Security and Morality: Critical Anthropological and Historical Perspectives
Time & Location
About the Event
Security is omnipresent in today’s politics and media; we are bombarded with images and narratives of proliferating internal and external security threats, conflicts, destabilization of international relations, chaos, and disorder. Many of these striking cultural products of the current politics of fear serve to legitimize new modes of surveillance, expansions of military and other policies in the name of security. ‘Anthropology’s concern with global/local articulations as well as its case-study approach, cross-cultural comparative engagement, and emphasis on the intersections of discourse and practice in speciﬁc historicized contexts … uniquely position anthropology to contribute to a critical study of security’ (Goldstein 2010: 489). Anthropology, history and historical anthropology also have a solid track record in dealing with issues of morality and ethics and their historical developments, and are thus well suited to critically engage with the intersections of morality and security.
Moral discourses are often mobilized to justify new security measures or legitimize increased spending on defense, while themselves predicated upon on implicit moral judgements. And yet, questions of morality have been conspicuously left out as a clear object of analysis in respect to the study of security and securitization by anthropologists, despite the aforementioned strong tradition of ‘anthropology of moralities’ (Mattingly and Throop 2018) and histories of morality. The language of morality, as much as real ethical and moral dilemmas, influence and shape the realities on ground, political rhetoric in respect to security, and international legal thinking and relations; even if we may wonder about the degree to which ‘politicians may hijack the language of morality, while ceding very little, if anything, to its substance’ (Fisher 2013). Therefore, it is necessary to think not only critically, but also more systematically about the relation between morality and security – and to think it anthropologically and in historical contexts. In particular in anthropology, some of which has been ‘weaponized’ by military and intelligence agencies and adapted to counterinsurgency and asymmetrical warfare, thus raising questions about anthropology’s very own code of ethics (Price 2011).
This conference sets out to investigate (1) the significance of diverse moral legitimizations and constructions of moral authority in security discourses and practices over time, (2) the lived experiences of morality and ethics related to security (Feldman 2016), (3) different forms of ‘securitization of moral values’ (Østbø 2017), and (4) the ethical problems related to anthropologists’ and historians’ own involvement in security institutions and to the larger structures of funding of research for security. This conference thus brings together the critical anthropology of security (Schwell and Eisch-Angus 2018, Goldstein 2010, Maguire et al. 2014), history and historical anthropology, and anthropology of moralities, while also inviting others, from neighboring disciplines such as cultural studies or political science working on the same questions to join into the debate.