Review of International Studies

Research Article

Securitisation, terror, and control: towards a theory of the breaking point



Securitisations permit the breaking of rules: but which rules? This article argues that any given security situation could be handled by a variety of different ‘rule breaking’ procedures, and that securitisations themselves, whilst permitting rule breaking in general, do not necessarily specify in advance which rules in particular have to be broken. This begs the question: how do specific threats result in specific rule breaking measures? This article explores this question through reference to ‘control orders’, an unusual legal procedure developed in the UK during the course of the war on terrorism. Once applied to an individual, a control order gives the government a meticulous control over every aspect of their life, up to and including deciding on which educational qualifications they can take. Despite this control, individuals under the regime remain technically ‘free’: and have frequently used this freedom to abscond from the police who are supposed to be watching them. How did a security policy which controls a suspect's educational future, but not their physical movements, develop? This article aims to answer this question, and in so doing present a reevaluation of the mechanisms through which the effects of securitisation manifest themselves.

(Online publication February 21 2012)

Jonathan Bright is a PhD candidate at the European University Institute. His research interests lie in the impact of information technology on domestic security policy.


* I would like to thank Adrienne Héritier, Patrick Herron, Conor Little, Andrew Neal, Pascal Vennesson, Guilherme Vasconcelos Vilaça, and two anonymous reviewers, all of whom provided insightful comments and criticisms on earlier drafts of this article. A previous version was also presented at the SGIR 7th Pan-European International Relations Conference in Stockholm, September 2010. Many thanks to all those who attended the panel and contributed to the debate, especially the discussant Anna Leander.