Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Buzan and Hansen, 2009, The Evolution of International Security Studies (security studies)

Barry Buzan is probably the most influential scholar in international security studies (ISS) since the 1980s, with literally scores of seminal books and articles, consistently fresh and readable.  How does he do it?  He explains in the preface of one of his books that the ‘hive mind’ of multi-author efforts is different from the work that he produces by himself, and he has had some productive partnerships with eminent scholars like Ole Waever and Jaap de Wilde.  In this text, he partners with Peace researcher and feminist Lene Hansen, and the result is a valuable and balanced history of International Security Studies as a field of enquiry, that should be a first port of call for anyone teaching or studying the subject. Better than an introduction to international relations in general, it puts the realist-liberal-constructivist debate into perspective, with some brilliant flow charts that divide up the streams of thought that have shaped teaching. My personal favourite is the all-in-one crib sheet on the evolution of international security studies, Figure 7.3. (Table 2.2, mapping five ideas of eleven different schools of thought would be my second favourite.) Throw in a few dates and authors on the boxes, and you have a solid answer for a PhD comprehensive exam.  This is real value added for any security scholar. The clarity and precision in the demarkation between schools and thinking is impressive, even when I sometimes wonder about the categories, which may have more academic than practical utility. 

Figure 7.3 is a something of a summation of the book, but it doesn’t convey the depth and breadth of the discussion, and the utility of the distinctions for anyone teaching international security.  Some of these distinctions also have policy and operational relevance, such as the four questions that structure ISS: Is it all about the state?  Should we include internal as well as external threats? Should we extend the concept of security beyond the use of force and the military realm? Finally, is security ultimately only about threat, urgency, and danger?  The broad pattern of the evolution of ISS over time, well documented in the book, has been to expand the meaning of security to include more referent objects (human, national, international) and more domains (economic, environmental, etc). The discussion here goes beyond Buzan’s 1998 book with Waever and de Wilde, the admirably succinct Security: A New Framework for Analysis. Here, Buzan and Hansen describe how other scholars have approached and manipulated the core ideas that have become part of security debates.

What makes this a book for teachers rather than a textbook for undergraduates is the careful dissection of why international security studies has evolved the way it has.  In this respect, it is like Abbott’s Chaos of Disciplines, but focused on my field, so I have a real incentive to understand the nuances of the evolution.
David Last, March 24, 2014 

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