Martin Shaw/Global Society and International Relations/Chapters 1/2/3/5/6/7


'There is no such thing as society': 

beyond the individualism/statism dilemma in international relations

Contents: A statist conception of security studies; Individualism: an inadequate basis for anti-statism; 'Societal security': a critique of Waever; A sociological approach to the problem of security; The sociology of international security

If international theorists are to make the 'post-international' leap and contribute to the understanding of global politics in the context of global society, fundamental shifts of theoretical perspective are essential. The most important of these focus on the relations of state, state-system and society. In this and the following chapter we explore the implications of the absence, or at best weakness, of a concept of society in international theory, and the use of a misplaced concept of 'international society' which follows from a statist conception.

This chapter explores these issues by offering a critical sociological perspective on a key conceptual issue in international relations, the question of security. Within international political theory, one of the most fundamental signs of rethinking has been a reworking of the concept of security. As Ken Booth has put it, 'The last decade or so has seen a growing unease with the traditional concept of security, which privileges the state and emphasizes military power' together with 'a frequent call for a "broadening" or "updating" of the concept of security'.The end of the Cold War has undoubtedly greatly reinforced the critical tendencies, so that it is now possible to discuss West European security, for example, in largely (but alas not wholly) non-military terms, with reference to non-violence, democracy and human rights, population movements, economic relations and environmental issues.

One of the first texts in international studies to argue comprehensively for this wider view of security was Barry Buzan's People, States and Fear. For many, as Smith notes, 'the book marked a real breakthrough in the literature, broadening and deepening the concept of security in a way that opened up the whole subject area as never before.' For Booth, it is still 'the most comprehensive analysis of the concept in international relations literature to date.'

Despite this praise, both these writers oppose Buzan on the definition of security. Booth asserts that People, States and Fear 'can primarily be read as an explanation of the difficulties surrounding the concept. The book not only argues that security is an "essentially contested concept" defying pursuit of an agreed definition, but asserts that there is not much point struggling to make it uncontested.' Such a conclusion, Booth argues correctly, is 'unsatisfying': 'If we cannot name it, how can we hope to achieve it?' Insofar as Buzan does commit himself, both Booth and Smith see him as over-privileging the state, and propose instead an individual-centred focus for security studies. In this chapter, it is argued that while security is indeed something which appertains to individual human beings rather than states, it is mediated not just by inter-state relations but by the whole complex of social relations in which they are involved.

It is argued therefore that a critical sociological approach to understanding the concept of security can help to illuminate the debate which is developing within international studies. I proceed in four stages. The first section examines Buzan's discussion of security, demonstrating how, despite its undoubted broadening of the agenda of security studies, his work does indeed remain excessively state-bound.

The second part discusses Booth's and Smith's critical comments on Buzan, and argues that they share with him a common sociological weakness which ultimately undermines the coherence of their conclusions on the crucial issue of state-versus individual-centred definitions of the concept. I argue that, despite the welcome extension of the issue agenda of security studies to include a wide range of non-military factors, its conceptual framework requires more radical revision than is provided by either side of this argument. What is needed, it is suggested, is a deepening as well as a broadening of the agenda. The concept of 'social relations' (or 'society') needs to be interposed between and around the terms 'state' and 'individual' within which the debate has been conducted.

The third part examines a novel attempt to interpose a concept of 'society' into the international security debate, in Ole Waever's essay on 'societal security' in a recent collaboration with Buzan. While this is undoubtedly an advance, it is suggested that the concept of 'society' used is too narrowly ethnically-nationally defined, and that this apparent breakthrough therefore shares many of the weaknesses of Buzan's text.

Finally, I examine recent work by Giddens on risk and security, which suggests the nature and relevance of a sociological approach, although it does not refer to specifically international issues. In conclusion, try to make the connections between this sociology and the international security studies debate, and suggest the basis on which a more adequate theoretical resolution can be achieved.

A statist conception of security studies

I begin by examining the conception of security which is offered by Buzan. I shall concentrate to a large extent on the more general issues of the meaning and referents of security, and the role of the state, which in Buzan occupy the first three chapters. I shall try to show that the broadened concept of security which he offers is still fundamentally a statist one, which suffers from central contradictions in its understanding of the state/society relationship, and is in this sense sociologically inadequate.

People, States and Fear starts from the assumption that there are three levels of security, 'individual', 'national' and 'international', and notes that concepts of 'national' security have tended to organize the other two levels. (This is true enough within the international relations literature; but there are many other fields within the social sciences in which the concept of security is used primarily to refer to the individual or other sub-state levels: I shall return to the implications of this below.) Buzan further notes the historic 'militarization' of the concept to which this pattern generally gave rise, and the growing criticism of this notion of security 'bound to the level of individual states and military issues', which as Buzan points out is 'inherently inadequate'. This criticism within international relations resulted however, according to Buzan's account, more in an emphasis on the interdependence of international security relations - and thus in a resort to the 'international' level - as in a turning to the level of 'individual' security.

Buzan uses the term 'the security of human collectivities', but viewing things from the standpoint of the international system, he assumes that one particular sort of institution is 'the standard unit of security'. This institution is 'the sovereign territorial state'. It seems Buzan regards the state as itself a type of 'collectivity', but the state is also an institution linked to another basic type of collectivity, the nation. Ideally, however, these two go together. 'The ideal type is the nation-state, where ethnic and cultural boundaries line up with political ones ... . But since nation as and states do not fit neatly together in many places, non-state collectivities, particularly nations, are also an important unit of analysis.'

