Securitization Forum: Geopolitics of Securitization Theory

28 September 2015, 0822 EDT

This is the eleventh contribution to our securitization forum. Can E. Mutlu is an Assistant Professor of International Relations at the Bilkent University. His research interests are located at the intersection of technology, security, and political sociology of global mobility regimes with a particular focus on practices, technologies, and materialities of border security and mobility. His recent research appears in Comparative European Politics, European Journal of Social Theory, Environment and Planning D: Society and Space, the Review of International Studies, Millennium Journal of International Studies. He is the co-editor of Critical Methods in Security Studies: An Introduction. He writes for the Disorder of Things blog as a regular contributor.

When Jarrod Hayes and Eric Van Rythoven approached us to answer a set of questions on related to the “why Securitization Theory has had so little traction in the United States, and why it has been so valued elsewhere,” I was unsure what I was supposed to say. I believe that while these are thought-provoking questions, they are a bit confusing.

Before I get into unpacking my point, I want to start my contribution with a preface: I do not believe “American IR” is a monolithic entity. I know so many “American” scholars who tend to see the value in pluralism and theoretical work beyond modeling and causal/correlation arguments à la econometrics. I also know a lot of “European” scholars who tend to think that continental theory is “stargazing.” These debates play out in a multitude of ways in peripheral places like Turkey, where I live and work at the moment, and in Canada where I lived and studied most of my adult life. With that preface, I want to make it clear that I am not trying to generalize the diversity that exists in IR scholarship on security studies around the world. There is, however, a mainstream in both Europe and the US, and these mainstream approaches to security tend to differ greatly. The difference is especially visible in hybrid places like Canada where there is more pluralism in teaching and research. This is all to say it is difficult to make an argument based on geographies of theory. Instead, I want to look at the geopolitics of Securitization Theory, and try to make sense of the puzzle posed by the editors of this forum.

With that preface, I want to give my answer to these questions here, and unpack it further below: Securitization Theory is not considered a theory in the sense of word as it is used in contemporary mainstream American IR due to its epistemology, this is why it does not have traction. It does not present a (generalizable, quantifiable, and measureable) model for explaining social phenomena. Its common methodology of discourse analysis is too subjective when viewed from that mainstream perspective. Rather it represents a theory, in the traditionally European sense of the word. Securitization Theory, to use a much-used quotation from Foucault, makes facile gestures difficult. This is why I believe, it is quiet understandable that Securitization Theory has very little to no traction in American IR. American IR tends to make – and I know this is a blunt generalization – difficult gestures facile, through abstraction. The tiny bit of traction in American IR that Securitization Theory seems to get only appears when the theory is used within more prominent frameworks such as foreign policy analysis or political psychology, and/or when it uses content analysis.

Securitization Theory’s lack of popularity in American IR is due to its function – i.e. what it intends to achieve and what it ignores – and its method – discourse analysis over content analysis. Securitization Theory does not explain us why issues come to be related to security. Instead what it offers us is an insight into the process of how issues come to be related to security. I believe the answer to Hayes and Van Rythoven’s questions lies in this significant difference. This difference is not purely conceptual; instead it rests in the epistemological foundations of what different epistemic communities consider doing “theory.”

To that end, while I understand the question and curiosity behind the decision to create such a forum, I find it rather confusing that the introductory piece does not seriously engage with the methodological/epistemological elements behind the absence of Securitization Theory in American IR, instead featuring bibliometrics data so prominently. A prominent reason to discuss for the apparent absence of Securitization Theory in the US could be the fact that it relies heavily on discourse analysis. Discourse analysis does not seem “scientific” enough for mainstream American IR; instead content analysis seems to be the method of choice for textual analysis. Discourse analysis seems too subjective for our American colleagues. Whereas content analysis with its reproducibility through coding, content analysis seems more “scientific.” While it maybe true that Securitization Theory pose policy relevance in some issues such as health or state policies of remembrance, it does not subscribe to the hard data fetishism that seems to appeal to a majority of American IR and Political Science scholars. Securitization Theory does not present causality or correlation. In other words, securitization theory does not explain when, or why issues get “securitized.” This seems to be the reason why Securitization Theory’s is not a “theory” suitable for American IR scholars.

Furthermore, I believe the answer to the question posed by the editors of this forum cannot be found in bibliometrics. Number of mentions, citations, or attributions does not provide an insight into the appeal, or traction, of Securitization Theory in American IR. To understand the issue, we must look at the way in which IR theory and methodology curriculums are established in undergraduate and graduate curriculums. We must try to understand the biases that are generated by these preferences, which in return produce or reinforce what we call the mainstream IR. The main difference between Europe and the US is not one of policy relevance vs. non-policy relevance. Instead the main difference is epistemology and what we consider to be science; high quality publications are relevant. Securitization Theory finds traction in places where scholars tend to explain how security issues emerge, rather than why or when they emerge.

What we are witnessing in this forum is a geopolitical debate as to why Securitization Theory is popular in one part of the world and not the other. I believe the answer is not about empirics, or policy-relevance, but one of methods and epistemology. Geopolitics, for one, is not static; things can change, they can move. Yet, the attempt to make Securitization Theory popular in the US is, in my opinion, a futile one that would require the epistemological axis of the theory to be shifted to the middle of the Atlantic and be based on a positivist-constructivist axis. I am skeptical of the politics behind such theoretical geo-politics.