Event: ISA 2017 Panel “Modular Performances of Security”


Please see below for details of our upcoming panel (subject to acceptance) at the ISA Annual Conference in Baltimore next year. For further information, please contact:

peter.forman@durham.ac.uk, or gglouftsios01@qub.ac.uk

Peter Forman (Durham University, UK)
Georgos Glouftsios (Queen’s University, Belfast)


Chair: Dr. Audrey Reeves  (Bristol University)
Discussant: Dr. Claudia Aradau (King’s College, London)



Critical security studies and international relations continue to inadequately account for movement and transformation within their analyses of contemporary forms of governance. Our aim in establishing this panel is to call upon scholars working within related fields to critically reflect upon the heterogeneous entities (bodies, infrastructures, devices, ‘things’, data, etc.) that are assembled, disassembled, and reassembled in the process of ‘doing’ security. In particular, we encourage close empirical and conceptual reflection upon the qualities of these ongoing relational metamorphoses: their logics, temporalities, geographies, materialities and textures, and the emergent affects that emanate from their complex relational entanglements. We invite participants to dwell upon these phenomena and critically engage with the opportunities and consequences that are involved in their arrangements. We identify Deleuze’s (1992) concept of ‘modulation’ as one means through which to do this, finding its appreciation of the simultaneous transformation of security’s referent objects, and of the governing assemblages themselves, to be of particular value for accounting for the ontological turbulence of bodies, materials, infrastructures, data and things, that become tied up within practices of security. Modulation remains an under-utilized concept within this literature, and we therefore encourage participants to explore its utility in understanding security governance.

Keywords: Modulation, Metamorphoses, Security, Governance, Assemblage, Relationality, Performativity, Emergence, Agency, Mobility


Modular Performances of Security: A Research Agenda

Georgos Glouftsios (Queen’s University, Belfast)

Peter Forman (Durham University, UK)

Critical approaches to (in)security continue to inadequately account for movement and transformation within their analyses of contemporary forms of governance. In this paper we critically reflect upon both the relational metamorphoses undergone by security’s heterogeneous referent objects and bodies, and also the ways in which the governing assemblages themselves undergo shifts and mutations. We identify Deleuze’s concept of ‘modulation’ as one means through which to do this, finding its appreciation of the simultaneous transformation of security’s referent objects, and of the governing assemblages themselves, to be of particular value for accounting for the ontological and agential turbulence of human and non-human actants that become tied up within practices of security. Instead of assuming fixity, we argue for a modular understanding of security along two axes of reflection: the ontological and epistemological. Such an approach, we argue, provides an alternative conceptualisation of the ‘what’ and ‘how’ of security, whilst also liberating critical approaches from the limitations inherent to static understandings of security and introducing new avenues of theoretical and empirical enquiry.

Keywords: Modulation, Security, Performativity, Ontology, Epistemology

Automation, Improvisation and Emergence: Re-thinking Objectification at the Border

Dr. Mike Bourne (Queen’s University, Belfast)

Dr. Debbie Lisle (Queen’s University, Belfast)

Drawing from an ESRC funded project entitled ‘Treating People as Objects? Ethics, Security and the Governance of Mobility’, this paper contests unidirectional understandings of border automation as the simple delegation of previously human actions to inert machines. Such understandings assume a one-way allocation of objectification from objects to humans whereby human agents are objectified into stable, reliable forms of data. The paper focuses instead on how automation proceeds through unstable, complex and overflowing loops, doublings, re-routings and dead-ends which exceed conventional judgements that people are increasingly ‘treated like objects’ at borders. By comparing and juxtaposing the pathways of humans and freight through the increasingly automated borders of the EU, the paper pays particular attention to: (a) moments when automated technology ‘pushes back’ against its human users (e.g. when technology goes wrong or is not understood); (b) the techniques by which security agents treat technological objects with propriety, care, attention and devotion (e.g. routine  maintenance; protection; humanization); and (c) emergent forms of improvisation and adaption that reveal human and non-human agents working together (e.g. crisis work-arounds; re-tooling).

The Labor of Modulating Digital Governmentality

Dr. Rocco Bellanova (Peace Research Institute, Olso)

Digital data translate people, behavior, things and events into computable information (Kitchin 2014). As such, they are a remarkable force because they provide the tools for knowing and governing a world otherwise perceived as radically uncertain (Rouvroy 2011). Critical Security Studies and Surveillance Studies have been particularly proactive in studying the governmental rationalities introduced by algorithmic security (i.a. Amoore & de Goede 2005, Lyon 1994). However, emphasis on the powers of large-scale security programs (Bauman et al. 2014) risks casting a shadow on the intensive work of modulation on which digital governmentality relies. The everyday practices of digital surveillance require a continuous labor to ‘keep things together’ at technical, political and legal level – and these sites of modulation remain largely overlooked by critical researchers. In conversation with Science and Technology Studies’ works, this paper proposes and discusses a few notions to empirically explore the labor of modulating European data-driven security assemblages. In particular, its methodological proposal to study socio-technical controversies aims to show the epistemic advantages of following digital data through their continuous shifts between ‘matters of concern’, ‘matters of fact’ and ‘matters of care’ (Latour 2004, de la Bellacasa 2011).

Key words: Critical security studies; International Political Sociology; Surveillance; Digital data; Socio-technical controversies; Matters of care; European Union

Modulating Modulation: Border Management as Disposition

Julien Jeandesboz (REPI, Université libre de Bruxelles)

Contemporary border control is often portrayed as the modulation of flows of persons and goods rather than the strict imposition of sovereign rules or enforcement of disciplinary norms. This depiction is shared among scholars and practitioners, although they often draw highly divergent conclusions from it. The paper first considers the extent to which the notion of modulation can be used to make sense of how border control today is done, and particularly how it is done as a specific security practice. Second, the paper works to situate modulation as a particular claim about borders and their controls, which is itself situated in specific social settings. Drawing on research conducted among border control policymakers in the EU institutions, it explores the way in which modulation is itself modulated and produced through the professional dispositions of these actors. In so doing, it emphasises the possible ambivalences of modulation as both an analytical construct and a situated discourse of power.

Modular Security in Congo: Where Things, Not People, are the Referent Object

Dr. Peer Schouten (Danish Institute for International Studies)

Congo is often understood to epitomize the failed state, meaning that force is not collectively organized. But patterns do seem to exist—the scarce modern infrastructure in the country (around industrial mining firms, transport corridors and humanitarian hubs) displays sophisticated security arrangements. they just escape Based on insights from critical social theory, I enquire into the complicity of the notion of ‘collective’ underpinning conventional approaches to state failure. Instead, I enquire how powerful socio-material collectives are modulated that escape the eye as ‘political’ entities but nonetheless make up a substantial part of the fabric of collective life in Congo, structuring access to security and well-being.

 Keywords: security, political theory, congo, security studies, failed state


Published by peterjamesforman

Peter Forman is a Senior Research Associate at Lancaster University. His work covers contemporary energy politics, political ecology and materialisms.

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