This analysis leaves us with two crucial problems which are inadequately resolved, if at all. An absolutely critical issue, but one which amazingly is not clearly resolved, is whether 'national security' refers primarily to the nation or to the state; ideally, of course, these are symbiotically linked, but what happens where they are not? To continue to use the language of 'national' security implies, if it reflects more than terminological inexactness or conservatism, a preference for nations. Buzan recognises this in writing that 'National security implies strongly that the object of security is the nation ...'.

A difficulty of this line of argument is that it places a large onus on the concept of 'nation': however Buzan, like most international theorists, barely defines the term, which does not even figure in his index. Certainly 'nation' is difficult, arguably much more so than state, but that very fact places a greater responsibility on the theorist - if he wishes to make 'nation' so central - to achieve at least some working definition, or explain, like Mayall, why he does not impose a single definition.

In any case, Buzan's position is that 'the standard unit of security is ... the sovereign territorial state' and so ultimately he abandons a consistently national concept. He argues, indeed, that 'national security in the strict sense is a concept with only limited application to the state ...'.

Although Buzan examines some of the complexity of state-nation relationships, he does not resolve the lack of conceptual clarity on the nation long characteristic of international relations theory. One could argue that a serious attempt to tackle this issue cannot really be achieved without an exploration of society and culture, but these are fields which Buzan does not enter. The sociological literature would lead us to see nations as cultural-ideological-political constructs - 'imagined communities' in Anderson's term - rather than 'real' social collectivities in some prior objective sense (although one should not doubt the reality of culture, ideology, or politics). In this context, the relation between nation and state is intrinsically, rather than contingently, contradictory and problematic, so that any attempt to build a concept of security on its shifting sands is brought very severely into question.

The more fundamental problem which is revealed is that of the nature of human collectivities in general. Buzan's formulation certainly admits of the possibility that there may be other types of human collectivity than the nation-state/nation/ethnic group, to which security issues may be attached. No other type is actually indicated, however, in his discussion. A reference to 'ethno-cultural units', coupled with a definition of 'societal security' in terms of the sustainability of 'traditional patterns of language, culture and religious and national identity and custom', suggests that the only sorts of 'human collectivities' which are being admitted to theoretically significant status are those which approximate the basis for a nation-state. Those formed on axes other than ethnicity/nationality - on gender, class, community or lifestyle lines, for example - are not in practice considered relevant, although it may be argued that they are just as capable of generating 'security' concerns. Again, there is a good deal to suggest that while formally flexible, the conception is in practice tied closely to state-centred definitions of 'national' security.

Buzan stresses that his definition of the field of 'international security studies' is intended to leave it broader than that of 'strategic studies', seen as more narrowly tied to military power. He lists five major factors in 'the security of human collectives', military, political, economic, societal (as defined above) and environmental. However it is clear from the above that broadening the issue-agenda of security studies from the military-strategic dimension does not necessarily involve broadening the conceptual base. The recognition of additional dimensions of security - however welcome this may be - may be anad hoc enlargement of a still state-centred concept of security.

This critique may sound paradoxical, in view of Buzan's explicit contention that 'security has many potential referent objects' and that to identify security with the state ignores the 'amorphous multi-faceted' nature of the state as a 'collective object', and the multiplicity of states which means that 'the security of one cannot be discussed without reference to the others'. It is not clear, however, that these statements function as anything more than caveats to a state-centred notion of security; complex qualifications which in the end preserve the integrity of the project more or less intact. What in the end inclines me to this view is that by defining the issue of security in terms of three levels, of which 'individuals' are the only sub-national/state level, Buzan has effectively ruled out any referents other than states or quasi-state collectivities as a serious basis for security studies.

Buzan's discussion of individual security opens with the statement that 'The idea of security is easier to apply to things than to people.' (p 35) This is curious because the things in question (money, material goods) only have meaning in relation to the people who own or use them. Their 'security' really means (as Buzan states in parentheses) 'their owners' security in possession of them'. In this sense we cannot talk at all of the 'security of things' as opposed to the 'security of individuals'.

Buzan seems to be trying to ascribe to individual security a particularly nebulous character when he writes that

  • Different aspects of individual security are frequently contradictory (protection from crime versus erosion of civil liberties) and plagued by the difficulty of distinguishing between objective and subjective evaluation. Cause-effect relationships with regard to threats are often obscure and controversial (individual versus social explanations for crime). (p 36)
  • Each of these statements is at least equally true, however, of 'national security' - indeed, as we have seen, it is not possible to determine at a theoretical level, within Buzan's text, exactly what is the 'referent' of national security (nation, state, or nation-state). This is a difficulty which we do not have in quite the same way with individual security.

    Individual security seems to be important for Buzan principally in that it provides a basis for national security. Freedom for one individual, in a predictably Hobbesian scenario, may be an actual or potential threat to the security of others, and the problem is how to balance freedom and security. The state is justified as an instrument for achieving this balance, and thus national security can be seen, to some extent, as individual security writ large: 'The security of individuals is inseparably entangled with that of the state.' (p 39) 'State and society become increasingly indistinguishable,' adds Buzan (p 39), in a phrase which recalls - and compounds - the conceptual confusion over nation and state which we noted earlier.

    Buzan recognises the possible contradictions between the requirements of state and individual security, when 'the state becomes a major source of threat to its citizens' (p 39), but he loses this point in a discussion about the 'maximalist' and 'minimalist' views of the state, defined as seeing the state as, respectively, greater than the sum of its (individual) parts, and reducible to those parts. The issue is muddled still further by an attempt to distinguish between different states as 'maximal' or 'minimal' (in which it seems to be suggested that it is principally 'maximal' states which threaten their citizens). This argument is confusing because 'maximalist' and 'minimalist' views are surely concepts of the state in general, their validity not related to whether we can distinguish between different types of state.

