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Critical Security Studies




Admission requirements

  • Class of 2017: Transnational Politics.

  • Classes of 2013-2016: a 100-level WP course.

Course description

Security is not only a central concept of International Relations; it has taken an ever-increasing role in our everyday lives. The concern for collective security has been at the centre of the creation of international institutions such as the United Nations, NATO or the European Union. But security is also invoked in the checks at the airport, in the introduction of biometric identity documents and in the proliferation of CCTV systems. Security is both demanded by citizens from democratic governments, and invoked by dictatorships to repress their populations. So what is security exactly, and what do we mean when we speak about security? Who and what is the object of security, and is security necessarily a common “good”? Does state security have the same value as human security? Is there a tension between liberty and security? Is there such a thing as the security of a nation, a community or an identity?

Traditional security studies typically focus on inter-state relations, discussing issues of nuclear proliferation, deterrence and power balances. While this course will not ignore these issues, the emphasis will be on approaches that question the traditional assumptions of state-centred theories.

The course will combine theoretical discussions (what is security, what does it mean to be “critical”?) with detailed case studies that address, among other issues, international migration, the impact of 9/11, terrorism and counter-terrorism, technologies of security and surveillance (drones, biometrics, CCTVs, databases), the development-security nexus, and environmental security. The course will conclude by exploring the ethical and political implications of thinking critically about security, and the possible relationships between theory and practice.

Learning objectives

This module aims to provide a critical examination of key issues and processes related to security issues. The focus of this module is on developments since World War Two, but with a particular emphasis on the post-Cold War period. By the end of the module, students will be able to:

  • Demonstrate an advanced understanding of the complex issues and processes related to security issues.

  • Apply complex conceptual tools to analyse key events in and processes related to security issues.

  • Demonstrate appropriate cognitive, communicative and transferable skills; develop the capacity for independent learning, critique major texts and approaches and lead class discussions.

Compulsory textbook

Most sessions include chapters from:

  • Peoples, Columba and Nicholas Vaughan-Williams, Critical Security Studies: An Introduction (London: Routledge, 2010).

It is recommended that students buy this book. Other sessions draw on chapters from the following books, which are also useful reference works on security studies:

  • Williams, Paul, Security Studies: An Introduction 2nd edition (London: Routledge, 2012).

  • Collins, Alan, Contemporary Security Studies 3rd edition (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2013).

Contact information

Dr. Edmund Frettingham |