Migrant Agency as Challenge to State-Centrism in Security Studies

Migrant Agency as Challenge to State-Centrism in Security Studies Given the movement of people as a consequence of violent conflict in the Middle East and beyond, Alexandra J. Innes’ book Migration, Citizenship and the Challenge for Security: An Ethnographic Approach has been published at an opportune moment: not only can it help us understand migration into Europe more generally but it also specifically addresses the nexus of migration and security so often evoked by European states. Locating her book at the intersection of the critical security studies and human rights literatures, Innes explores “the disparity between the people who seek asylum and who [sic] the state considers to be an asylum seeker” (2). Doing so, she argues, “migration presents a problem for security studies” (3) because taking seriously the lived experiences of migrants challenges state-centric security narratives. Combining scholarship on migration, human rights, and critical/feminist security studies, she weaves a compelling narrative that foregrounds migrant agency. For her, “migrants embody the practice of security” (9), which leads her to propose that “individual migrants can be understood as a physical manifestation of the border[s]” (9) that traditional state-centric security practices rely on. Hence, through their everyday practices of interaction with state power, they engage with the state but also move beyond it as they “produce forms of security that exist at the international and global levels” (9). Rather than starting from security studies, Innes explicitly seeks to “look to what migration says about the politics of security and the politics of the discipline of security studies” (3). Innes uses an ethnographic approach attuned to performativity to examine migrant narratives she collected on “how people negotiated movement into and through Europe” (11). This allows her a unique entry point into various literatures, from the literature on migration and asylum to that of critical and human security, as well as human rights, and provides a gauge to measure their limitations. As she covers broad swaths of literature (in chapters 1, 3, and 4 in particular), her treatment of them is at times is a bit too cursory and could have benefitted from greater signposting and more references to (the burgeoning) relevant literature, but this might be unavoidable in such a slim, dense volume. What is more, though Innes's text shows that she has a good grasp of the literature on ethnographic and narrative methodologies, she could have taken more care to explain how these approaches matter to her findings. This is an issue also discussed in a recent ISQ online forum, edited by Meera Sabaratnam (2017), on Noelle Bridgen's (2016) article on ethnographic methods in studying migration, which can serve as a supplement to Innes’ text. Innes starts the substantive part of the book by discussing migration in the context of feminist and critical approaches to security studies. Drawing on feminist security studies scholars, Shepherd (2008) and Wibben (2011) in particular, Innes argues for a concept of performative security that pays attention to the power of categories and can be used to identify “through narratives how groups experiences security outside of the narratives of the state” (36). As such, performative security “offers a means to reconceptualize security that does not require excluding migrants, casting migrants as a threat, or reducing migrants to a passive subject position” (20). Following this discussion, in chapter two Innes introduces the reader to her specific approach to migration by paying attention to the ways in which her research participants identify themselves as asylum seekers. Here (and again in chapter five) she weaves eighteen asylum seeker narratives, gathered in Greece and the United Kingdom during 2010 and 2011, together with theoretical discussions of migration and asylum in human rights and security studies literatures. Inspired by feminist scholarship, which insists on the importance of embodied experience, Innes focuses on migrants’ lived-experience to argue, “people who migrate to seek security expose the sovereign state as an inadequate security provider” (2). For example, not only do the migrants she interviews have a clear sense of themselves as asylum seekers fleeing state(-sanctioned) violence, they insist on this interpretation and claim a right to this status “even when the state would not and did not agree with that conceptualization” (67). In chapters 3 and 4 meanwhile, Innes again develops her theoretical contributions in more detail. For one, looking at the security studies and human rights literatures through the prism of migration exposes their reliance on state-based understandings. Thus, while human rights discourse is the basis for claims to asylum, its reliance on state-based identities leads to the “reproduction of the state in human rights discourses,” (66) a problem that finds its parallel in the human security literatures and one that shapes responses to migration. Innes responds with an effort to foreground migrant agency: analyzing their journeys to seek asylum as performances of security, she proposes that “these actions ought to be analysed as making international security” (110). Returning to her empirical material in chapter 5, Innes concludes that security “relies on the performative act[s] of seeking security” (137) and that we need to pay more attention to “myriad processes of security that take place” (137). Overall, Innes’ argument that “people who self-identify as asylum seekers, in negotiating state power, perform security in a way that co-exists with [and hence challenges] the state-based forms of international security” (19) resonates. What is more, Migration, Citizenship and the Challenge for Security can function as a comprehensive introduction to those new to the issues since Innes covers a lot of ground. Particularly if supplemented with other material (e.g., Nayak 2015; Vaughan-Williams 2015), I could see its usefulness for classroom use: Innes raises important questions about the limits of how we think about migration, security, rights, and more—while at the same time providing migrant narratives that serve as concrete examples of the more theoretical debates. References Brigden Noelle K. 2016 . “Improvised Transnationalism: Clandestine Migration at the Border of Anthropology and International Relations.” International Studies Quarterly 60 ( 2 ): 343 – 54 . Google Scholar CrossRef Search ADS Nayak Meghana . 2015 . Who Is Worthy of Protection? Gender-Based Asylum and U.S. Immigration Politics . Oxford : Oxford University Press . Google Scholar CrossRef Search ADS Sabaratnam Meera . 2017 . “Walking with Migrants: Ethnography as Method in IR” ISQ Online. http://www.isanet.org/Publications/ISQ/Posts/ID/5542/Symposium-Walking-with-Migrants-Ethnography-as-Method-in-International-Relations . Shepherd Laura . 2008 . Gender, Violence and Security: Discourse as Practice . London : Zed Books . Vaughan-Williams Nick . 2015 . Europe's Border Crisis: Biopolitical Security and Beyond . Oxford : Oxford University Press . Google Scholar CrossRef Search ADS Wibben Annick T. R. 2011 . Feminist Security Studies: A Narrative Approach . London : Routledge . © The Author(s) (2018). Published by Oxford University Press on behalf of the International Studies Association. All rights reserved. For permissions, please e-mail: journals.permissions@oup.com http://www.deepdyve.com/assets/images/DeepDyve-Logo-lg.png International Studies Review Oxford University Press