    This whole debate suffers from the misplaced abstraction which bedevils political theory, according to which individuals are conceived, not within the context of their social relations in general, but as members of a particular institution, the nation-state; and conversely, states are conceived not as the conglomerates of institutions which they really are, embedded in complex social relations, but as constructed on the basis of a notional contract with individual citizens.

    Nevertheless, Buzan proceeds to provide us with a useful summary of the ways in which, even in democratic states, 'The individual citizen faces many threats which emanate directly or indirectly from the state.' And he argues that

  • just as there is a very mixed set of costs and benefits to individual security in relation to the state's civil order functions, so is there for its external security functions. The state is supposed to provide a measure of protection to its citizens from foreign interference, attack and invasion. But it cannot do so without imposing risks and costs on them. ... While the principle may be firmly rooted, however the practice which develops around it can easily become an intense source of dispute on the grounds of individual versus national security. ... Modern war is known to produce high risks and high casualties, and this makes decisions about what constitutes a threat to the security of the state a matter of considerable public concern.
  • Nuclear weapons obviously raise this contradiction in a particularly acute form, as Buzan shows.

    This presentation of the conflicting requirements of individual and state security does not prevent Buzan from according them different theoretical priorities. He concludes that 'individual security ... is essentially subordinate to the higher-level political structures of the state and international system', and that 'Because this is so, national and international security cannot be reduced to individual security.' Individuals are mainly to be considered because of the way in which, in pursuing their own security, they may influence the higher levels of national or international security.

    It is in discussing national security and the state as such that Buzan most clearly makes explicit the issues which have been troubling us so far. He starts from the premise that 'the state is composed of individuals bound together in a collective political unit', which reflects the normative conception of political theory, and dismisses the 'rather inward-looking perspectives of Political Science and Sociology.' We may agree about 'inward-lookingness', if by that is meant the tendency to define the state principally in relation to the social structure within the territory of the state. (It should be noted however that this is precisely what recent sociological theorists have rejected.)

    There is, however, a much more fundamental issue, expressed by Buzan in references to what he calls 'the definition of the state in Weberian terms, where state and society are viewed as separate phenomena, and the state is seen almost entirely in politico-institutional terms'; and to how such 'narrow' definitions are reinforced by 'Marxian thinking, which also stresses the separation of government and society'. 'Although this perspective has its uses,' Buzan concludes, 'it is much too narrow to serve as a basis for thinking about security. ... The reduction of "state" to mean simply the insitutions of central government does not work at the international level.'

    I had to stop myself from putting 'sic' after that use of the word 'narrow' in the last quotation. While I suppose that a view that defines the state as distinct from society can be described as as a 'narrow' view of the state - in that it doesn't incorporate the whole of society into the concept of state - the opposite view, which Buzan advances, is certainly a very narrow view of society - it refuses to acknowledge autonomous social relations as a factor in international relations distinct from the state, and incorporates society into international theory only as an adjunct of the state.

    It is not only Weberians, or Marxists, but sociologists in general who cannot but protest at this mind-boggling denial of the significance of social relations in general. There is a fundamental conceptual and historical point at issue here. Human beings entered into social relations of various kinds before they began to develop states. States are only one kind of human institution. The relations between states and societies have undergone immense change throughout human history and are continuing to do so. The semi-identity between nation-states and national societies which has characterised the twentieth century is historically novel, currently problematic, and is not likely to survive in the form which is assumed by much international theory. From the point of view of sociology, to object to an analytical separation of state and society is to deny oneself the tools with which to analyse the role of states in the modern world.

    In this discussion we are using 'society' as a term to refer to the concept of social relations in general, rather than in the sense of a fixed unit of social organisation. Although it may be the case that in the past there have been such units, which have existed in complete or near-complete isolation from each other, it is clear, as we suggested in chapter 1, that in the modern world this is no longer the case. If we wish to talk of 'a' society, we can probably do this only at a global level. 'Societies' in the sense of tribal, ethnic, national or state-bound units are no more than reflections of attempts to partially, and more or less arbitrarily, define the separateness of certain groups within the global flux of social relations. While this sort of usage may be acceptable (even unavoidable) as a shorthand way of describing social realities, it is utimately of limited theoretical value. It is not such usage which is referred to here, but 'society' in the sense of social relations in general.

    Buzan lacks such a general concept of society; indeed if he has a concept of society, it is clearly of societies as the domestic fields of states, i.e. of state-bound segments of social relations. This enters into the argument as a critique of 'the traditional International Relations view of the state as a political-territorial billiard ball' as 'also too restrictive'. He states that 'Security issues within an international anarchy are highly conditioned not only by the structure of the system and by the interactions of states, but also by the domestic characteristics of states. Consequently, security analysis requires a comprehensive definition of the state which combines both of these perspectives.'

    So far so good, but the levels of society cannot be reduced to their influence on the 'domestic characteristics of states', i.e. admitted to the discussion only as an appendage to the level of states on which the discussion is focussed. The unity of state and society is precisely what cannot and should not be assumed in any discussion of the state or of international relations.

    Buzan clearly regards his distinction of 'strong' and 'weak' states from which he draws major conclusions for security, as a manifestation of this recognition of society. As a classification of states, it obviously has considerable value: strong states, with greater socio-political cohesion, are more capable of providing certain sorts of security to society within their territories, while weak states, with poorer socio-political cohesion, are less capable. The analysis has been vindicated by the collapse of the Soviet Union, described as 'having serious weaknesses' as a state, even though a great power: the resulting tensions have increased security for individuals and groups of all kinds in its former territory, at many levels.

