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Critical Security Studies

Programme overview

Shock, fear, trauma; feelings of being unsafe, unwanted and misplaced; expressions of anger, dismay, and despair; perceptions of assaults on senses of self, identity, and community.

In light of phenomena ranging from economic uncertainty to migration crises to terrorist attacks to Brexit to post-truth politics, these descriptors are characteristic of the Zeitgeist in political and public discourse in much of the Western world. They are also at the heart of the Critical Security Studies (CSS) field, which shifts our focus away from stateism and traditional security issues.

While conventional approaches to the study of security might ask “What are the national security prerogatives of a country, and how do they translate into conduct in the international arena?”, in this module we pull back the curtain on how actual lives are affected by policy decisions, bureaucratic procedures, and media representations.

Programme content

The module engages with a broad range of ‘critical’ theoretical lenses, methods and techniques of critical analysis. The two main questions that animate our explorations on Critical Security Studies are “What is security?” and equally importantly, “What is critique?”.

We will discuss how security practices work, what they do, how they shape - and how they are shaped by - discourses, power relations, and different forms of knowledge. To be ‘critical’, first and foremost, means to be open to challenges that disrupt the familiar, and to be willing to explore and experience new perspectives, new ‘truths’, which, while always eye-opening, may not always be comforting and comfortable.

At the end of the module you should be able to demonstrate knowledge of key issues and conceptual provocations in critical security studies. You should have acquired a hands-on, critical toolkit to analyse and reflect on contemporary security practices and our own involvement in them, such as counter-terrorism, human security, border security, the securitization of migration, or the gendered dynamics of violence and conflict. And you should have gained the ability to reflect on the possibility of change, on how we might think about security differently to transform the status quo of actual security practices and the practice of theorising

Module Director:

Christopher Browning