Migrant Agency as Challenge to State-Centrism in Security Studies

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Publisher
Oxford University Press
Copyright
© The Author(s) (2018). Published by Oxford University Press on behalf of the International Studies Association. All rights reserved. For permissions, please e-mail: journals.permissions@oup.com
ISSN
1521-9488
eISSN
1468-2486
D.O.I.
10.1093/isr/vix063
Publisher site
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Abstract

Given the movement of people as a consequence of violent conflict in the Middle East and beyond, Alexandra J. Innes’ book Migration, Citizenship and the Challenge for Security: An Ethnographic Approach has been published at an opportune moment: not only can it help us understand migration into Europe more generally but it also specifically addresses the nexus of migration and security so often evoked by European states. Locating her book at the intersection of the critical security studies and human rights literatures, Innes explores “the disparity between the people who seek asylum and who [sic] the state considers to be an asylum seeker” (2). Doing so, she argues, “migration presents a problem for security studies” (3) because taking seriously the lived experiences of migrants challenges state-centric security narratives. Combining scholarship on migration, human rights, and critical/feminist security studies, she weaves a compelling narrative that foregrounds migrant agency. For her, “migrants embody the practice of security” (9), which leads her to propose that “individual migrants can be understood as a physical manifestation of the border[s]” (9) that traditional state-centric security practices rely on. Hence, through their everyday practices of interaction with state power, they engage with the state but also move beyond it as they “produce forms of security that exist at the international and global levels” (9). Rather than starting from security studies, Innes explicitly seeks to “look to what migration says about the politics of security and the politics of the discipline of security studies” (3). Innes uses an ethnographic approach attuned to performativity to examine migrant narratives she collected on “how people negotiated movement into and through Europe” (11). This allows her a unique entry point into various literatures, from the literature on migration and asylum to that of critical and human security, as well as human rights, and provides a gauge to measure their limitations. As she covers broad swaths of literature (in chapters 1, 3, and 4 in particular), her treatment of them is at times is a bit too cursory and could have benefitted from greater signposting and more references to (the burgeoning) relevant literature, but this might be unavoidable in such a slim, dense volume. What is more, though Innes's text shows that she has a good grasp of the literature on ethnographic and narrative methodologies, she could have taken more care to explain how these approaches matter to her findings. This is an issue also discussed in a recent ISQ online forum, edited by Meera Sabaratnam (2017), on Noelle Bridgen's (2016) article on ethnographic methods in studying migration, which can serve as a supplement to Innes’ text. Innes starts the substantive part of the book by discussing migration in the context of feminist and critical approaches to security studies. Drawing on feminist security studies scholars, Shepherd (2008) and Wibben (2011) in particular, Innes argues for a concept of performative security that pays attention to the power of categories and can be used to identify “through narratives how groups experiences security outside of the narratives of the state” (36). As such, performative security “offers a means to reconceptualize security that does not require excluding migrants, casting migrants as a threat, or reducing migrants to a passive subject position” (20). Following this discussion, in chapter two Innes introduces the reader to her specific approach