    Although this discussion suggests ways in which social organisation may have consequences for state cohesion and security, it still considers society only as an aspect of state organisation. This is, moreover, the highpoint of Buzan's discussion of the state and society. The difficulties for his approach of dealing with sociological concepts is demonstrated further by a curious discussion of the comparability of individual and state as 'objects' (not as actors), and 'referents' of security. At no point in this does Buzan show any recognition that his problem - the nature of a collective or institutional social form (or actor?) in contrast to an individual - is a general sociological problem which applies to human groups and institutions of all kinds, and not just to states.

    Buzan's approach is, it appears, irredeemably state-centred. He certainly recognises the complexities of the state, but he fails to locate it in an adequate sociological context. Because he counterposes only individuals to states, and because the only social groups which are genuinely admitted to his discussion are state-oriented collectivities (nations, ethnic groups), his concept of security prioritises national (and by extension, international) over individual security, generates no general concept of 'social' security, and leaves us with a notion of security centred on the manifoldly problematic notion of 'national security'.

    Although there are approaches within international relations which may not share the deficiencies of his approach, Buzan's work can clearly stand as largely typical. As Booth points out, there have been surprisingly few attempts to define 'security', and Buzan's approach has the important merits of attempting to unravel concepts which most writers simply assume. What is more, it can be suggested that even those who disagree with Buzan's conclusions share much of his conceptual approach. It is significant that even Booth's powerful 'emancipatory' plea falls largely under this stricture.

    Individualism: an inadequate basis for anti-statism

    Critics of Buzan's statism from within international studies have largely counterposed to it an 'individualist' perspective. For Smith, the question of 'security for whom' is highly problematic in Buzan's work:

    'the worry persists that he sees states as ontologically prior to other candidates. As a result the state gets undertheorised and privileged.' The alternative is that 'there is a strong case for placing individuals, not states, at the centre of security studies, which would result in a rather different conceptual focus.'

    It is Booth who has most clearly developed the 'individualist' case against Buzan. He starts from the very important rejection of states as 'the primary referent objects of security'. He argues this on three grounds: that states 'are unreliable as primary referents because whereas some are in the business of security (internal and external) some are not'; that 'it is illogical to place states at the centre of our thinking about security because even those which are the producers of security ... represent the means and not the ends' (rather, he says, as a house is to its inhabitants: it is the latter's security which is primary); and because states are 'too diverse in character to serve as the basis for a comprehensive theory of security'. Of these objections, clearly the second is foremost. Booth's rejection of People, States and Fear is based on the 'litmus test' of the primary referent: 'is it states, or is it people? Whose security comes first? I want to argue, following the World Society School, buttressed on this point by Hedley Bull, that individual humans are the ultimate referent.'

    Both the content and form of this argument are interesting. Booth poses the question in very much the same way as Buzan, individual versus state: the difference between them lies in the answer. Empirically, he gives some pointers to the relation of individuals and states by mentioning as examples of struggles for emancipation not only 'the struggle for freedom of the colonial world', but also 'women, youth, the proletariat, appetites of all sorts, homosexuals, consumers, and thought.' No more however than Buzan does Booth offer, in his critique of the former, any concepts or levels of analysis to either explain the relationship between individual and state, or to stand between them. At the same time, it is noteworthy that Booth's secondary arguments, on the unreliability (from a security point of view) and diversity of states are points also made by Buzan and readily (for the most part) accomodated within his framework. It also seems significant that Booth buttresses his individualism only with references to theorists within international relations, rather than in wider philosophical or methodological terms.

    There is, of course, a much larger debate on this issue, which concerns much more than the state and is central to the social sciences as a whole. The postulate of 'methodological individualism' - according to which it is assumed that individuals are the subjects of social action - was advanced by Weber, in opposition to holistic and organicist sociologies. Buzan's discussion indicates that organic analogies between the human individual and the state are still troubling international relations, and indeed recent linguistic analysis of the concept of 'security' suggests the deeply organic roots of the literature.

    Individualism belongs, moreover, to a perspective in which social science is concerned not with 'objects' but with 'action'. Collective action, ascribed to social groups or to institutions, is ultimately to be understood in terms of, but not necessarily or immediately reduced to, the actions of individuals. In practice social scientists are very much concerned with social groups and institutions, but we need to be aware of the abstraction necessary to analyse social life in these terms, and avoid endowing these social forms with characteristics which can only belong to individuals.

    The relevance of this argument to the present discussion is that it indicates not just that we should be concerned, as Booth argues, with individual above state security, but that even when we talk about state security, we are ultimately talking about an institution constructed by human beings and which involves individuals in many ways. We cannot, from a methodological point of view, simply assume the fiction of political theory according to which states represent their citizens in a general sense. We have to examine the particular connections which individual members of society (we cannot simply consider them as citizens) - both those involved in running the state and those 'outside' it - really have with the state.

    In practice, again, this must involve additional levels of analysis. We cannot, as a matter of practical social knowledge, examine even the individual roles of all the members of a government - let alone of all those involved in the state machine, let alone of all those in society at large who have some relationship with the state. We are forced to make assumptions about social groupings of various kinds, through which individuals act, and which interpose between individuals and the state.

    In this sense, when we discuss security, it is not just a question of the security of individuals versus that of the state, but of a complex, multi-layered analysis, in which the security of individuals may be a starting place, but in which we have to examine security issues which affect social groups (below the state level), as well as issues of state security; and in which we have to examine the roles of individuals in relation to group and state issues, and of social groups and states in relation to individual issues, as well as of states in relation to individual and group issues. In reality even this conception is highly simplified, since I am using the term 'social groups' to cover an enormous range of ways in which individuals are involved in social relations.

