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Memory and mortality at the bombsite

Death is simultaneously silent, and very loud, in political life. Politicians and media scream about potential threats lurking behind every corner, but academic discourse often neglects mortality. Life is everywhere in theorisation of security, but death is nowhere.

Making a bold intervention into the Critical Security Studies literature, this book explores the ontological relationship between mortality and security after the Death of God – arguing that security emerged in response to the removal of promises to immortal salvation. Combining the mortality theories of Heidegger and Bauman with literature from the sociology of death, Heath-Kelly shows how security is a response to the death anxiety implicit within the human condition.

The book explores the theoretical literature on mortality before undertaking a comparative exploration of the memorialisation of four prominent post-terrorist sites: the World Trade Center in New York, the Bali bombsite, the London bombings and the Norwegian sites attacked by Anders Breivik. By interviewing the architects and designers of these reconstruction projects, Heath-Kelly shows that practices of memorialization are a retrospective security endeavour – they conceal and re-narrate the traumatic incursion of death. Disaster recovery is replete with security practices that return mortality to its sublimated position and remove the disruption posed by mortality to political authority.

The book will be of significant interest to academics and postgraduates working in the fields of Critical Security Studies, Memory Studies and International Politics.

Norwegian experiences of death and security
Charlotte Heath-Kelly

This chapter moves away from Manhattan to explore the competing memorial projects at sites connected to Anders Breivik’s attacks of 22 July 2011 in Norway. It compares and contrasts the aesthetic approaches to memorialisation used by the Norwegian state and civil society actors, while arguing that memorialisation is a security practice in both contexts. Heideggerian and phenomenological geography is used to explore the reclaiming of post-terrorist space and place by civil society actors at Utøya island.

in Death and security
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Disaster recovery and the World Trade Center
Charlotte Heath-Kelly

This chapter explores how policies and practices of disaster recovery frame the emergency as ongoing and dangerous, in subsequent months and years, through its disruption of urban architecture and its lingering presence in memory. Death is understood to live on, hidden within human memory, with destabilising effects for politics. Efforts to consolidate recovery use techniques which act upon trauma (such as counselling) and which efface the memory of death inherent within destroyed landscapes (such as memorialisation). This chapter argues that memorialisation is a security practice, contra mortality. The empirical focus of the chapter is the World Trade Center in Manhattan, where the Reflecting Absence memorial has been constructed to simulate disaster recovery and the mitigating of death on the site of 9/11.

in Death and security
Itinerant death at the Ground Zero Mosque and Bali bombsite
Charlotte Heath-Kelly

This chapter explores civil society activism around bombsite reconstruction in Bali and Manhattan, during delays in post-disaster reconstruction. Organisations have protested against potential profane usage of post-terrorist space in both cases, and in the process they have inadvertently and implicitly made spatial claims about ‘sacred’ space. This chapter explores the Ground Zero Mosque (park 51) controversy, the transportation of debris from the twin towers to a Staten Island landfill site, and the Bali Peace Park campaign to reclaim the Bali bombing site, to explore how activism causes bombsites to mutate, expand and contract in their spatial constitution. The chapter interprets the civil society activism around bombsites through cultural geography to argue that mortality remains an itinerant force of anxiety until post-terrorist landscapes are rebuilt.

in Death and security
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Death and security – the only two certainties
Charlotte Heath-Kelly

A theoretical introduction to the book, which outlines the problems with existing treatments of death in International Relations. The chapter uses continental philosophy (especially Heidegger and Bauman) and literature from the sociology of death to articulate a new theory of security – one where security is the ontological counterpoint to death anxiety. Security responds to, and functions to displace, the anxiety of mortality - which would otherwise disrupt the performance of sovereignty.

in Death and security
Charlotte Heath-Kelly

This chapter develops the analysis of the relationship between death and security for the era of resilience policy. Instead of promising that a stable and impermeable lifeworld can be maintained through security barriers, resilience reframes security around the inevitability of disaster events. The promise made by security officials to the public is no longer exclusively made in terms of prevention, but also through the prospect of resilient recovery after the crisis: death has made its way inside the performance of security. Despite the shift away from the prophylactic model of security, the chapter argues that resilient security practices still function to mitigate anxiety associated with mortality.

in Death and security
Memory and security without visibility
Charlotte Heath-Kelly

This chapter explores the relationship between visibility, memorialisation and security through case studies of the London bombing, the invasion of Afghanistan by coalition troops, and the situation of post-terrorist memorials in tourism economies. It analyses how some invisible (underground) bombsites are made visible during memorialisation to expunge their morbid resonance, whereas other invisible deaths (those of Afghanis) remain inconspicuous given their situation in political structures of grievability. Finally, the chapter explores the integration of post-terrorist memorials into tourist agendas and the function of the tourist gaze as a signifying tool which can reconstitute formerly traumatic sites.

in Death and security
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Pathologising security through Lacanian desire
Charlotte Heath-Kelly

This concluding chapter offers a theoretical reading of the drive to secure within the terms of Lacanian desire. It asks whether there is something thrilling and yet masochistic about the Sisyphean pursuit of the unobtainable condition known as security. Given that security pursues an impossible immortality, is it indicative of a fantasy of control and order – rather than a teleological, goal-oriented pursuit? And, as fantasy, is this endeavour structured around an eternal recurrence and repetition, rather than the pursuit and possession of a discrete objective? The chapter suggests that the security edifice is pathology, caused by the Death of God and the resurgent salience of death anxiety in a society bereft of promises to immortality.

in Death and security
Disaster management
Charlotte Heath-Kelly

Interpreting security as the effacement of mortality enables us to dramatically broaden the scope of research to include non-anticipatory temporalities of security. In this chapter, present-tense emergency management is exposed as a technique of mortality effacement. States efface the trauma of mortality and re-establish security by performing the rituals of emergency management: erecting cordons, organising the triage of bodies, and reconciling bodies with their previous living identities (‘disaster victim identification’). Disaster response is a reconstitutive performance of security and sovereignty against the incursion of death and trauma.

in Death and security