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This study focuses on the field of security studies through the prism of migration. Using ethnographic methods to illustrate an experiential theory of security taken from the perspective of migrants and asylum seekers in Europe, it effectively offers a means of moving beyond state-based and state-centric theories in International Relations.



Introduction: Producing Knowledge in International Security Studies

Looking around Viktoria Square in the centre of Athens on a summer morning in 2010, one can clearly see the realities of international migration. Viktoria Square is not where the various embassies are located in the Greek capital. Nor is it a commercial or financial centre. The migration that is apparent in Viktoria Square is the movement of people that happens outside of the world of visa programmes, commerce, or international banking. What is evident in Viktoria Square is irregular, undocumented and forced migration, a movement of peoples that is intimately related to the aforementioned international forces, yet takes place in what often seems as though it is a different world.

Alexandria J. Innes

1. The Problem of Migration for Security Studies

In this chapter I establish my argument in the context of existing literature in feminist and critical security studies in international relations. I begin by exploring conceptualizations of security, moving through objectivist and universalist iterations, discursive approaches, and the feminist narrative and deconstructive approach. I draw on these influences to outline how performance is constitutive of security and decentred from the state. My rendering of the critical security literature focuses heavily on the role of migration, examining how migration represents an embodied contestation to the state as security provider. As I look at the schools of critical security studies that have broadened and deepened security I analyse how they have each prob-lematized migration while demonstrating that migration continues to represent a fundamental gap in how scholars understand, interpret and constitute the concept of security. After establishing my position in the critical security literature I detail the value of ethnography for IR more broadly and for security studies (a sub-discipline in which it has been seldom used thus far) more particularly. I draw particular attention to the need for ethnography in identity-based approaches in international security. Ultimately I argue that a performative security based on ethnographic methods offers a means to reconceptualize security that does not require excluding migrants, casting migrants as a threat, or reducing migrants to a passive subject position.

Alexandria J. Innes

2. Insecurity and Asylum Seeker Identity

This question was put to me by Mark, an asylum seeker from Burundi who had a long and frustrating experience seeking asylum in the UK. He possessed no identification documents. The UK did not accept his testimony as credible because the immigration officer to whom he had given his testimony did not believe he was from Burundi. Because of the discrepancy in his country of origin he could not be deported, yet his asylum application was not successful. He found himself in limbo, neither with legal status nor without status from 2002 until 2011 when I met him. He had been detained a number of separate times in the UK and processed for deportation. However, his deportation was never carried out successfully, resulting each time in his release from detention but no resolution to his pending asylum application. Mark’s journey to seek asylum indeed appeared to be never-ending, despite reaching a country where he was safe. He was afforded little freedom of movement in the UK as he remained monitored by the immigration authorities and was required to register at a local office on a weekly basis. He did not have permission to work and relied on the minimal support designed to protect non-deportable failed asylum seekers from absolute destitution. The nature of his journey from his home country left Mark unable to prove his identity. The process Mark went through to seek asylum ultimately undermined his asylum claim.

Alexandria J. Innes

3. Human Rights, Mobile Humans: A Critical Reading of Mobility and Access to Rights

Chapter 1 demonstrated the problem migration poses for security studies and articulated an alternative way of conceptualizing security that is capable of moving beyond the state. Chapter 2 then excavated the process of seeking security and the paradox brought about by the journey to seek security: the journey itself often undermines a migrant’s status as an asylum seeker as designated by the state, even though that individual might have self-identified as an asylum seeker often before embarking upon the journey, or during the journey. In this chapter I turn to the relationship between migration, security and human rights in order to present a deeper understanding of how the ordering of the world places limits on migration, even as migrants simultaneously contest those limits in their actions. Human rights have been considered integral to security, most prominently within the Aberystwyth approach to critical security as emancipation, and within the human security framework. In this chapter I explore the tension that exists between the Aberystwyth school’s focus on emancipation and post-structural iterations of security that have critiqued emancipation as remaining too close to Western liberal ideas. I argue that human rights are linked to extant conceptualizations and practices of security, in particular the ends of securing the sovereign state.

Alexandria J. Innes

4. States in a World of Asylum Seekers: Agency, Rights, Security

Chapter 3 established the value of a performative approach to conceptualize security, attending to human rights through the prism of migration. This chapter looks in detail at the development of the right to seek asylum from persecution. As was noted in Chapter 2, it is necessary to problematize the dichotomy between forced and voluntary migration to challenge immigration categories that render some people ‘illegal’ or undermine potential asylum claims. I turn in this chapter to the agency-structure dynamic as it manifests in the act of seeking asylum. This focus is key to developing the iteration of performative security because, as I argue below, performativity relies on agency.

Alexandria J. Innes

5. Performing Security, Theorizing Security

The preceding chapters have established the problems migration poses for extant theories and conceptualizations of security and of human rights, and the particular problem created in the separation of forced and voluntary migration. In Chapter 2 the empirical focus was on the journey to seek asylum. Here I turn to the experiences of migrants performing security once in a host state. I begin with a detailed interpretive analysis of data taken from participant observation notes and interviews during several months spent with migrant organizations in Athens and in northern England. I identify the most commonly occurring issues associated with insecurity as migrants experience it. I then turn to in-depth case studies gathered through narrative interviews with migrants. Through these case studies I show how the individuals in question navigated insecurities. I argue that this negotiation with insecurity is a process of security. Conceptually, this security can be understood as performative as migrants act to resolve the provocations of insecurity that they encounter. It is also an international security because the people performing security are acting in an international realm rather than a domestic one: in other words, they do not have particular status within a state. The provocations of insecurity cross international borders and the means of performing security are communicative actions that happen in an international forum.

Alexandria J. Innes


Although this volume began in sunny Viktoria Square in Athens, the image presented by Oily in the above quote captures the gloomy British summertime typical of Newcastle. While Newcastle is a wonderful place, it is not a typical international city. It is not a ‘destination.’ Yet, as a British city and as depicted by the media, by some political discourses, and by popular opinion, it is at risk of being deluged by immigrants. Since conducting the research for this volume more attention in the popular media has been directed towards workers from EU countries using their right to work in the UK. Questions of asylum seekers and even ‘illegal’ immigrants and undocumented migrants have been overshadowed in favour of concern directed towards who should or should not be able to work legally and what effect that might have on British jobs. However, the principles at the core of these debates remain consistent — the focus is on who should be permitted and who should be restricted. Who belongs and who does not. Who needs support and who should not receive any for fear that the resources go to the ‘wrong’ people. Security remains at the heart of these topics. Economic security and identity security feature most predominantly but always in the context of the need to ascertain the security of the receiving country. In the preceding chapters I have illustrated a different security — a security that is sought and practiced by people who do not belong to a state. Economic need and identity are also bound up in that form of security, yet conceptualizing security in that context offers a different understanding of what international security looks like.

Alexandria J. Innes


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