The Politics of Insecurity: Fear, Migration and Asylum in the EU?

by Jef Huysmans. 2006. London: Routledge

Key words: securitization, insecurity, migration, EU
Summary by Margaux Dandrifosse – IBEI


Micro-summary: Securitization is inherently political and entails a framing of insecurity through policy linkages, debates, and contestation within technocratic practices, institutional routines, and expert knowledge.

Summary: In this book, Huysmans aims to examine the “politics of insecurity”, which refers to the contestation and framing of issues in security terms, and thus, as sources of insecurity. It examines how issues come to be framed in such terms and what this securitization entails. The conceptual framework, based on a social constructivist approach, is developed into three main points. Each point introduces a novel theoretical interpretation of securitization and insecurity to provide a complete conceptualization of the “politics of insecurity”. The theory is illustrated by looking at the evolution of migration and asylum policy in the EU and what it has meant to securitize those policy issues.

The first point consists in going beyond an understanding of securitization as the definition of a threat. The author argues that an issue or event does not have to be explicitly defined in security terms to become a source of insecurity. Instead, it can turn into a “domain of insecurity” through the technological, discursive, technocratic, or institutional linkages made between this issue/event and clear security issues. This stresses the importance of routine practices, technology, administrative strategies, institutions and competing agencies in framing insecurity by connecting various policy issues. In the EU, migration and asylum policy have been securitized though the growing institutional policy linkages which have developed with terrorism, borders-safety, and organized crime.

The second point consists in going beyond the “speech act” conceptualization of securitization, according to which events are discursively framed in security terms. The author argues that insecurity is not only framed discursively, it is also produced at the less visible level of administrative practices and routines, experts, security knowledge, and technocratic debates. Those institutional tools and means to manage security issues also shape what events/issues are framed in terms of insecurity. Accordingly, there is a contradiction between the emphasis on exceptionality of security issues and the routinely processes of technocratic, institutional, and expert competition and practices which frame insecurity.

The third point moves beyond conceptualizing the politics of insecurity as impacting only the practices of insecurity. Rather, the author claims that the politics of insecurity exercise a dual impact. They shape both the contest over insecurity framing and a more general competition over models of political organization. In this view, the politics of insecurity in the EU not only shape the contestation over the framing of migration and asylum policy in terms of insecurity, they also fuel a debate over the political functioning of the EU.

Follow-up: The author innovatively combines a political and sociological framework to move beyond traditional conceptualizations of securitization as a “speech act” and as a discursive framing of security. As a prominent author in the study of securitization and migration in Europe, he has written a large number of academic publications on the subject, emphasizing his novel conceptual approach to securitization. Those include: “Politics of Exception and Unease: Immigration, Asylum and Terrorism in Parliamentary Debates in the UK” (2008), “Migration and Security” (2009), “What’s in an act? On security speech acts and little security nothings” (2011), “Security Unbound: Enacting Democratic Limits” (2014), and his participation in the books “Citizenship and Security: the Constitution of Political Being” (2013), and “Critical Security Methods: New frameworks for analysis” (2015).

Relevance for the SECUREU Project: This book provides a clear conceptual framework to examine the securitization of minorities and migrants in Europe. It suggests that securitization of migrants and minorities in the EU does not only occur discursively at the more public, political levels, or in officially published EU documents. It also takes place in the lower, more technical, secretive, and bureaucratic branches of the Union’s structure. Furthermore, it highlights that minorities and migrants may have become framed as sources of insecurity through policy and institutional linkages. It may, therefore, be relevant to examine lower-level technical EU documents and reports to investigate how securitization of migrants and minorities is constructed through policy linkages by technocratic professionals, experts, administrative routines, and the competition between different EU agencies or institutions. The book also suggests that it is relevant to analyse how the securitization of migrants and minorities and its contestation bring about more fundamental debates about the political nature of the EU and the competences it possesses vis-à-vis Member States. This debate, in turn, may fuel further securitization and anti-EU right-wing support.