Research project

This project is an anthropological study of how citizenship is being reconfigured through hybrid forms of security governance. It researches these transformations by focusing on public-private ‘security assemblages’, with particular emphasis on the role of the private security industry. Much recent scholarly debate has focused on shifting modes of governance in a context of neoliberal globalization. Specific attention has focused on how governance is increasingly achieved through networks or assemblages of state, corporate and voluntary actors. Such assemblages of state and non-state actors blur the lines between public and private, and between local, national and transnational. This research sheds new light on this debate by investigating the implications this form of governance has for how different groups enact and experience citizenship, concentrating on public-private security assemblages as hybrid, multi-scalar governance structures. We examine how forms of ‘differentiated citizenship’ are produced, and how political subjectivities shift, as a result of these forms of security governance.

Case studies

These transformations in citizenship will be analyzed through a comparative analysis of security assemblages in five cities with high levels of insecurity: Kingston (Jamaica), Jerusalem (Israel), Miami (US), Recife (Brazil) and Nairobi (Kenya). The project will research the composition, operation and regulation of public-private security assemblages in and across these different urban settings, with special attention to the global mobilities of security companies and techniques. In each setting, the project will study the practices and discourses that structure relations between state and non-state security providers, clients and those seen as threats. It will focus on the ‘security encounter’ between these different actors, in which new social relationships and subjectivities are produced.

This project will make a significant contribution to our understanding of shifts in citizenship in a context of neoliberal governance. It will advance theory within the anthropology of the state, security studies and urban studies. By addressing the consequences of security privatization for rights and accountability, the project will be able to make evidence-based policy recommendations to inform the development of security governance that is not only effective, but democratic and equitable. The project is expected to lead to the development of an anthropological theory of security governance with both theoretical and applied relevance.

Jerusalem (Israel/Palestine)

Jerusalem is a city of contrasts: holy to the three monotheistic religions, it is also a site of continuous violence, settler colonialism and protracted conflict. Despite the claim of a ‘united city’ following Israel’s occupation of East Jerusalem in 1967, Jerusalem continues to be deeply divided. In recent years, the Israeli authorities increasingly turn to privatized and pluralized security provision to augment public security actors in their quest to govern (East) Jerusalem. The security knowledge, technologies and materialities produced in Jerusalem are subsequently exported elsewhere, presented as efficient instruments to combat urban crime and terrorism, yet can simultaneously contribute to further segregation, marginalization and violence.

Photo: Rivke Jaffe

Kingston (Jamaica)

Security does not just involve humans, it is also co-produced and negotiated with non-human entities. In Kingston, dogs, God (or the Rastafari Jah) and guns play important roles in establishing, mediating and contesting regimes of protection. Dogs, for instance, play a security role across public-private divides: as guard dogs with private security companies, the police and customs, and in private homes. The prevalence of public and private, legal and illegal firearms, heighten the potential stakes of security encounters in the streets of Kingston. Meanwhile, God/Jah is mobilized in many ways in strategies of protection and claims to belonging and authority. In line with the broader Securcit project, the Kingston case helps us understand security assemblages as organizing protection in ways that go beyond the state, but also beyond the human.

With a specific focus on security dogs, the Kingston subproject also seeks to develop an understanding of multispecies security. Rivke is currently exploring how human-dog relations involve an interspecies mode of sensing urban risk. Dogs’ highly developed olfactory and auditory senses help citizens and security professionals perceive their surroundings differently, mediating their interpretation of danger. As such, we might understand dogs not just as a companion species, but as a prosthetic species, a type of species that through cooperation with humans has allowed the latter to overcome the limits of their senses. This cooperative relation blurs the boundaries between the human domain of security and what is commonly understood as the ‘natural’ world in which dogs exist. However, multispecies security can also be antagonistic rather than cooperative; throughout history, and specifically the history of colonialism and slavery, dogs have played key roles in securing social privilege and policing the boundaries of “being human”.

Photo: Carolina Frossard

Recife (Brazil)

As in any contemporary city, the responsibility for policing in the capital of Pernambuco, Northeastern Brazil, is distributed among state and non-state actors, citizens, and technologies. Focusing on different areas of Recife’s South Zone, SECURCIT PhD researcher Carolina Frossard looks at a range of practices, people and things that fit under the header of security. These include mobile messaging groups that mediate exchanges between residents and policemen; the work of private security companies in commercial spaces; neighborhood-level mobilizations led by community leaders, and fragmented efforts towards self-built gates and walls. By analyzing these different security arrangements, the researcher unpacks how residents and providers negotiate, contest, and co-produce ideas of “good citizenship”, as well as of “good policing”.

Photo: Thijs Jeursen,

Miami (USA)

Security in Miami is provided by various public and private institutions in company, which also often collaborate in doing so: police officers are hired privately, private security guards are paid publicly, and both sectors seem to profit from an increasing demand for security services throughout the urban environment. In analysing the ways these arrangements affect citizenship, I take into account both the national and local context in which individual responsibility is valued and encouraged. In particular, I look into the elements of guns, cameras, and secrets in exploring the different experiences Miamians cater for their own safety and understand their rights, responsibilities, and plights. For example, how does the right to have a gun mediate the understanding of who is responsible for security, and when? How does the increasing use of mobile cameras influence perceptions of safety? And finally, how do secrets affect relationships of trust and collectivity in Miami?

Photo: Rogiro –

Nairobi (Kenya)

Cooperation between police and private security companies happens throughout Nairobi in the shape of joint patrols whereby police officers ride in private security companies’ cars. These arrangements are initiated by companies or middle-upper class neighborhoods associations, who often also finance them. Since the residents expect and want the police to be patrolling and in charge of security practices, but the police lack logistic and financial capabilities to be consistently present in such neighborhoods, the residents need to materially enable the police, with a car and other incentives, to be patrolling.
In Nairobi some dangerous characters are described as constantly ready to strike, always hiding in every corner of the city, and usually impossible to recognize. However, policing practices target and kill specific types of people. These categories of people are often identified as criminals based on their gender, class, race, or place of residence.
The widespread use of technological solutions often reinforces these dynamics. While on the one hand such technologies are marketed as neutral and more efficient, on the other their designs and modes of script what kind of danger to detect and fight. As danger is not a neutral construct, usual differentiation between who is considered dangerous and who worthy of protection are re-enacted by security technologies.