    All this discussion points to the fact that social relations (or 'society') is the missing dimension of the security debate. 'There is no such thing as society', Margaret Thatcher is reported to have said, and it seems as though international relations theorists, including some who would doubtless abhor her company, have fallen into a parallel theoretical trap. 'Society', however, is as we have indicated above best regarded as a codeword for the complex of social relations in general, which form the fundamental context of individual and state activity, rather than a fixed entity or even a level of analysis. There is indeed 'no such thing as society', if we mean by society a specific structure which determines all else: thus 'British society' and similar concepts denote (as we have indicated) not fixed realities but partial - and more or less useful - abstractions from the flux of social life. Society in the generic sense, of the social relations between human individuals which are represented in constantly changing ways in the range of social groups and institutions, is however not merely a but the reality within which alone it makes sense to look at the relations of institutions like states.

    In another recent work, Booth has himself advanced a more sociological view, in his proposal that the concept of 'communities' should be a guiding concept of a new, more human international relations. He outlines the prospect of a 'new medievalism' based on the replacement of the 'anarchical society' of states by a 'community of communities'. This concept of community is an important step beyond the individualism of his critique of Buzan. 'Community' functions, however, primarily as a normative rather than analytical concept. Booth discusses some instances of community, such as the moral union of the French and German peoples which underlies the peace between them, and he mentions some principles, such as multiculturality, but he does not give any systematic suggestions about how communities are (or are to be) formed, or enter (or should enter) into world politics.

    The proposal of 'communities' raises, therefore, the same sociological questions: on the basis of which sorts of social relationships (on what 'social bases') are communities being, or to be, constructed? If communities are no longer constructed, in Buzan's quasi-realist terms, simply or mainly on the basis of nationality or ethnicity - and there is of course a lot of impressive evidence that these are still important axes - what are the social bases of inter- or supra-nationalism? Class, morality, culture? While it is possible and desirable for international and social theorists to identify with the 'human community' in general, the realisation of Booth's goals depends on the construction of human communities based on specific social relations. We need a fuller working out of the suggestive examples of a 'utopian' approach. Here a more developed sociology, as advocated in this critique, is essential.

    'Societal security': a critique of Waever

    A novel approach which promises just such a sociological approach to security is Waever's essay on 'societal security'. Waever first defines 'society', and uses Giddens to make a distinction, similar to that proposed in chapter 1 of this book, between society 'in the generalised connotation of "social asssociation" or interaction', and in the sense of 'a society' as 'a unity, having boundaries which mark it off from other, surrounding societies'. Unfortunately, at this point Waever not only rejects Giddens' insistence on the priority of the first concept, and dismisses the idea of global society in one sentence. He also limits his interest baldly to 'societies as units operating in an international system', thus tying the definition of 'societies' directly to what is, in reality, the system of states. 'We need a separate concept of society (and nation) to operate in parallel to but distinct from the state.' Waever argues that historically the concept of society has grown up as the 'other' of the state.

    Although Waever recognises that to direct identify a given society automatically with a given state would lead to a concept of societal security which is 'at best a useless repetition of the whole argument around state security', he is determined to limit his discussion to 'societies as units'. 'How can one differentiate', he asks, 'between the security of groups in society and the security of society as a whole?' It is this determination to tie himself to a concept of 'society as a whole' which is most limiting in Waever's approach. As in Buzan's discussion quoted above, it leads to a debilitating narrowing of the concern for human security.

    Waever moves rapidly towards a conclusion similar to Buzan's, albeit by a more sophisticated route. Firstly, he cites R B J Walker's emphasis on 'the extent to which the meaning of security is tied to historically specific forms of political community', and then argues that 'the main process at the present is a very open and contradictory articulation of the relationship between state (and other political structures) and nation (and other large-scale cultural communities), and therefore the main dynamic of security will play at the interface of state security and societal security (in the sense of the security of large-scale "we" identities).' The qualifications in parentheses rapidly appear to have minimal importance, as Waever moves towards a focus on the nation 'as a special case of society' characterised by territoriality; continuity across time; and 'a feeling of being one of the units of which the global society exists' (he does not consider that one might feel this through other sorts of unit).

    The next step is to point out that 'while ethno-national communities are not automatically or necessarily the prime basis for society', the only rival principle of identity with comparable strength is religion. Therefore, Waever concludes, 'the main units of analysis for societal security are politically significant ethno-national and religious identities.' The focus of study is therefore national communities, whether connected to an existing nation-state or not, and security studies concern, as already indicated, the 'interface' between societal and state security; or alternatively, between the security of nations as communities and the 'national security' which is really the security of states.

    This is not an unimportant distinction, but as a conclusion it squanders the potential of a more broadly based concept of security tied to an equally broad concept of society. Its limits can be seen quite clearly in its application to the conflict in former Yugoslavia, attempted in the same volume by Hakan Wiberg. His clear and careful exposition lays bare the complex ethnic and national dimensions of the conflict and relates them to the conflicts of states. Its weakness, however, is that in accomplishing this level of analysis it omits others, and thereby accepts an ethnic nationalist interpretation of events. Except descriptively, this sort of analysis cannot deal with levels such as the security of individuals; of women as women; of couples and families; of mixed-ethnic groupings; and of those who refuse or downgrade ethno-national identities in favour of pluralist ideals (except that these can be described as residual Yugoslavs or Bosnians).

