Paul Amar, The Security Archipelago: Human-Security States, Sexuality Politics, and the End of Neoliberalism. Durham: Duke University Press, 2013. 328 pages.

Brian Whitener
University of Michigan

Volume 6, 2014

Paul Amar’s The Security Archipelago: Human-Security States, Sexuality Politics, and the End of Neoliberalism (Duke, 2013) has received (well-deserved) attention for its interventions into political science discussions of security, into queer studies discussions of sexuality, and within the general academic humanities for its arguments concerning a transition from neoliberalism to human security. While part of Amar’s unique methodology is a form of comparative research across the Global South (encompassing both Egypt and Brazil in this book), the aim of this review is to examine Amar’s contribution from the point of view of Latin American studies.

What Amar’s The Security Archipelago proposes is nothing more than the thesis that neoliberal forms of governance in the Global South, which feature market legitimation and consumer subjectivity, have been overcome by forms of human security governance. Moreover, as Amar argues consistently throughout his book, these forms of human security governance were not imposed from the North but rather are emergent from specific Global South locations. Unlike discourses of neoliberalism in Latin America, which see it as an imposition frequently flowing out from Washington, Amar’s account of the rise of human-security states in the 1990s and 2000s is centered in two cities, Rio and Cairo, that are uniquely exposed to international commodity, information, and tourism flows (both, importantly for Amar’s argument, hosted large UN conferences in the 1990s as is recounted in the first chapter). The argument is that these cities served as laboratories for producing human-security interventions and discourses which then “jumped scale” into Global North contexts (most famously for U.S. readers is Hillary Clinton’s positioning of herself as a human-security expert and proponent, as an advocate of “smart power”).

The emergent forms of human securitization that Amar traces have as a shared nodal point sexuality and morality. Human security governance works through a policing of sexuality via three primary vectors that wind their way, in different configurations, throughout The Security Archipelago: parahumanization, or the production of subjects in need of rescue; hypervisibilization, or the focus on certain kinds of subjects as the sites for moral panic; and securitization, or the conversion of political debates about justice and redistribution into “technical assessments” of risk and the policing of specific populations (17). Human security governance regimes in the Global South, by Amar’s account, have passed through two stages. The first took place during the late 1990s and early 2000s, taking the form of “cultural rescue” projects designed to protect “local cultures” from the perversions of the “global economy,” wherein policing of certain kinds of bodies and sexualities was linked to certain urban planning and development models (discussed in Chapters 2–4). The second stage, roughly 2006-11, is one in which “sex trafficking, sexual harassment, and concern with predatory masculinities came to dominate globalizing human-security discourse and policing priorities” (Chapters 5 and 6).

Besides his ability to give us a language for these complicated new vectors of policing and discourse, one of the strengths of Amar’s approach is his sensitivity to how these vectors are mobilized by a number of parastatal actors working together in highly unstable coalitions. Amar’s close readings of different moments of parastatal actor collaboration in certain campaigns or in the context of public debates do an amazing job of drawing out how human security governance forms what Amar calls “a contradictory complex” (7). Amar’s readings of events, such as the anti-sex trafficking operation in Rio known as “Operation Princess,” demonstrate with convincing detail how what he calls the four logics of securitization (Evangelical Humanitarianism, Workerist Empowerment, Juridical Personalism, and Police Paramilitarism) come together in shifting coalitions that are prone to implosion and frequently at cross purposes with one another.

Finally, Amar’s other major intervention, in addition to the argument that neoliberal governance has been overtaken by human-security regimes, is to argue for a shifting balance of global power from the Global North ruled by “zombie” neoliberalism to the potentially progressive, humanizing Global South regimes. While the book opens in Egypt during the Arab Spring, it is in Brazil that Amar seems to more consistently locate a possible progressive form of human security governance or a vector on which politics of racial justice and inclusion could ride. For example in Chapter 4, “Saving the Cradle of Samba in Rio de Janeiro,” Amar argues that the evangelical and progressive coalition that brought Benedita da Silva and her Security Secretary Luiz Eduardo Soares to power in Rio was one such opening. For Amar, their short-lived stay in power represented an attempt to “free politics from the security-or-samba trap” and Soares’ “innovative” security programs attempted to make “the nation’s metadiscourses of racial historiography and urban social conflict speak to each other” (141; 148). While the chapter goes on to recount the failure of this particular coalition in the face of the aftermath of the Bangu uprising and the return of a more virulent form of human-security policing under Garotinho and the urbanism of the Favela Bairro program, the “daring alternative” of Soares and da Silva forms the background of a strain of subversive human-security experimentation that Amar recalls at key points of his text. These forms of potentially progressive human security governance are then, for Amar, one more sign of a shift in the location of dynamism from North to South and a form of potential counterhegemonic governance that could differentiate the South’s global leadership from that of the North.

For Latin Americanists, Amar’s contributions might be threefold. First, his rich historical analysis of the emergence of human security discourses in the Global South gives Latin Americanists new tools and languages to discuss transformations in policing and how, in a security age, techniques of control extend outside the state and work in and through parastatal formations. This contribution is significant because work in Latin America from political science tends to focus on violence and work in cultural studies tends to alternate between focusing on sovereign power and biopolitics. Amar’s outlining of human security governance regimes both explains phenomena that one can see in places outside Brazil and gives us a more nuanced language, besides that of “violence” or “biopolitics,” for describing how they work. Secondly, Amar’s work gives Latin Americanists, who tend to continue to see hegemony as secured through the state as opposed to via the deployment of difference (as is much more common in U.S.-based ethnic and queer studies), an in to discussions of sexuality and race which don’t collapse into the dreaded “identity politics.” And finally, Amar’s argument that human security has overcome neoliberal forms of governance in the Global South makes a provocative contribution to ongoing debates in the field over the legacies of neoliberalism and possible transitions to post-neoliberalism or neo-developmentalism.