist of that argument. I do not think this is so. While the literature established the propensity toward violence that can be associated with the everyday and the difficulties of changing subjectivities in situations of extreme violence, I read the discourse on social suffering as above all directed toward understanding how some individuals and communities can resist the downward spiral of violence--how they can work for renewal in the aftermath of violence. This, after all, is why scholars in the field look to the everyday. It is where they have placed their hope.

Hope assumes an especial significance if we take our bearings on the everyday from Veena Das. In various essays she has observed that for all the disappointment with the culture of modernity and the anguish that is caused by violence, they provide openings for acknowledging the pain of others. Thus the circuit of hope can be broadened, or, as David Morris puts it, the borders of a moral community can be extended. (52) Here we see the larger import of Das's insistence on hearing the voice of the victim, accepting that suffering is collective as well as individual, and recognizing the need for a public acknowledgement of pain. Das's contention, deeply influenced by Wittgenstein is that pain and suffering can be a means of connecting with the other. The potential for change exists in everyday life, not only in local contexts but as it reaches out to extend across national borders. Das pursues the international implications in her essay, quoted from above, when she writes of the US inability to recognize the pain of others after 9/11 and its response with greater violence. It is fitting to conclude with a closing passage from the same essay.
  Most people in the world learn to live as vulnerable beings to the
  dangers that human cultures pose to each other. Between that
  vulnerability and the desperation that seeks to annihilate the other,
  there is a terrible gap. In other words it is to the picture of
  transfiguration of violence rather than to its elimination or
  eradication in a war-like mode, that I draw attention. (53)


It is a pleasure to acknowledge my indebtedness to Marcia Langton and Paul Carter for many stimulating conversations over the past year about approaching security differently. I am also very grateful to Edgar Ng and Adam Driver for helping me think through some of the issues discussed in this article

1. As used here, subject should be understood in two senses. R. B. J. Walker observes: "If the subject of security is the subject of security, it is necessary to ask, first and foremost, how the modern subject is being reconstituted and then to ask what security could possibly mean in relation to it": R. B. J. Walker, "The Subject of Security," in Keith Krause and Michael C. Williams, eds., Critical Security Studies: Concepts and Cases (Minneapolis, University of Minnesota Press, 1997), chap. 3 at p. 78.

2. George Marcus, in his foreword to Jutta Weldes, Mark Laffey, Hugh Gusterson, and Raymond Duvall, eds., Cultures of Insecurity: States, Communities, and the Production of Danger (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1999), p. x.

3. See, for example, Roland Paris, "Human Security: Paradigm Shift or Hot Air?" International Security 26, no. 2 (2001): 87-102.

4.; accessed 10/4/2004.

5. See Guardian Weekly, April 14-16, 2006.

6. The Age (Melbourne, Australia), November 11, 2005.

7. This article draws on planning for a major research project that proceeds under the aegis of the Institute of Postcolonial Studies entitled "Rethinking Security from the Everyday." The principal researchers are Paul Carter, Marcia Langton, and myself, but other institute members are involved in various capacities. The research goes forward in close collaboration with South Asian and Indigenous Australian scholars, activists, and artists. A preliminary report was presented by Marcia Langton, Brook Andrew, and myself, with Ashis Nandy as participating chair, to the Globalisation and Postcolonial Writing Conference, jointly convened by the Centre for Postcolonial Writing, Monash University, and the Department of English, Calcutta University, held in Kolkata, India, in February 2006.

8. Michael Dillon, Politics of Security: Towards a Political Philosophy of Continental Thought (London: Routledge, 1996), p. 13.

9. Ibid., p. 14.

10. See Akhil Gupta and James Ferguson, "Beyond 'Culture': Space, Identity, and Locality," in J. X. Inda and R. Rosaldo, eds., The Anthropology of Globalisation: A Reader (Malden: Blackwell, 2002), pp. 65-80; also Mustafa Dikec, "Space, Politics, and the Political," Environment and Planning D: Society and Space 23 (2005): 171-188.

11. See, for instance, James Scott, Seeing Like a State: How Certain Schemes to Improve the Human Condition Have Failed (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1998), Intro. and chaps. 1, 2, and Timothy Mitchell, Colonising Egypt (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1988).

