As we are all now aware the end of the Cold War ushered in a new way of thinking about security. Of course, developments in the discipline of Security Studies did not happen in isolation but reflected theoretical developments in the field of International Relations and the social sciences more widely. As we have discussed previously events in the late 1980s linked to the end of the Cold War and rapid globalisation undermined the dominance of realism and with it the positivist approach to social science.
What does a ‘post-positivist’ turn in security thinking entail then? In philosophy ontology refers to the study of the nature of reality. It asks: ‘what is the world we wish to study?’ or ‘what does reality consist of?’ Epistemology is the philosophy of knowledge. Epistemology asks: ‘how can we know the world?’ or ‘what counts as knowledge?’
Positivism has its roots in the Enlightenment. It is a position that holds that the goal of knowledge is simply to describe the phenomena that we experience. The purpose of science is to stick to what we can observe and measure. Knowledge of anything beyond that, a positivist would hold, is impossible. Positivism holds that observation and measurement are the core of the scientific endeavor. The key approach of the scientific method is the experiment, the attempt to discern natural laws through direct manipulation and observation. A positivist theory attempts to understand the social world the same way as a physicist or biologist would try and understand the natural world. Positivism then has an objectivist ontology it seeks to study reality, the material word ‘out there’ and an empiricist epistemology – the way to find reality is to study ‘facts’.
The core assumptions of positivism then can be described as: The belief that scientific methods can be applied to non-scientific studies. This is the case because: The social world, like the natural one has regularities that scientists (social and non social) can ‘discover’. A distinction can be drawn between facts and values because facts are neutral and therefore value-free. How we know what is a true fact and what is a fiction is by doing empirical analysis ie- by testing theories against the real world. Techniques for studying the real world are themselves neutral, ie, they are beyond politics.
What then do we mean by post-positivism? Well to put it simply, post-positivism wholeheartedly rejects the core assumptions of positivism. Post-positivism argues that you cannot study the social world by the same methods as the natural sciences. (The natural sciences themselves have moved beyond a strict positivism). Facts are not neutral or value-free there is always some interpretation involved. The researcher cannot claim to be completely divorced from what she is studying. Biases of some sort will always be involved. Our view of the world is always determined from where we are standing. Post-positivism also asserts that all concepts are historically and socially constructed. We cannot study a state as though it was a mountain or a tree. What we understand by the term ‘the state’ is relative to our time and place.
The Copenhagen School then is concerned with what security is. For some who responded to the call for new thinking about security after then end of the Cold War this is not enough. For others such as those academics associated with the Welsh School theory should be more explicitly normative asking not just what security is but what security does.
Let us turn now to a second theoretical approach - Critical Security Studies. This approach is associated with Ken Booth, Richard Wyn Jones and other academics at Aberystwyth University and so has been labelled The Welsh School. A key text for this approach is Ken Booth ’s Critical Security Studies and World Politics. In this text Booth makes an explicit attempt to link Critical Security Studies to a specific theoretical tradition - post-Marxist Critical Theory with the work of Jurgen Habermas being central.
Booth argues that themes drawn from a variety of post-Marxist critical theories that are useful for a Critical Security Theory. First is the claim that all knowledge is a social process. Knowledge benefits some and disadvantages others. As Robert Cox said, it is always for someone and some purpose. A critical security theory then must reveal the politics behind seemingly neutral knowledge. Critiquing traditional security theory by de-naturalizing positivist claims critical theory offers the basis for social change. Post-Marxist theory is founded on a belief in progressive change - the possibility of progress. Change is possible and progressive change involves emancipation. The test of a social theory then is its capacity for fostering emancipation.
Booth argues that regressive theories have so far dominated the field of IR. If theories are for someone and for some purpose, regressive theories are theories that have benefited those who are presently in power. In order to overcome the regressive nature of world politics Booth also argues that the state and other international institutions should be de-naturalized. (The state is a man made entity, it did not always exist and it is not inevitable that it will continue to exist.) Finally Booth draws on post-Marxist tradition to suggest that in order for progressive change to happen international politics should be guided by emancipatory values.
