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Accepted paper:

Failure

Author:

Mark Maguire (Maynooth University)

Paper short abstract:

This paper explores failure as a keyword and cultural form in several organizations from NATO to EU airport security agencies, thereby making a contribution at the intersection of security and future studies.

Paper long abstract:

For anthropologists, the study of security yields to the limitations of fieldwork -- the work of eliciting relations, connections and their everyday meaning. Unsurprisingly, then, the disciplinary focus is on how externally-imposed (in)securitization impacts the ethnographic locality and on the alternatives to "security" available far from Brussels or the Washington Beltway. The same tendency is holds true for recent anthropological treatments of the future: recently, Arjun Appadurai cast the situation reductively as a tension between the ever-expanding order of probability and the emergent politics of possibility. In this sense, the anthropologist is charged with the unique task of not only critically opposing the world as is but also helping to imagine the world as it ought to be. But what if security discourses and technologies are understood as culturally productive rather than as entirely reductive? "Failure" plays an interesting role here. In the world of security, the future looms large and it shows itself as a dark horizon filled with unimaginable threats and dangers, each with potentially catastrophic consequences. Contrary to popular belief, high-level security agents are—or do not see themselves to be—pre-emptively scouring the near-future for shadowy, real or imagined threats. Instead, security is primarily a matter of continuity, and failure often emerges and must be grappled with internally within complex bureaucratic organizations. This paper, then, explores failure as a keyword and cultural form in several organizations from NATO to EU airport security agencies, thereby making a contribution at the intersection of security and future studies.

panel P116
The Future in Security: ethnographies of security at the edge of tomorrow [Anthropology of Security Network, ASN]