Bigo – Security and Immigration: Toward a Critique of the Governmentality of Unease

The article we are discussing this week considers the securitisation of immigration. It is a fascinating look at a concept that is of massive importance, particularly in the UK following on from the Brexit vote, and in Europe generally following on from the migrant crises affecting many countries as a result of the war in Syria and Iraq.

The piece is by Didier Bigo, and is from Alternatives Vol 27, Issue 1_suppl, pp. 63 – 92.

Here’s what we thought:

In this article Didier Bigo explores the discursive figure of the immigrant and the use of securitisation against the ‘dangerous’ figure of the immigrant as part of a Foucauldian ‘governmentality’. I found the approach quite interesting, not least because I agree with the author that these issues feel somewhat neglected in fields such as security studies, law, and international relations, which tend to focus on the concrete and the measurable, as opposed to the more abstract fields of philosophy and related disciplines. 

One of the central points that Bigo points to in this piece is the modern concept of the State. Here Bigo argues that the securitisation of society is based on ‘our conception of the state as a body or a container for the polity’ (65). I agree with Bigo’s point here, and wonder, what do other members of the group think about the modern-day concept of the State? What comes first: the securitisation  or the border itself? How do we define borders in the 21st century? Are borders even important? Or rather, are we led to believe that they are more important than they really are? 

And finally, on a related EU / Brexit-based point: what impact does the dissolution of borders have on national identity and the formation of a ‘national conscience’? 

Mike Ryder, Lancaster University 

Bigo is of course a classic in literature on surveillance, and the main thinker behind the Paris School on Securitization theory. It thus seems appropriate to read some of his work when discussing the role of the industry this month. His article is a bit older (2002), but explains his theoretical framework well, and is a useful model for analysing the security landscape in Europe. I also personally feel that his analysis is extremely applicable to the security landscape in Europe today. I appreciate the thinking that went into it, the heavy building on sociological theory, and the fact that it dares to step out the commonly accepted narratives on security. However, it is very hard to read and uses a lot of jargon for outsiders. 

This article both explains securitisation from the Paris School, and is a meta-analysis of the different narratives on security. We have not read much Critical Security Studies yet in TTAC. However, the reading group has a wide interdisciplinary membership, and reads on a variety of subjects and from a variety of schools, which I think is a great approach. I would thus not per se blame this open a policy of denial. The reading group is generally also aware of how political both the literature and the subject matter is in their work. Nonetheless this article serves as a useful reminder to be aware of where the articles come from, and in which narratives they fit. The articles discussed are not just academic, they are also often the subject of both national and international political discussions, and the different interest groups play an active role in shaping the narrative surrounding these technologies.  

In the subject of autonomous weapon systems, academics do not only produce analytical articles, but there are many actively campaigning for specific politics, both in favour and against the Campaign to Stop Killer Robots, from the humanities, social sciences, and natural sciences. Think tanks, militaries around the world produce a lot of reports, and key leaders from the tech industry are regularly found in the newsletter. Bigo’s article is useful in remembering that these different narratives are not neutral, and are a product of their environment, often even actively shaped, and to remain critical of everything we read. 

Maaike Verbruggen, Vrije Universiteit Brussels 

I found this piece really interesting, particularly in the wake Brexit and of several terror attacks in 2017. The characterisation by the British right-wing press of immigrants as ‘others’ to be feared and have their loyalties questioned is something which has troubled myself and many others, so it is good to find pieces which investigate this. Bigo’s characterisation of common ‘critical’ discourses is illuminating; he suggests that those NGO’s and academics who criticise the political right take an ‘if only they understood’ approach towards politicians, journalists, citizens and governments who play a role in othering immigrants. However, this portrays these people as being unaware of the whole picture, and unaware of how nice immigrant communities can be, and of their economic and cultural contributions towards the states in which they reside. Yet, we see in recent years the rise of groups such as Britain First, and people such as Katy Hopkins, who are perfectly aware that they are stoking the fires of ideological conflict purely for political expediency and for greater public exposure and infamy. With a more recent rise in fake news, and increasing prevalence of politically motivated quasi-intellectual writings, I’m not sure how these groups/people who are willfully adding to a wholly negative discourse can be combatted without simply turning it into an ideological battle, which always seems to just result in entrenchment and stalemate with no real victor – so nothing would really change. More study is needed, or maybe just wider reading on my part. 

Joshua Hughes, Lancaster University 

Let us know what you think in the comments below