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Security: A Contested Commodity

Thursday October 21, 2010, at 13:30
Room 4 - IBEI
Research seminar
Anna Leander (Copenhagen Business School)


The rapid expansion of a global market for private security/military services since the end of the cold war has triggered concern with the issue of how to understand the governance of private security generally.1 This article contributes to this discussion. Drawing on work in critical legal theory, it makes the point that an adequate conceptualization of security markets is a key for effective regulation. More specifically, this article argues that security belongs to a specific category of commodities: “contested commodities”. Commodities are contested when there is ongoing and unsettled symbolic struggle over whether or not they can and/or should be though of as commodities. The contested nature of commodification has implications for how markets function; it results in practices that first minimize contentiousness of commodification and second obfuscates the process altogether. This argument is developed in the first section of the article; the three following sections draw the implications for security markets. It shows that the specific form the contestation of the commodification of security has taken has fashioned the market. The focus in this contestation on the state monopoly of the legitimate use of force, on mercenarism, and the risks of spiralling insecurities has led to a very specific form of market that spans the public/private divide (defining of the state monopoly), the inside/outside divide (key to mercenarism) and the threat/security divide (at the centre of insecurity spirals). This article unpacks how.