The ‘Human’ as Referent Object? Humanitarianism as Securitization

TitleThe ‘Human’ as Referent Object? Humanitarianism as Securitization
Publication TypeJournal Article
Year of Publication2011
AuthorsWatson, Scott
JournalSecurity Dialogue
Date Published03/2011

Humanitarianism rivals security in its ability to legitimize emergency measures, and has also proven to be as ambiguous and open to abuse. In this article, humanitarianism is reconceptualized as a sector of securitization, like state and societal securitization, meaning that it is a structured field of practice that draws on existing discourses and institutions to enable the implementation of emergency measures. This reconceptualization contributes to the theory of securitization by expanding its applicability beyond states and societies to humans as referent objects, but also by challenging the Copenhagen School’s conceptualization of normality/exceptionality at the domestic and international levels. Drawing on the humanitarian securitization of the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami, the article demonstrates how the structured security field of humanitarianism privileges particular actors in speaking to human insecurity, and how the humanitarian discourse reifies and reinforces a monolithic form of human identity. The article draws attention to the process of representing developments as humanitarian emergencies and uses the framework of securitization to critically examine the discourses, practices and agents of humanitarianism.

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