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Spatialising Securitisation in the Middle East

By Javier Bordón

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Security and threats are a recurring theme in the study of Middle East politics. From the imaginaries projected by extra-regional actors, through heterogeneous attempts at articulating a regional architecture amidst convoluted security concerns, to transnational and local struggles over authority, belonging and fear, the formation and management of threats figure prominently in the structures and dynamics that traverse politics, society, economy, culture or religion. Beyond decisions made in cabinet meetings and courses of action drawn in situation rooms, a myriad of actors across the social spectrum partake in the (re-)production, dissemination and subjectification of threats. Peoples and communities uphold, negotiate, adapt, and/or rebuff what is threatening for them and what to do about it. In so doing, actors engage in processes where power, legitimacy, and positionality are both consecrated and put to test, often with far-reaching implications for the conduct of social and political life. 

As the potential of constructivist approaches to explore the production and actuation of meaning remains relevant, a burgeoning academic literature on securitisation is making inroads into the study of the Middle East. Securitisation has informed research on multiple directionalities and subject matters, highlighting its intersection with questions of environment and energy, gender, sectarianism, or nationalism -amongst others-, feeding from and acting upon contested identities. Researchers have examined links between securitisation, sovereign power, and authoritarianism, but its applicability to the study of contestation against normative claims prescribed ‘from above’ and the mobilisation of grievances and expectations has not gone unnoticed. 

Despite the dual interest in advancing scholarship on the region through new avenues and making securitisation more amenable to ‘non-Western’ realities and epistemologies, the securitisation-Middle East nexus still needs to probe into an area that has brought benefits to both when they have gone their separate ways: the so-called ‘spatial turn’ in social sciences and the study of the production of space. A spatial(-ised) understanding of threats interrogates how boundaries, positions and distances organise human groups and their relations, the ways in which the social interacts with the physical, and how political order, power, and identity come to fruition.

If, as Doreen Massey (2005) would claim, the existence of multiplicity cannot be conceived without space; and threats speak to the organisation and regulation of that multiplicity, we find ourselves compelled to ask: how does securitisation inform the production of space? How do processes and dynamics of spatialisation inform security conceptions? Who securitises, and why? What relational and behavioural patterns emerge from security articulations? How do threats develop, travel and crystallise across time and space? Who is included and who is excluded? How is (in-)security experienced and lived in and through space? 

To answer these questions, our joint report addresses the relationship between security and space through a series of case studies analysing contemporary phenomena situated in the Middle East. Marina Calculli examines the ostracization and most recent re-integration of Syria into the Arab fold against the backdrop of power-laden hierarchies in the international system. Javier Bordón introduces an original framework through the analysis of interlocking securitisation processes targeting the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt. As different processes converge, agents (re-)group in shifting ‘ordering assemblages’. Simon Mabon delves into the interplay between transnational and domestic dynamics in Bahrain, where the securitisation of sectarian difference resonates across the region. The use of Pierre Bourdieu’s sociology in conjunction with questions around security and space culminates in Jeroen Gunning’s and Dima Smaira’s focus on everyday practice. By using Beirut’s southern suburbs as vantage point, their piece introduces the concept of ‘nested security fields’ to illustrate how city dwellers in Lebanon make their daily choices when searching for security. Elizabeth Monier demonstrates how securitisation can improve our understanding of nation-building, state power, and majority/minority relations unfolding in different types of space. Drawing from Giorgio Agamben’s work on politics and space, the author explores how the Coptic Christian community in Egypt navigates its ‘inclusive exclusion’ into the national fabric. Maya Breau takes us back to Lebanon, where she employs the concept of affective atmospheres to explain how military checkpoints play multiple (in-)security roles, shape everyday people’s behaviour, and institute themselves as part and parcel of political life. Last but not least, Gabriel Garroum Pla unpacks the politics of urban reconstruction in Syria through recourse to International Political Sociology. Interrogating the relationship between securitisation, violence, and space, the paper shows how the Syrian regime uses space for the cultivation of political subjectivities in line with a particular vision of order, and how ordinary Syrians engage with these processes.


The report is the result of a SEPAD virtual workshop organised by Javier Bordón and Simon Mabon on the 5th of December 2022. 




-Massey, Doreen. 2005. For space. London: SAGE Publications.

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