12. Sankaran Krishna, Postcolonial Insecurities: India, Sri Lanka, and the Question of Nationhood (Minneapolis, University of Minnesota Press, 1999), p. 20.

13. Amitav Ghosh, The Shadow Lines (New Delhi: Ravi Dayala, Permanent Black, 2001; first Indian paperback ed.; first published 1988), p. 230.

14. A classic publication in this regard was Col. C. E. Callwell, Small Wars: Their Principles and Practice, 3d ed. (London, HMSO, 1906; first published 1896).

15. James Ferguson and Akhil Gupta, "Spatializing States: Toward an Ethnography of Neoliberal Governmentality," American Ethnologist 29, no. 4 (2002): 981-1002.

16. Ibid., pp. 994-996.

17. For a spirited discussion of the situation in South Asia, see Jayadeva Uyangoda, "Security's Insecurity: South Asia's States, Societies, and Citizens in the Age of Globalisation," in Rajesh M. Basru, ed., Security in the New Millennium: Views from South Asia (New Delhi: India Research Press for the Regional Centre for Strategic Studies, Colombo, 2001), chap. 5.

18. Satish Deshpande, "Hegemonic Spatial Strategies: The Nation-State and Hindu Communalism in Twentieth Century India," Public Culture, 10, no. 2 (1998): 249-283.

19. Ibid., p. 263.

20. Gyanendra Pandey argues that for ordinary people living in what are now the divided territories of northern India, Pakistan, and Bangladesh, partition was "the event of the twentieth century." Yet historians have approached it almost exclusively in terms of the nationalist paradigm.; see Gyanendra Pandey, "In Defence of the Fragment: Writing About Hindu-Muslim Riots in India Today," Representations 37 (Winter 1992): 27-55, esp. 29-33.

21. Partha Chatterjee, The Politics of the Governed: Reflections on Popular Protest in Most of the World (New York: Columbia University Press, 2004). See, for instance, his account of the study undertaken by his colleagues at the Centre for Studies in Social Sciences, Calcutta, of the self-help activities of a squatter community living along the railway tracks in the southern part of the city of Calcutta; pp. 53-61.

22. John Kenneth Galbraith, The Culture of Contentment (Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1992).

23. In arguing thusly, I have been deeply influenced by Ashis Nandy's critique of history. In the interests of open and plural futures, he insists that at times "it is important not to remember the past, effectively, clearly, or in its entirety": Ashis Nandy, "History's Forgotten Doubles," History and Theory 34 (May 1995): 44-66, at p. 47.

24. Ghassan Hage, Against Paranoid Nationalism: Searching for Hope in a Shrinking Society (Annandale NSW: Pluto Press, 2003), p. 23. See more generally the intro. and chap. 2.

25. Dillon, note 8, p. 19.

26. Michael Howard, "Reassurance and Deterrence: Western Defence in the 1980s," in The Causes of War and Other Essay (London: Temple Smith, 1983), pp. 246-264.

27. W. E. Gladstone, "Aggression in Egypt and Freedom in the East," Nineteenth Century 2 (Aug.-Dec. 1877), pp. 149-166.

28. J. William Fulbright, The Arrogance of Power (Harmondsworth, Eng.: Pelican Penguin, 1970; first published 1969), p. 32.

29. A somewhat modified argument can be made with respect to Britain and its "world role" in the period of empire and immediately afterwards. The "air control method" employed in the Middle East in the interwar years and later in some ways prefigures US practice, although there was more awareness of its political costs. See Phillip Darby, British Defence Policy East of Suez, 1947-1968 (London: Oxford University Press for the Royal Institute of International Affairs, 1973), pp. 52, 89-91.

30. I have explored the treatment of insecurity in imaginative literature in both Phillip Darby, Three Faces of Imperialism: British and American Approaches to Asia and Africa, 1870-1970 (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1987), and Phillip Darby, The Fiction of Imperialism: Reading Between International Relations and Postcolonialism (London: Cassell, 1998).

31. Ashis Nandy, The Intimate Enemy: Loss and Recovery of Self Under Colonialism (Delhi: Oxford Univertstoty Press. 1987).

