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Security! What do you mean? From concept to thick signifier

By Jef Huysmans


This article starts from the following observation. Although the debate on expanding the security agenda to non-military sectors and non-state referent objects launched an interesting discussion about the security (studies) agenda, it has not really dealt with the meaning of security. It has concentrated on adding adjectives such as 'societal', 'environmental', 'world', etc, to security but has largely neglected the meaning or, more technically, the signifying work - of the noun 'security' itself. This article wants to draw attention to the question of the meaning of security. First, it differentiates three ways of dealing with the meaning of the noun - a definition, a conceptual analysis and a thick signifier approach, which focuses on the wider order of meaning which 'security' articulates. Two things are claimed - (a) an increasing degree of sophistication if one moves from the first to the third approach; and (b) a qualitative change in the security studies agenda if one uses a thick signifier approach. The second part of the article illustrates how this thick signifier approach contributes to a better and also different understanding of security. Here, the main argument is that security mediates the relation between life and death and that this articulates a double security problematic - a daily security and an ontological security problematic

Topics: J, JZ
Publisher: Sage
Year: 1998
OAI identifier: oai:kar.kent.ac.uk:17374
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