Decolonizing bordering and (in)securitization studies

By Maggie Paul

The increasing securitization of borders is a recurrent theme in the summer school presentations and lectures – whether through infrastructural, technological, legal or discursive means. An associated concept i wish to explore briefly in this blog is (in)securitization – a concept that i delve into in my own research. I wish to make some points about how the concept ties with studies on cross-border migration and border(ing), as well as offer some critical comments.

In analysing ‘insecurity’ as a political tool i borrow from critical international relations and security studies that conceptualize security as a productive discourse that creates insecurities to be operated upon. These studies provide considerable insight into how and why individuals and communities conceive their individual and collective ‘security’ in the ways that they do (Hutchison 2013). A general claim is that (in)securities are social constructions rather than givens – threats do not just exist out there but must be created. This leads to a kind of ‘political fear’, a people’s felt apprehension of some harm to their collective well-being (Robin 2006). Though fear has a politics, we often ignore or misconstrue it, making it difficult to understand how and why fear is used.

There have been interesting attempts to study ‘(in)security’ in relation to (cross-border) migration and bordering practices. For instance, Huysmans’ (2006) detailed explication of a ‘politics of insecurity’ in the EU which he argues works by distributing and administering fear as an organisational principle by the means of a ‘security rationality’ as well as various language games that create a ‘domain of insecurity’ which feed into technologies of governing ‘danger’ through migratory regimes (Huysmans, 2006). Another formulation of interest in relation to the sense of insecurity around migrants is the concept of ‘ontological security’, i.e ‘a person’s fundamental sense of safety in the world that reduces existential anxiety’ (Kinnvall 2004). Religion and nationalism supply particularly powerful stories of security, of a ‘home’ safe from intruders in a rapidly changing world characterised by ontological insecurities created in part by globalisation and its many effects, particularly rapid technological advancements and growing global inequalities. Herein, b/ordering the ‘other’ – both structurally (e.g., immigrants as ‘bogus’ asylum seekers or ‘illegal’) and subjectively (by turning the stranger into an enemy) – leads to what Kinnvall (2007) terms a ‘securitizing subjectivity’.

Although extremely valuable and inspirational in charting the trajectories of political insecuritization especially of cross-border migrants, i feel that these concepts have mostly been euro-centric. Their import into a South Asian context cannot be seamless, direct and automatic. To understand the insecuritization process around Bangladeshi migrants in India, i borrow the concept of ‘postcolonial anxiety’ or ‘cartographic insecurity’ conceptualised by Sankaran Krishna (Krishna 1994) – wherein he contends that it has been the preoccupation of the postcolonial state in India to successfully achieve the ‘modern enterprise of nation building’ by primarily ‘securing’ its borders; inviolate borders are indispensable for the project of national development, in fact for nationality itself. The contemporary political realm is therefore marred by the historical experience of partition and the colonial encounter as well as the nation building exercise during the latter half of last century which was heavily based on religious and cultural lines. Infact as Jayal (2013) argues, insecurity is marked in the very notion of citizenship of the postcolonial states in South Asia.  

Therefore, in many ways similar to Kira’s call for ‘queering’ migration/border research, I contend that it is imperative to decolonize border(ing) studies. Doing so would provide a thicker analysis of bordering practices – placing them in their rightful context – with situated practices to then transcend these borderings. Herein, we could take a cue from Sidaway (2019) who says:

“in order to decolonize border studies, it is first necessary to (re)colonize it, acknowledging the vital roles of the projects and the ideology of colonialism and empire in the emergence and historical evolution of borders everywhere. In so doing, past and current forms of empire, capitalism and urbanization and borders and frontiers are connected analytically”.


Hutchison, Emma. 2013. “Affective Communities as Security Communities.” Critical Studies on Security 1 (1): 127–29.
Huysmans, Jef. 2006. The Politics of Insecurity: Fear, Migration and Asylum in the EU. London, UK: Routledge.
Jayal, Niraja Gopal. 2013. Citizenship and Its Discontents: An Indian History. Cambridge, MA and London, England: Harvard University Press.
Kinnvall, Catarina. 2004. “Globalization and Religious Nationalism: Self, Identity, and the Search for Ontological Security.” Political Psychology 25 (5): 741–67.
Krishna, Sankaran. 1994. “Cartographic Anxiety: Mapping the Body Politic in India.” Alternatives 19 (4): 507–21.
Robin, Corey. 2006. Fear : The History of a Political Idea. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
Sidaway, James D. 2019. “Decolonizing Border Studies?” Geopolitics 24 (1): 270–75.

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