For Booth then a critical security theory is both a theoretical commitment and a political orientation. Critical Security Studies should be a critical and permanent exploration of the ontology, epistemology and praxis of security with the aim of enhancing security through emancipatory politics.
The flagship of the Welsh School then is the linking of security with emancipation. We should take a moment to think about what emancipation means. [What do the students think it means?] In short emancipation refers freeing someone from constraints, freedom of individual action and the establishment of principles of fairness. Post-positivism acknowledges that theory cannot be neutral. The Welsh School take this one step further by arguing that theory SHOULD not be neutral. Rather it should have a commitment to progressive chance. In the answer to the question of what is security, Critical Security Studies holds a positive conception of security - Security involves the freeing of people from physical and social constraints and enabling them to live fulfilled lives.
Finally I would ask you think about any possible critiques you may have of the Welsh School’s insistence on making emancipation a condition of security. Is the principle of emancipation open to abuse? Who are the emancipators? When is someone considered emancipated? Who decides our vision of the good life? What counts as progress? How would the Welsh School respond to the suggestion that linking security with emancipation may result in fighting wars for freedom and the spread of democracy? Should we link the logic of security to the logic of emancipation?
CSS is an umbrella term. Plurality of approaches. Only thing they have in common is that they cannot answer these questions and don ’t believe it is desirable to do so.
Pl7505 Brief intro to critical theory and critical security studies
The aim of this lecture is to introduce you to: the core commitments of critical security studies two key theoretical approaches to Security Studies that responded to the post-Cold War call for new security thinking and suggest possible avenues for critique. These thoughts should serve to compliment your own reading and analysis - not replace it.
Reflects theoretical developments in International Relations and the social sciences more widely. From 1980s onwards there was a move away from positivist approaches.
• ‘Critical’ in critical thinking does not refer to ‘criticising’ or being negative.• Rather critical thinking is an ethos. It involves questioning knowledge that is taken for granted.• ‘Critical thinking is not simply higher order thinking. Instead it is a search for the social, historical and political roots of conventional knowledge and an orientation to transform learning and society’ (Benesch, 1993).
Critical security studies is not a coherent, unified body of scholarship, rather it includes a disparate body of scholarship (e.g., Poststructuralism, Feminisms, Critical Theory, Postcolonialism, Constructivism, Critical Geopolitics, etc.) that share similar critiques of orthodox security studies. The end of the Cold War signalled an opening in the intellectual field of security studies through which a growing body of scholars disillusioned by the politics of the Cold War sought to challenge the assumptions underpinning dominant discursive understandings of what security means. These challenges stemmed from critical interpretations of the territorially-bounded sovereign state and critical challenges to orthodox claims that state sovereignty equals security So instead of critical security studies signalling a cohesive theoretical enterprise, it signals a critical attitude/stance.
Differ in terms of ontology and epistemology Ontology – what does reality consist of? Epistemology – how do we (get to) know it?
Objectivist ontology – seeks to study reality out there Empiricist epistemology – the way to find reality is to study ‘facts’ Realism, liberalism, Marxism are all positivist.
Scientific methods can be applied to non-scientific studies This is the case because: the social world, like the natural one, has regularities that scientists (social and non-social) can ‘discover’. A distinction can be drawn between facts and values because facts are neutral and therefore value-free. How we know what is a true fact and what is a fiction is by doing empirical analysis, i.e., by testing theories against the real world. Techniques for studying the real world are themselves neutral, i.e., they are beyond politics.
Cannot study the social world through natural sciences Facts are not ‘neutral’ or ‘value-free’: there are no ‘brute facts’ without interpretation, and interpretation always involves theory Cannot claim to be objective – the researcher cannot claim to be detached from the society he/she is observing because he/she is a part of it All concepts are historically and socially constructed, incorporating certain values
Should it be a question of what security is or what security does?