32. Norman Mailer, The Armies of the Night (Harmondsworth, Eng.: Penguin, 1968), p. 164.

33. Norman Mailer, Why Are We in Vietnam? (London, Oxford University Press, 1988; first published 1967), pp. 203-204.

34. Chris Dolan, "Collapsing Masculinities and Weak States--a Case Study of Northern Uganda," in Frances Cleaver, ed., Masculinities Matter! Men, Gender, and Development (London: Zed Books, 2002), chap. 3.

35. Julia Kristeva, Strangers to Ourselves, trans. Leon S. Roudiez (New York: Columbia University Press, 1991); see esp. chap. 8.

36. Veena Das, "Violence and Translation," Sarai Reader 02: The Cities of Everyday Life (Delhi: Centre for the Study of Developing Societies, 2002), pp. 205-209, at p. 209.

37. Arthur Kleinman, Veena Das, and Margaret Lock, intro. to Kleinman, Das, and Lock, eds., Social Suffering (Delhi, Oxford University Press, 1998), p. ix.

38. See George Gittoes, "Postcards from Baghdad," Weekend Australian Magazine, Dec. 20-21, 2003, pp. 25, 27, 28.

39. Das, note 36, p. 207.

40. A number of memoirs written by former human shields have now been published.; see, for instance, Ruth Russell, Human Shield in Iraq (Adelaide, South Australia: Seaview Press, 2005).

41. Kleinman, Das, and Lock, note 37.

42. On the latter see, for instance, Rowena Robinson, Tremors of Violence: Muslim Survivors of Ethnic Strife in Western India (New Delhi: Sage, 2005), chaps. 3, 4.

43. Veena Das and Arthur Kleinman, in Veena Das, Arthur Kleinman, Margaret Lock, Mamphela Ramphela, and Pamela Reynolds, eds., Remaking a World: Violence, Social Suffering, and Recovery (New Delhi: Oxford University Press, 2001), p. 1.

44. With respect to the latter, Rowena Robinson argues for example that redress for victims of violence "is never sufficient if it is not state-led or state-legitimized": Robinson, note 42, p. 40.

45. Veena Das, Critical Events: An Anthropological Perspectives on Contemporary India (New Delhi, Oxford University Press, 1995), p. 198.

46. Ibid., p. 201; for a full discussion of the Bhopal case, see chap. 6.

47. This is clearly brought out in many of the essays in Kleinman, Das, and Lock, eds., note 37.

48. See Patricia Lawrence, "Violence, Suffering, Amman: The Work of Oracles in Sri Lanka's Eastern War Zone," ibid., pp. 171-204.

49. It is notable that the literature is mainly directed to situations where widespread violence occurred, not where it didn't. With respect to the latter see, Ashis Nandy, "Time Travel to a Possible Self: Searching for the Alternative Cosmopolitanism of Cochin," in Ashis Nandy, Time Warps: The Insistent Politics of Silent and Evasive Pasts (Delhi: Permanent Black, 2001), chap. 6.

50. Deepak Mehta and Roma Chatterji, "Boundaries, Names, Alterities: A Case Study of 'Communal Riot' in Dharavi, Bombay," in Das et al., note 43, pp. 201-249.

51. Ibid., p. 209.

52. David B. Morris, "About Suffering: Voice, Genre, and Moral Community," in Kleinman, Das, and Lock, eds., note 37, pp. 25-45, at p. 41.

53. Das, note 36, p. 209.

Phillip Darby*

*Institute of Postcolonial Studies, Melbourne, and Department of Political Science, University of Melbourne, Melbourne, Australia. E-mail:
COPYRIGHT 2006 Sage Publications, Inc.
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 2006 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

Article Details
Printer friendly Cite/link Email Feedback
Author:Darby, Phillip
Publication:Alternatives: Global, Local, Political
Geographic Code:4E
Date:Oct 1, 2006
Previous Article:From war to war: Lord of the Flies as the sociology of spite.
Next Article:Dystopic geographies of empire.

Terms of use | Privacy policy | Copyright © 2019 Farlex, Inc. | Feedback | For webmasters