    The fundamental flaw of this approach is that it defines away what are precisely the most crucial questions in ex-Yugoslavia: how is it that ethno-national identities (whose historic importance no one doubts, but which had been subsumed in complex processes of cultural and political integration) have come to dominate once more? Why have other forms of identity been marginalised and defeated? What are the future relationships between ethno-national and other (especially pluralist) identities in ex-Yugoslavia? Equally importantly, how are the relations of the apparently triumphant ethnic nationalisms (of the Serbians and Croatians) with the pluralist ideals of European and global society to be negotiated in the future?

    Even from within the 'societal' standpoint which Waever advocates, there is something paradoxical about describing the various ethnic groups in Bosnia-Herzegovina and other regions of ex-Yugoslavia as separate societies. Before the break-up of the Yugoslav state and the consequent wars began, most analysts would have agreed in describing a single Yugoslav society, albeit with complex national, ethnic and other cultural divisions. Even if they preferred to describe Yugoslavia in terms of the various republics, no one could seriously have argued that there existed separate Serb, Croat and Muslim 'societies' in Bosnia-Herzegovina. By accepting ethnic-nationalist descrptions at face value, this approach assumes precisely what needs to be explained: the disintegration of a largely multi-ethnic and in some senses pluralist society into ethnic fragments.

    A sociologically adequate concept of security, applied to this context, will subsume Waever's 'societal' (or ethno-national) dimension in a broader approach - closer to Booth's vision of manifold communities - which integrates the dimensions of individual, gender, family, local community, city, profession, pluralist nation, Europeanism and globalism - all of which have been violated and threatened, in the name of ethnic nationalisms, in the ex-Yugoslav wars.

    A sociological approach to the problem of security

    It will be seen, therefore, that even introducing a concept of 'societal security' into the analysis of international relations, while undoubtedly an advance, does not in itself resolve the difficulties of the state-biased approach of the discipline. It is necessary to do more than recast the language of security in sociological terms; it is necessary to carry out a radical reconstruction of concepts.

    It is important to ask, therefore, whether sociology (including related social sciences like social anthropology and social policy) has anything directly to offer in terms of this project. The answer, until recently, might have been that there are number of empirical areas in which, contrary to Buzan, considerable advances - arguably at least as great as those of international relations - have been made in defining and even measuring risk and the concomitant requirements of security for individuals and social groups. One could instance not only criminology - which is an obvious parallel - but also health, traffic and of course disaster studies, not to mention the very precise actuarial assessments of risk made by accountants for insurance purposes.

    Until recently, however, there was little mainstream theoretical recognition of the problem of security. This has now been remedied, however, notably in two books by Anthony Giddens, which should be as required reading on security as his Nation-State and Violence has already become for thinking about the state. Giddens discusses security and risk in terms of a fundamental conceptualisation of modern society, bringing the concepts to the centre of the discipline. He has a lot to say about the implications of globalization for security, but little specifically about 'international security'. In this discussion I shall attempt a brief exposition, followed by a conclusion in which I draw together the argument and attempt to make it relevant to security in an international relations context.

    Giddens' argument was first elaborated, rather briefly, in an interconnected series of lectures published as The Consequences of Modernity. In this he makes 'security versus danger and risk versus trust' major themes of his discussion. He sees modernity - the spread of modern social institutions based on abstract systems of knowledge - as double-edged: it has 'created vastly greater opportunities for human beings to enjoy a secure and rewarding existence than any pre-modern system', but it also has a 'sombre side' symbolised by war.

    Giddens links the concept of 'risk' closely with that of 'security', and he argues that the nature of risk has changed. There is a 'globalization of risk in the sense of intensity' (e.g. nuclear war) and in terms of 'the expanding number of contingent events which affect everyone or at least very large numbers of people on the planet' (e.g. changes in the global division of labour). New risks arise from the nature of modern social organization: there is risk 'stemming from the created environment, or socialized nature: the infusion of human knowledge into the material environment, and the development of 'institutionalized risk environments affecting the life-chances of millions' (e.g. investment markets). In addition, and very importantly, there is greater 'awareness of risk as risk', well distributed throughout society, and incapable of being converted into certainties by religious or magic ideas.

    In the following work, Modernity and Self-Identity, Giddens provides what could be described, in terms of Buzan's discussion, as a sociological text on the individual level of security. He argues that in conditions of modernity, individuals face not merely empirical threats of the kind noted by Buzan, but something much more fundamental. Daily life is forever reconstituted by the operation of a bewildering array of what Giddens calls 'abstract systems', knowledge-based patterns of social behaviour, coordinated through markets as well as bureaucracies, which govern the conditions of individual existence. The spread of these systems is global: 'In high modernity, the influence of distant happenings on proximate events, and on the intimacies of the self, becomes more and more commonplace.' The security 'threat' which individuals face is, at base, the threat to their very identity from the ways in which abstract systems operate. The challenge to individuals is to construct and reconstruct their own identity, which is no longer given for them for them by traditional institutions and cultures.

    Individual identities, faced with a great variety of competing and changing social contexts determined by these new realities, are constantly at risk. Giddens discusses the dangers of disruption of ontological security experienced, in consequence, by individuals in modern society, and the ways in which individuals can develop their own 'trajectories' through therapy, choice of lifestyle, and development of 'life plans'.

    Giddens argues that 'The notion of risk is central in a society which is taking leave of the past, of traditional ways of doing things, and which is opening itself up to a problematic future.' Control of risk is an essential part of the operation of abstract systems: '... all action ... is in principle "calculable" in terms of risk - some sort of assessment of likely risks can be made for virtually all habits and activities, in respect of specific outcomes. The intrusion of abstract systems into everyday life, coupled with the dynamic diffusion of knowledge, means that an awareness of risk seeps into the actions of almost everyone.' 'Risk assessment' is an essential component of the 'colonisation of the future' which is central to modernity.

