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Transforming Citizenship through Hybrid Governance: The Impacts of Public-Private Security Assemblages

Final Report Summary - SECURCIT (Transforming Citizenship through Hybrid Governance: The Impacts of Public-Private Security Assemblages)

In cities across the world, urban spaces and populations are policed by a broad range of interconnected agents: the police, the military, uniformed security guards, voluntary neighborhood watches, and in many cases also armed vigilantes or criminal gangs. This diverse array of protectors is generally understood as representing a shift from police as an organization, to policing as a practice carried out by various public and private security actors. This privatization and pluralization of policing has received increasing intention within urban studies, but it has generally been understood in relation to two broader debates: discussions of neoliberal urban governance and of the new military urbanism.

The first approach emphasizes that, while the state’s monopoly on the provision of security has always been more imagined than real, neoliberal policies now actively “responsibilize” citizens and businesses for safeguarding their own physical integrity and material belongings. This transfer of responsibility for security from state to non-state actors has resulted in a diversification of the agencies and agents that deliver security and policing services. The second approach emphasizes the urbanization of war and the concomitant militarization of urban life, processes that are evident in the embrace of increasingly aggressive and intrusive forms of policing and punishment. Both perspectives emphasize the exclusionary effects of these shifts: they tend to produce uneven geographies of safety and risk, of protection and endangerment. Some populations and spaces are consistently branded as risky and threatening, while others are seen as vulnerable, as worthy of protection.

Led by Rivke Jaffe, the ERC-funded “SECURCIT” project - which focused primarily on the cities of Kingston, Jerusalem and Nairobi - has taken a different approach to urban policing that remains attentive to these uneven urban geographies. Beyond the role of various public and private policing agents, the research team studied how the protection of people’s lives and property also involves a wide array of non-human entities: from high walls and electronic gates, to guns and alarms systems. In addition, many fearful urban residents turn to spiritual entities, from God or Allah to ancestral spirits and patron saints, in search of security. Urban policing is assembled through the dynamic connections between these human and non-human elements.

The SECURCIT team researched more-than-human geographies of protection and endangerment. The team studied how non-human entities, from security dogs to digital technologies, mediate urban policing, and how these entities structure the relations between protectors, threatening and threatened urban subjects and spaces. The researchers focused on how the politics of protection play out in everyday urban life, examining how the protection of certain people and places is pursued through different socio-material configurations. These urban configurations neglect or aggravate the vulnerability of certain groups, while legitimizing the power of others. While focusing on the role of both state and non-state policing agents, this approach also entailed exploring the political role of various security “objects” to understand the connections between urban policing and inequality in new ways.