Critical Approaches to Security - PO930

Location Term Level Credits (ECTS) Current Convenor 2019-20
(version 3)
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7 20 (10) DR M Malksoo







This module examines 'security' as one of the key concepts in International Relations (IR) theory, providing a thorough overview of the evolution of Security Studies as an academic sub-field from traditional Strategic Studies to contemporary critical approaches. The aim is to critically engage with major theories, concepts and debates of Security Studies with an emphasis on contemporary critical approaches to security. The module will provide a theoretical and conceptual scaffolding for analysing contemporary world politics through the lens of security, following the twists and turns of the concept and its application across the broad field of Social Sciences. Why do states and the United Nations speak increasingly about ‘human security’, rather than ‘national security’? Why do states prefer ‘security’ and ‘defence’ to invoking ‘war’? What is ‘ontological security’ and how is it related to physical security? Should we put individuals or states at the centre of global security studies? Looking for the politics behind speaking and acting security, we will discuss how Security Studies has developed as an academic field from its narrow beginnings as Strategic Studies to the contemporary complex and broadened field of social and political inquiry.
The module investigates how ‘security’ sits with other core IR concepts, such as ‘power’, ‘sovereignty’, and ‘liberty’, along with problems, such as war and the use of force in international politics across different traditional and critical traditions. The module outlines the main traditional and critical approaches to security, discussing competing ideas and criticism on various theoretical approaches in the study of security. It purposefully inquires and addresses the ethics of various politics of security. How can the liberal state deal with its enemies? Do exceptional times require exceptional measures? Should governments suspend rights and liberties of individuals to preserve the constitution and protect the liberal order? Can and how can the liberal paradox be resolved? Is there a right balance between security and liberties? Under which circumstances should fundamental rights be restricted? The module combines the reading and discussion of the central academic and policy debates, concepts and issues of security politics with students’ own thinking and research projects. It thus aims to help students to master major writings and thinking in the field, and to support their own MA dissertation projects. Topics include terrorism and liberties, criminalisation of certain historical views, borders and biometrics, and surveillance technologies. The foci have been chosen with an intent to provide students with the breadth of contemporary issues that can be analysed through the critical lenses on security.


This module appears in:


Spring Term

Method of assessment

Students will be assessed based on a research essay, the topic of which is chosen by the student in coordination with the lecturer, consisting of 5,000 words, worth 100% of the mark.

Indicative reading

1. Balzacq, Thierry (ed.) (2011) Securitization Theory: How Security Problems Emerge and Dissolve. Abingdon, Oxon & New York: Routledge.
2. Buzan, Barry, Ole Wæver, and Jaap de Wilde (1998) Security: A New Framework for Analysis. Boulder, CO & London: Lynne Rienner.
3. Buzan, Barry and Lene Hansen (2009) The Evolution of International Security Studies. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
4. Campbell, David (1998) Writing Security: United States Foreign Policy and the Politics of Identity. Manchester: Manchester University Press.
5. Foucault, Michel (2007) Security, Territory, Population. New York: Picador.

See the library reading list for this module (Canterbury)

Learning outcomes

The intended subject specific learning outcomes:
On successfully completing the module students will be able to:
1. Demonstrate advanced knowledge and understanding of issues of security, and related problems of political and international order due to the changing ontology of the 'international'.
2. Demonstrate in-depth knowledge and understanding of security practices and their impact on practices of power and governmentality in liberal and illiberal contexts, conflicts and post-conflict situations.
3. Demonstrate advanced knowledge and understanding of theoretical frameworks to analyse past and contemporary security challenges.
4. Demonstrate a strong capacity to conduct independent research in the field of critical security and conflict analysis, integrating conceptual and empirical issues.

The intended generic learning outcomes:
On successfully completing the module students will be able to:
1. Gather, organise and deploy evidence, data and information from a variety of secondary and primary sources.
2. Develop reasoned arguments, synthesise relevant information and exercise critical judgement.
3. Communicate effectively and fluently in speech and writing; organise information clearly and coherently; use communication and information technology for the retrieval and presentation of information, including, where appropriate, statistical or numerical information.
4. Manage their own learning self-critically: reflect on their own learning and seek to make use of constructive feedback from peers and staff to enhance their performance and personal skills.
5. Work with others: define and review the work of others; work co-operatively on group tasks; understand how groups function; collaborate with others and contribute effectively to the achievement of common goals.
6. Exercise time-management under the pressure of deadlines.

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