Linked to intellectuals at Aberystwyth Key text: Ken Booth, Critical Security Studies and World Politics Links critical security studies to post- Marxist Critical Theory – (work of Jurgen Habermas is central).
All knowledge is a social process – for someone and some purpose. Reveal the politics behind seemingly neutral knowledge uncover ‘truth claims’. Critical theory offers the basis for social change – progress The test of a social theory is its capacity for fostering emancipation
Horkheimer on the distinction between Traditional and Critical Theory … Traditional theories: make a distinction between subject and object. Postulate that the subject (the theorist) can stand independently outside the object which they are attempting to theorise. There is a world that exists independently of the observer, and s/he can suspend cultural, linguistic, social and historical biases. There is, and can be, a distinction between fact and value and theory must be value-free. (NB this kind of theory often referred to as empiricist and positivist) Critical theories: deny the possibility of a separation between subject and object. The social scientist (subject) is wholly embedded and situated in social and political life. As such, theories are irreducibly related to social life. They are not, and cannot be, simple objective descriptions of what there is. Critical Theory is concerned with the purposes and functions of social theories. The purpose underlying critical theory is the improvement of the human condition through the elimination of injustice. Theory does not simply present an expression of ‘the concrete historical situation’, it also acts as ‘a force within it to stimulate change’. (Adapted from Max Horkheimer, Critical Theory, 1972) Horkheimer was a member of the Frankfurt School, a group of theorists who broke away from orthodox Marxism in the 1930s.
Robert Cox (1981) Problem-Solving Theory: Takes the world as it finds it, with the prevailing social and power relationships and the institutions which they are organised, as the given framework for action. The general aim of problem-solving theory is to make these relationships and institutions work smoothly by dealing with sources of trouble. Critical Theory: Does not take institutions and social and power relations for granted but calls them into question concerning itself with their origins and how and whether they might be in the process of changing. It is directed towards an appraisal of the very framework for action, or problematic, which problem-solving theory accepts as its parameters.Robert Cox (1981), ‘Social Forces, States and World Orders: Beyond International Relations Theory’ Millennium 10 (2), pp. 128-129.
Dominant theories of IR reinforce power relations and favour those who already dominate The state and other institutions should be denaturalised - historicize and interrogate existing structures For progressive change to happen international politics should be guided by emancipatory values.
Is Traditional Security Studies Part of the Problem? Traditional Security Studies accepts the world as it is (Problem Solving Theory). Assumes war is a recurrent feature in the international system Accepts the state is the referent object Accepts the anarchic nature of international relations Did traditional security studies perpetuate the status quo? If we treat war as inevitable does it in fact become a self fulfilling prophecy?
For Booth: Critical Security is both: › a theoretical commitment › a political orientation Theory › Critical and permanent exploration of ontology, epistemology and praxis of security Politics › Aim of enhancing security through emancipatory politics.
Individual autonomy and the establishment of equity. What distinguishes critical theory from ‘traditional’ theory is its commitment to change. Theory ought not to be neutral The Welsh School radically re-conceives security as emancipation of individuals and communities from structural constraints. Insists on understanding security as a complex, holistic process – requires ongoing structural transformations based on ideas of emancipation, social justice and human progress. Security is a means to an end – but an end that can always be improved upon.
‘”Security” means the absence of threats. Emancipation is the freeing of people (as individuals and groups) from those physical and human constraints which stop them carrying out what they would freely choose to do. War and the threat of war is one of those constraints, together with poverty, poor education, political oppression and so on. Security and emancipation are two sides of the same coin. Emancipation, not power or order, produce true security. Emancipation, theoretically, is security.’ (Booth 1991: 319)
Can you foresee any problems with linking emancipation with security?
Conclusion What is Security? What does it mean to take a critical stance towards it? What is Security Studies about?