    Giddens argues that there has been a huge historical transformation of the nature of risk - and security.

  • Preoccupation with risk in modern social life has nothing to do with the actual prevalence of life-threatening dangers. On the level of the individual life-span, in terms of life expectation and degree of freedom from serious disease, people in the developed societies are in a much more secure position than were most in previous ages.
  • An impressive list follows of the ways in which the physical security of human beings has been enhanced in industrial societies; but it is counter-balanced by a list of new risks: war, motor accidents, drugs, evironmental pollution, etc. Both can be seen as results of the operation of the abstract systems of modernity. 'In terms of basic life security, nonetheless,' Giddens concludes, 'the risk-reducing elements seem substantially to outweigh the new array of risks.'

    The 'institutionalisation of risk' is seen as a fundamental characteristic of the new role of risk in modern society. 'A significant part of expert thinking and public discourse today is made up of risk profiling - analysing what, in the current state of knowledge and in current conditions, is the distribution of risks in given milieux of action.'

    Giddens distinguishes between 'low-' and 'high-consequence' risks: the former potentially within the control of the individual agent (e.g. peculiarities of diet which may have certain medical consequences), the latter 'by definition ... remote from the individual agent, although - again by definition - they impinge directly on each individual's life-chances.' Examples of high-consequence risks range from mercury in tuna fish to, at the most 'calamitous', the nuclear accident at Chernobyl. Risk assessment is a complex and constantly changing affair even in the case of low-consequence risks; it becomes highly speculative in the context of the larger high-consequence issues.

    The pervasiveness of risk, Giddens repeats, is not because life is now inherently more risky.

  • It is rather that, in conditions of modernity, for lay actors as well as for experts in specific fields, thinking in terms of risk and risk-assessment is a more or less ever-present expercise, of a partly imponderable character. It should be remembered that we are all laypeople in respect of the vast majority of the expert systems which intrude on our daily activities. ... The risk climate of modernity is thus unsettling for everyone; no one escapes.
  • Nevertheless, 'Thinking in terms of risk ... is also a means of seeking to stabilise outcomes, a mode of colonising the future.'

    Substantively, Giddens argues, 'The abstract systems of modernity create large areas of relative security for the continuance of everyday life' but 'the wholesale penetration of abstract systems into everyday life creates risks which the individual is not well-placed to confront ... . Greater interdependence, up to and including globally interdependent systems, means greater vulnerability when untoward events occur that affect these systems as a whole.' At the limit, hypothetical events such as the breakdown of the global monetary system, or global warming (let alone nuclear war), indicate the dangers. Real socially-created disasters, such as the effects of the destruction of water and electricity systems in Iraq during the Gulf War, demonstrate the vulnerability of modern societies.

    A problematic dimension of Giddens' discussion is that he gives little attention to the role of social groups in the distribution and negotiation of risk. It is ironic, from the point of view of this paper, that rather as Buzan and Booth counterpose individual and state (ignoring society), Giddens appears to counterpose the individual to society and social relations in the most general sense (with little to say, in this volume, about social groups - or the state). Giddens does, however, enter an early caveat about the role of social inequalities in the distribution of risk; and, whereas Buzan does attempt a general account of security as a concept, Giddens' aim is rather different, to examine the consequences of modernity for the individual.

    The one area of Giddens' discussion where he does implicitly explore the dimensions of collective human action is in his final chapter, 'The Emergence of Life Politics'. Giddens' account of risk and security is clearly activist in its implications: for all the determining character of abstract systems, he does not believe that they leave people powerless. On the contrary, individuals have choices of lifestyle and life-plan. Social groups, The Consequences of Modernity makes clear, have the power to contest and organise around the axes of the modern social order. Giddens, interestingly, organises his political perspective around the concept of 'utopian realism', using the term in a way which is very similar to Booth's apparently unconnected usage.

    On the specific implications of this perspective, however, Giddens' account diverges very significantly from Booth's position. Whereas Booth argues for recasting security in terms of 'emancipation', Giddens argues that 'emancipatory politics' is being historically transcended by 'life politics'. The difference is that 'While emancipatory politics is a politics of life chances, life politics is a politics of lifestyle.' The politics of emancipation - which are still one axis of contemporary politics - revolve around social inequality, exploitation and oppression. Giddens argues that life politics are emerging as the dominant agenda because they reflect the more specific characteristics of late modern society: 'a politics of life decisions', reflecting the situation of individuals in high modernity. Formally, they are defined as politics which concern

  • political issues which flow from processes of self-actualisation in post-traditional contexts, where globalising influences intrude deeply into the reflexive project of the self, and conversely where processes of self-realisation influence global strategies.
  • Life politics, therefore, are politics of risk and security in a more fundamental sense even than emancipatory politics, since risk and security become uniquely pervasive in the late modern era.

    Life politics are, of course, far more developed, and far greater choice possible, in the prosperous West than in many poorer parts of the world, where emancipatory politics are more central. Clearly there is an ethnocentrist danger in Giddens' case, but he argues that even the poor in most parts of the world are increasingly incorporated, via mass media, into the culture of modernity, and are thus affected (albeit at a very different level) by the same tendencies which are developing in the West.

    Life politics and emancipatory politics in fact intersect, Giddens acknowledges, with 'life-political' issues raising 'emancipatory' problems, and vice versa. He gives as an example the relationship between economic growth in the developing world and global environmental problems, and contends that 'a process of emancipation on the part of the world's poor could probably only be achieved if radical lifestyle changes were introduced in the developed countries.'

