According to Clark Miller, a central question for STS studies is about the "relative power and authority of diverse knowers
and the forms of knowledge in government processes...the construction of expertise and experts, as well as [what makes them different] from [the public] is a political exercising entailing the allocation and restraint of power."
Meaning that the cliche knowledge is power
can sometimes be very true. And, depending on your values, somewhat frightening.
Since we're talking mostly about security, what kinds of questions can we pose about the relationship between knowledge and structures of power & safety?
The first factor we can think about is about the way we think about security and securitization
(which, in Martins' last lecture, was defined as 'the process by which a regular topic becomes changed into a security topic
). Which is another way of saying that we have to keep in mind the scope, boundaries and framework of security discourse, as well as how they change. And who changes them. And in what circumstances. And why.
There are a number of issues that are considered to be security topics right now that weren't thought of in this way thirty years ago. Migration is a classic example: it used to be thought of in terms of sociology and economics but now it's about security. There's an article called The Securitization Of Migration In The EU
that goes into this process in detail.
He asks us to keep in mind that security isn't an objective, clearly-defined point. Different groups can securitize certain events in different ways, and this can lead to major conflicts in a society. When two different countries securitize world events (or each others' actions), it can lead to major consequences.
On a cultural level, the Charlie Hebdo attacks of 2015 provoked very different reactions, with some securitizing the issue as us-against-them (Europe-vs-Islamism), others framed it as Islamophobic-West-vs-Repressed-Third-World. Technology, especially a mastery of algorithms, can impact what narratives win out and thus impact securitization and policy making on even a military scale.
The second factor to think about here is what Martins calls "knowledge, non-knowledge, secrecy and ignorance."
This here is less about securitization and more about the practices for managing knowledge. For example, who has access to knowledge, and who defines what ways we can collect it, and using what technologies? A few obvious examples come to mind: surveillance, whistleblowing, big data.
Here it's common to ask ourselves how much someone knows about us. How that knowledge is produced and consumed. What security enterprises or military institutions know about citizens. How that knowledge is produced, how it might be used against them, and what consequences there might be.
These questions are particularly relevant in democracies as this kind of society tries to create a tighter bond between people and their politicians than in other states. So this is a particularly existential question – transparency and accountability are held up as cornerstones of democracies.
Which then makes everyone in the room think about the case of Edward Snowden. If we didn't know about the systems he revealed, how could we demand increasing protections for our rights and privacy? In order for democracies to function, we need access to information so that mechanisms of accountability can actually fall into place.
Getting ahead of ourselves, this is a big issue when it comes to drones. A few years ago we knew very little about how decisions concerning them were made, and about when, where and who would be struck. We know more now, but that's because civil society has put pressure on official bodies and have tried to uncover as much as they've could.
We are very far from an ideal situation when it comes to responsibility and accountability, but still closer than five or six years ago. They both, as it were, require information in order to be transparent. And things are concealed from us by officials and politicians who say that transparency is, at times, a barrier to national security.
This leads to the question of when the 'security' involved is actually the security of citizens, or if it's the 'security' of reputation or power at stake. The Black Banners
is a book by an ex-FBI officer that was heavily censored before publication because of its description of classified information, including torture practices by American institutions abroad. Dozens of pages were redacted (though restored
in Sept 2020) in the name of security, which many have decried as just a way to avoid scandal.
Martins points out that security really is needed, and that there has to be a balance between information and safety. Not everything can be open-book all of the time. But this line of reasoning can be abused to redact problematic information that the public may in fact be entitled to know.
And much of that knowledge has to do with how powerfully technology is changing the ways war is waged. Perhaps the most significant example of this is the drone.