to migration by paying attention to the ways in which her research participants identify themselves as asylum seekers. Here (and again in chapter five) she weaves eighteen asylum seeker narratives, gathered in Greece and the United Kingdom during 2010 and 2011, together with theoretical discussions of migration and asylum in human rights and security studies literatures. Inspired by feminist scholarship, which insists on the importance of embodied experience, Innes focuses on migrants’ lived-experience to argue, “people who migrate to seek security expose the sovereign state as an inadequate security provider” (2). For example, not only do the migrants she interviews have a clear sense of themselves as asylum seekers fleeing state(-sanctioned) violence, they insist on this interpretation and claim a right to this status “even when the state would not and did not agree with that conceptualization” (67). In chapters 3 and 4 meanwhile, Innes again develops her theoretical contributions in more detail. For one, looking at the security studies and human rights literatures through the prism of migration exposes their reliance on state-based understandings. Thus, while human rights discourse is the basis for claims to asylum, its reliance on state-based identities leads to the “reproduction of the state in human rights discourses,” (66) a problem that finds its parallel in the human security literatures and one that shapes responses to migration. Innes responds with an effort to foreground migrant agency: analyzing their journeys to seek asylum as performances of security, she proposes that “these actions ought to be analysed as making international security” (110). Returning to her empirical material in chapter 5, Innes concludes that security “relies on the performative act[s] of seeking security” (137) and that we need to pay more attention to “myriad processes of security that take place” (137). Overall, Innes’ argument that “people who self-identify as asylum seekers, in negotiating state power, perform security in a way that co-exists with [and hence challenges] the state-based forms of international security” (19) resonates. What is more, Migration, Citizenship and the Challenge for Security can function as a comprehensive introduction to those new to the issues since Innes covers a lot of ground. Particularly if supplemented with other material (e.g., Nayak 2015; Vaughan-Williams 2015), I could see its usefulness for classroom use: Innes raises important questions about the limits of how we think about migration, security, rights, and more—while at the same time providing migrant narratives that serve as concrete examples of the more theoretical debates. References Brigden Noelle K. 2016 . “Improvised Transnationalism: Clandestine Migration at the Border of Anthropology and International Relations.” International Studies Quarterly 60 ( 2 ): 343 – 54 . Google Scholar CrossRef Search ADS Nayak Meghana . 2015 . Who Is Worthy of Protection? Gender-Based Asylum and U.S. Immigration Politics . Oxford : Oxford University Press . Google Scholar CrossRef Search ADS Sabaratnam Meera . 2017 . “Walking with Migrants: Ethnography as Method in IR” ISQ Online. http://www.isanet.org/Publications/ISQ/Posts/ID/5542/Symposium-Walking-with-Migrants-Ethnography-as-Method-in-International-Relations . Shepherd Laura . 2008 . Gender, Violence and Security: Discourse as Practice . London : Zed Books . Vaughan-Williams Nick . 2015 . Europe's Border Crisis: Biopolitical Security and Beyond . Oxford : Oxford University Press . Google Scholar CrossRef Search ADS Wibben Annick T. R. 2011 . Feminist Security Studies: A Narrative Approach . London : Routledge . © The Author(s) (2018). Published by Oxford University Press on behalf of the International Studies Association. All rights reserved. For permissions, please e-mail: journals.permissions@oup.com

Journal

International Studies ReviewOxford University Press

Published: Jan 17, 2018

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