    Giddens' view of the role of social groups in politics thus departs from a traditional sociological view in that he sees social groups not just in terms of pre-formed social categories with a capacity for agency (e.g. the classic Marxian view of class), but as constituted through political action (e.g. around environmental and other 'life-political' issues). Social movements are seen, as they were in The Nation-State and Violence, as key collective actors around the main axes of modernity. Politics, in life politics, is defined primarily in the broad sense of choice in action which affects the social order, although the secondary sense which relates to the nation-state is also recognised.

    In general, however, it is clear that unlike in The Nation-State and Violence, where a nation-state-divided global order was the focus of attention, in these new books Giddens assumes a developing global society which transcends the nation-state. This is not however explicitly discussed, and as Giddens does not supply us with the connections, we shall have to make them ourselves.

    The sociology of international security

    The most basic significance of Giddens' account is that it clearly establishes security as a general problem for individuals and groups in society. It provides a historical framework for analysing the changes in the nature of security problems between pre-modern and modern times. It provides a general account of risk and security in modern society, with a set of categories to explain this (I have concentrated, in this exposition, on certain of these - e.g. abstract systems - but the argument is richer than there has been space to convey).

    The fact that Giddens' two recent works hardly mention the state, although limiting their more obvious relevance to international relations, is useful in underlining the point that it is highly possible to discuss security without doing so. Individual and collective human security do not depend overwhelmingly on the state and/or ethnic-national context, as Buzan and Waever tend to suggest. Security issues are faced at all levels of social life. The concept of security is a general concept of social science - rather like that of strategy, which is also seen as special to international relations, but has in fact a broad significance for the social sciences.

    Giddens' work is important to the current international debate in that it provides a broader argument, in a 'utopian realist' perspective similar to Booth's, which widens and underpins the case for moving away from the state level in discussing security. Giddens' conceptualisation of social movements, and insistence on seeing social groups as constituted though political action rather than being objectively pre-formed, helps to clarify the nature of the 'communities' to which Booth refers, and gives one sort of sociological answer to the questions raised above.

    It is useful to ask what happens to Giddens' argument about risk and security if we 'bring the state back in'. First, states become, one sort of specialised bureaucracy monitoring and attempting to regulate risk; in Booth's sense, they become (but not uniquely: only alongside other institutions) 'providers' of security to individuals and groups within society. Second, however, states and the state system become a very important (but again, not by any means the only) context in which risk is generated for individuals and human groups. In both these senses, states (and international relations in the sense of what goes on between them) are specific instances of the wider processes which Giddens outlines.

    There is a third point, however, which has to do with the specific character of the nation-state. States are unique, notably in claiming to represent 'sovereignty' and the monopoly of legitimate violence. In the 'reflexive monitoring' which Giddens indicates characterises abstract systems, states have a dominant role, even if parallel activities are undertaken by many non-state organisations. As Giddens' own earlier work suggests, the combination of territoriality and legitimacy gives states a pivotal role in what he calls the 'surveillance' cluster of institutions in modern societies.

    At the very moment, however, at which Giddens defined this world of nation-states, each a 'bordered power container' mobilising 'outward-pointing violence' against other states, this view - uncomfortably close to international relations realism, as we have indicated - was rapidly starting to lose much of the validity which it previously had. States began to crumble under the many pressures which had accumulated on that level of organisation. Statehood began to fracture, so that some of its attributes could be seen as attaching themselves to supra-state institutions, while others were claimed by sub-state collectivities, often in the name of a plethora of newly revived nationalisms. Sovereignty no longer resided uniquely in one set of institutions easily labelled as 'nation-states', but was increasingly shared above and below.

    This turmoil at and around the state level can, of course, be incorporated, as it is by Buzan and Waever, in sophisticated versions of a relatively traditional state/nation-centred version of international relations. It can be interpreted more productively, however, as evidence of the interpenetration of state and other levels of society. The international system of relations between states can be seen as a system which increasingly constitutes what Giddens describes as an 'institutionalised risk environment'. reflexively monitored by the 'players' (states) but also by others (individuals, social groups) influenced by its operations. This system is influenced by other such environments at a global level (e.g. economic relations, monetary order, socially-created ecological systems) as well as influencing them. It also interpenetrates with systems which exist within states.

    Recent sociological work can thus assist in developing a more broadly conceived 'security studies', which in turn refocusses the questions of 'international security studies' with which we began this paper. Giddens' work has, however, as we have seen, its own limitations, from a sociological as well as a international relations point of view. We can conclude, therefore, that at the moment sociology is better placed to pose conceptual challenges to international studies, than to give definitive answers. In moving beyond the statism/individualism dichotomy, we need to broaden the conceptual basis as well as the issue agenda of the study of security. In the process, we will also redefine the issues in sociological terms.

    In arguing that society is the missing dimension of international security studies, this chapter has rejected the concept of a society as the basis for a sociological approach. It has argued instead that we need to understand the global flux of social relations within which the international system floats, and to explore the manifold dimensions of these relations. This conception suggests a new analytical agenda for a sociologically-oriented international relations or a globally- and internationally-focussed sociology. How far does a global society exist? What are the security concerns of individuals and groups within an emergent global society? Which sorts of groups are there and how do they articulate their concerns? What are the relationships between social movements, institutions and states? How do such concerns intersect with the international state system, and and how far do concepts and policies of national and international security reflect such wider concerns within society? Related to this, of course, is a moral and political agenda: the answers to these questions will feed into concerns with the development of communities at local, national, regional and global levels, and contribute to a conception of community which is based not so much on an international community of states as on a global community of human beings.