In 1984, a man named Barry Buzan wrote a book called People, States and Fear
. This was one of the earliest, popular examples of critical security studies
(CSS), which tries to expand the idea of security beyond the typical interests of political realists.
Part of this meant challenging the notion that the state
is the primary actor or beneficiary of security or defense. For Buzan, the individual
was also an important unit, as were transnational groups like terrorists, diasporas, proxies or patron states. This meant expanding security studies to include political, economic, society and environmental security. In this new world, the argument goes, the military alone can't be the only factor in making us feel safe.
In the West, and particularly in America, the classic, primary threat to security in the second half of the twentieth century was what the Soviets were capable of doing. But that doesn't always take into account the experience of people living far under the poverty line: if you don't know if you're going to eat soon, the issue of political or military security becomes irrelevant. There are other things that affect your security far more.
Different issues were appearing that couldn't be dealt with as things had been over the past decades. Someone on an island near New Zealand applied for asylum status on the grounds of environmental security, for example. Their island was disappearing.
The same goes for people living close to Fukoshima or Chernobyl, both of which suffered major nuclear accidents. Questions of health, social and environmental security become fiercely immediate.
Many of these new questions of security also have to do with access
: how available are food, water and natural resources?
All of the above examples (and many more) affect people's felt sense of security, and many CSS researchers felt that we needed to expand our understanding of safety to include all these diverse needs. If TSS realists focused on the state, CSS proponents take the individual as their base unit.
With the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1990, and the ensuing lack of a major threat to Western alliances like NATO, there was more support to researchers and policy makers to start dealing with new items on the security agenda. With this, CSS started taking off as a field for wide study. The book Critical Security Studies: An Introduction
(by Peoples and Vaughan-Williams) is a good start for anyone looking to catch up on the basic literature.
Two elements of the CSS agenda were the widening and deepening of security studies as a field. Widening in that there's a desire to open up to a range of new factors that should be studied in the context of security, and deepening because there was the understanding that certain issues should be engaged with at a deeper level of analysis.
In short, it was about paying attention to understudied phenomena, and studying them in different ways.
CSS isn't the standard or dominant way to study security, however – it's still more popular in Europe than in other parts of the world. TSS is still more dominant in America, for example. Some Europeans might position themselves as more 'enlightened' in this way and try to impact the American system, and this is an example of using soft power
to influence others.
There are some criticisms of CSS as well, especially as there are many schools of thought within the field and that might make it confusing for people who might not know how to navigate them. Then you have places that reject CSS because their situation (civil war, belligerent neighbours, hybrid war) is given greater emphasis in TSS. It's hard to focus on food security if someone is invading you.
Another criticism has been aimed at people, particularly Europeans, who try to push CSS on other parts of the world: this can have a bit of a colonial flavour to it. Especially if the 'recipients' of this pressure are states in the Global South. This can create a paradox for proponents of CSS – they may feel that concepts of security need to be expanded, but for the sake of resisting Eurocentrism they might refrain from pushing too hard.
That, and it's misleading to think of CSS as an entirely unified field. Concepts like human security
have been adopted by major bodies (the UN has used the term since 1994) that may be less than critical about other topics. You also have particular lenses that dominate a group's approach to security, like feminist, racial, post-colonial or other modes of analysis.
One can say that there are three 'schools' of critical security studies that approach the field in different ways, and Bruno takes time to outline each.