Beyond Political Economy and Security Studies: Introduction to blog series

This blog series presents research from SPERI’s 2019 PREPPE programme. This year’s PREPPE team asks: What sorts of analyses might we be able to generate if we move beyond treating ‘economy’ and ‘security’ as separate? The blogs in this series each question how helpful this distinction is by focusing on four cases: community safety, war, neoliberalism, and populism.

Typically the economy and security are thought about as two distinct domains, shaping how we see and analyse the world. Policy tends to be divided up into ‘economic policy’ and ‘security policy’, and security studies and political economy are seemingly treated as separate and distinct academic disciplines. The conventional wisdom is that security and economy are separate phenomena that do interact, but that require different theories and concepts, which leads a division of labour between (international) political economy and (international) security studies. Although some of the classics seem more comfortable with blurred boundaries between the two — consider Susan Strange’s theorisation of the security structure as the foundation for her approach to political economy, or the inclusion of the ‘economic sector’ in the classic articulation of securitisation theory — economy seems to be imagined as opposed to security in this conventional wisdom: money, business, and affluence are contrasted against force, war, and safety.

And yet, approaches that work against this conventional wisdom can be seen across disciplinary boundaries. Some of the most productive examples of this are found in literature grounded in feminist and biopolitics approaches. For Cynthia Enloe, since a feminist curiosity leads to exposing ‘a remarkable assortment of the kinds of power it takes to make the complex international political system work the way it currently does’, feminist approaches do not need fake barriers between economy and security — ‘feminists realize that the actual workings of gendered politics routinely blur these artificial fields of investigation’. This curiosity can be seen, for example, in Jacqui True’s pathbreaking book on the political economy of violence against women; or in Isabella Bakker and Stephen Gill’s framework for analysing the contemporary interrelations between power, production, and social reproduction that involves a three-way distinction between human, national, and ‘capital’ security. It also animates work by the contributors to a special section of Gender and Politics in 2015 and feminist work on ‘Secureconomy’.

Another significant strand of work that examines the intersections of economy and security has been inspired by the Foucauldian observation that liberal government involves nullifying threats to liberal life; that is, anything that might disrupt the circulations that makes liberal order function. Stemming from this observation, theorisations have emerged that address the intersections of economy and security in anticipating terrorist attacks, financial disturbance as a security problem, and financial crises as moments that legitimate exceptional state interventions. Other work that challenges the distinction is Mark Neocleous’ work on economic security and George Rigakos’ recent book on the intersection of capital and security.

In common with the approaches and writers described here the contributors to this blog series approach economy and security as domains that should be understood as interlinked in complex and significant ways or, indeed, as concerns that can fruitfully understood by thinking beyond binary ‘security’ and ‘economy’ categories. Over the next four days the blogs will discuss how thinking beyond separate ‘economy’ and ‘security’ might inform our understanding of a set of significant contemporary concerns.

In the first in the series, Caitriona Rylance explores how we might understand community safety as a distributional issue concerning who gets to feel safe, when, and where. Focusing on fears of violence and desires for safety in the public space from this perspective reveals how they may fit in with and reproduce existing patterns of inequality. Rylance explores these dynamics through two examples relating to public transport in the US and UK: controversy over Baltimore’s light rail network and the Rail, Maritime and Transport Workers union campaign Keep the Guard on the Train.

In the second blog in the series, Joanna Tidy explores how the commodification of an everyday object, an Afghan rug, reveals a complex interconnection of economy and security in war and western liberal violence. Commodification of the rug is bound to the selling of particular ideas about the security and insecurity of Afghan women and security/insecurity itself is characterised within economic terms. Tidy explores how these terms of commodification reanimate logics that structure and distribute the insecurities of war and military violence.

In the third piece in the series, Liam Stanley explores the intersection of economy and security through the links between neoliberalism and the War on Terror. Stanley focusses on influential accounts of how the neoliberal state took an authoritarian turn after the 2008 crash in order to maintain social order. He contrasts these with accounts of the War on Terror, another significant shift in the power of the state, to ask how these two process overlap and interlink.

In the fourth and final piece, Michael McLeish explores how the common assumptions about populism shared by academic approaches to both economy and security provides an opportunity to rethink our understanding of the phenomena. By portraying populism as an exception to or abnormal break with the political status quo, these accounts can end up legitimating the kinds of positions that populist politics crave.