Security by Barry Buzan

Topics: Sociology, Security, International relations theory Pages: 25 (9686 words) Published: April 16, 2013
If international theorists are to make the 'post-international' leap and contribute to the understanding of global politics in the context of global society, fundamental shifts of theoretical perspective are essential. The most important of these focus on the relations of state, state-system and society. In this and the following chapter we explore the implications of the absence, or at best weakness, of a concept of society in international theory, and the use of a misplaced concept of 'international society' which follows from a statist conception. This chapter explores these issues by offering a critical sociological perspective on a key conceptual issue in international relations, the question of security. Within international political theory, one of the most fundamental signs of rethinking has been a reworking of the concept of security. As Ken Booth has put it, 'The last decade or so has seen a growing unease with the traditional concept of security, which privileges the state and emphasizes military power' together with 'a frequent call for a "broadening" or "updating" of the concept of security'.The end of the Cold War has undoubtedly greatly reinforced the critical tendencies, so that it is now possible to discuss West European security, for example, in largely (but alas not wholly) non-military terms, with reference to non-violence, democracy and human rights, population movements, economic relations and environmental issues. One of the first texts in international studies to argue comprehensively for this wider view of security was Barry Buzan's People, States and Fear. For many, as Smith notes, 'the book marked a real breakthrough in the literature, broadening and deepening the concept of security in a way that opened up the whole subject area as never before.' For Booth, it is still 'the most comprehensive analysis of the concept in international relations literature to date.' Despite this praise, both these writers oppose Buzan on the definition of security. Booth asserts that People, States and Fear 'can primarily be read as an explanation of the difficulties surrounding the concept. The book not only argues that security is an "essentially contested concept" defying pursuit of an agreed definition, but asserts that there is not much point struggling to make it uncontested.' Such a conclusion, Booth argues correctly, is 'unsatisfying': 'If we cannot name it, how can we hope to achieve it?' Insofar as Buzan does commit himself, both Booth and Smith see him as over-privileging the state, and propose instead an individual-centred focus for security studies. In this chapter, it is argued that while security is indeed something which appertains to individual human beings rather than states, it is mediated not just by inter-state relations but by the whole complex of social relations in which they are involved. It is argued therefore that a critical sociological approach to understanding the concept of security can help to illuminate the debate which is developing within international studies. I proceed in four stages. The first section examines Buzan's discussion of security, demonstrating how, despite its undoubted broadening of the agenda of security studies, his work does indeed remain excessively state-bound. The second part discusses Booth's and Smith's critical comments on Buzan, and argues that they share with him a common sociological weakness which ultimately undermines the coherence of their conclusions on the crucial issue of state-versus individual-centred definitions of the concept. I argue that, despite the welcome extension of the issue agenda of security studies to include a wide range of non-military factors, its conceptual framework requires more radical revision than is provided by either side of this argument. What is needed, it is suggested, is a deepening as well as a broadening of the agenda. The concept of 'social relations' (or 'society') needs to be...
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