in/security and lessons from Buffy – Rowley and Weldes

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This article addresses some of the themes I am interested in – fear, threat, identity etc. ws pleased to find it! Rowley and Weldes argue that:

“…the Buffyverse demonstrates in quite sophisticated ways that identity and in/security are mutually constituted social constructions.” (p.514)

“The Buffyverse is also a fruitful site for examining the multifaceted and complex theorizations of in/security that we find in everyday life in the ‘real world’. At first glance, this may seem counterintuitive. After all, Buffy and Angel are television series, located within the genres of fantasy and science fiction, among others, and so generally assumed to be both merely entertainment and ‘other-worldly’. Nonetheless, we argue that the Buffyverse is directly relevant to the study of in/security for several interrelated reasons. First and most importantly, the central motif in the Buffyverse is, precisely, in/security: the basic premises, plotlines and narrative arcs of the shows all focus on characters’ identities, insecurities and attempts to produce security. Second, ‘popular culture comprises the primary sites, practices and frames through which people make sense of the world’ (Rowley, 2010: 14). Popular cultural texts are produced out of the commonsense cultural resources of a given society. The deployment of such resources ensures that narratives and representations are intelligible and plausible within both popular culture and society more broadly (Weldes, 1999a: 119). Thus, popular culture is the ‘real world’, providing us with meanings, including about world politics. Third, the continuous nature of the storylines in the Buffyverse, which developed over 12 seasons, provides masses of data for analysis and critique. Finally, in part through its fantasy and science-fiction elements, the Buffyverse estranges, exposing the takenfor-granted nature of commonly held assumptions and providing a space for ‘radical doubt and questioning’ (Davies, 1990: 4) within which we might reassess our conceptualizations of identities, threats and in/securities. It thus provides a good site for challenging what Davies (2010: 178) has called ‘the conceit that IR [and (international) security studies] are constituted as separate from … the everyday’.” (p.514)

“…security studies ignores everyday security practitioners – by which we mean individuals and groups from the ‘margins, silences and bottom rungs’ (Enloe, 1996) of world politics – as both speakers and audience. But, we want to argue, everyday security practitioners, like elite practitioners (e.g. Rowley and Weldes, 2012), are inescapably immersed in theorizing identity and in/security. As Weber says, ‘if politics happens anywhere, it happens in the everyday, in all sorts of “high” and “low” ways’ (Weber, 2008: 138; see also Weldes, 2006).” (p.518)

Buffy the Vampire Slayer (1997–2003) is set in the fictional town of Sunnydale, California, the location of a ‘Hellmouth’, ‘a center of mystical energy’ (B1.1) that attracts and nourishes evil and provides a point of contact between Earth and Hell(s). A cross-genre combination of fantasy, science fiction, soap opera, sitcom, horror and teen drama, the show follows the adventures of Buffy Summers (the Slayer) and her friends (the Scoobies)10 as they battle various supernatural and human enemies. At the end of season three of Buffy, Angel – a vampire with a soul and Buffy’s former lover – moves to Los Angeles, opens a supernatural detective agency and continues battling evil in the new show, Angel (1999–2004).
Like the (international) security studies myth, Buffy begins with a conventional, simplistic conception of in/security. The first two seasons are rife with one-off ‘monsters of the week’: threats that are given, objective and external. Humans are the self-evident, unproblematized referent objects of security. The unmistakably evil monsters always attack Buffy – or other innocent humans – first, although they need not do so to be considered imminent threats. Threats are defined in terms of capabilities, and the intention to use those capabilities is assumed. Threats are decisively dealt with by Buffy through the use of force; just as in realism, relative force is what matters. Realism’s [-p.519] stark distinction between domestic and international is embodied in vampires’ inability to enter domestic spaces without explicit human invitation.

The authors continue: “The balance of power is also starkly evident in the first season of Buffy. Although there are frequent battles with vampires and other ‘monsters of the week’, it is the overarching and ongoing war with the Master (an extra-strong vampire) and his vampire minions that preoccupies Buffy, as he tries to acquire the power not just to kill a few humans but to bring about an apocalypse (compare strategic studies’ early preoccupation with Soviet nuclear force). …

The Buffyverse can also be read as widening its conception of in/security. Over the seasons of Buffy and Angel, threats and insecurities proliferate. As with (international) security studies, threats provoking the use of physical force expand – to the point where Riley wonders about the plural of ‘apocalypse’ (see epigraph on p. 515, [… cited below]). In addition to vampires, the Slayer fights an increasingly diverse range of demons, witches, sorcerers, werewolves, shape-shifters, reanimated corpses, cyborgs, gods, and the U.S. military. At the same time, more threats appear that, while not requiring the use of force, are nonetheless considered salient in/securities. For example, access to food – that is, blood – is a chronic insecurity for vampires (see, for example, B2.8). Economic insecurity is a concern in the Summers household after Buffy’s mother dies (B6.4, B6.5, B6.12) and is ongoing for Angel’s detective agency. Homelessness is a recurring source of insecurity for teenagers in Los Angeles (A1.20, A2.12, A2.14).
The Buffyverse’s conception of in/security deepens, too. First, although in slayer mythology slayers fight vampires and other evils alone (B1.1), Buffy increasingly relies on Giles (her Watcher) and the Scoobies, thus performing a liberal internationalist notion of collective security. Teamwork is central to fighting the manifold evils at the Hellmouth (see especially B2.14, B3.22, B4.21, B5.22, B7.22). Second, the notion of in/security is deepened through the globalization of threats. In the first four seasons of Buffy and the first three of Angel, threats, even apocalypses, are generally quite local but, in later seasons, the threats become more far-reaching.” (pp.518-519)

epigraph referred to above: “Riley: I suddenly find myself needing to know the plural of apocalypse. (B4.12)” (cited Rowley and Weldes, p.515)

“Through the characters’ experiences in the early seasons, characters and audiences alike gradually comprehend that in/securities are constitutively linked to identity, and vice versa. As the Master says: ‘We are defined by the things we fear’ (‘Nightmares’, B1.10; see also B1.8, B1.11).” (p.520)

In Buffy and Angel, everyday identities and in/securities, to which (international) security studies does not pay analytical attention, are theorized, negotiated and contested.” (p.520)

A variety of relationships between identity and in/security emerge in the Buffyverse. Above, we highlighted insecurity about one’s own identity. Conversely, certainty about others’ identities also has security implications. At the outset of Buffy, a community with clearly demarcated boundaries and essentialized identities – insiders (humans) and outsiders (vampires/demons) – is established, with rules governing how insiders and outsiders can be treated. Vampires and demons can be slain with impunity; humans are by definition worthy of protection and cannot be killed, no matter how heinous their crimes (Molloy, 2003).
However, these identities become destabilized very early on, so that insiders and outsiders can no longer be so easily distinguished. Vampires can be ‘good’ (e.g. Angel, Spike, Harmony), demons can be unthreatening (e.g. Clem, Lorne), and humans are not always what they seem. Many have hybrid identities, such as Oz (a werewolf for three nights a month), Anya (a former vengeance demon), Doyle (half-human, half-Bracken demon) and Willow (who develops increasingly powerful witchcraft). Angel’s long-term enemy in Los Angeles, the law firm Wolfram and Hart, serves the city’s most powerful demons although it is staffed and run by humans (see, for example, A1.1).” (p.522)

“Furthermore, denizens of the Buffyverse recognize, if sometimes belatedly, that operating on the basis of essentialized identities does not necessarily produce security. A striking illustration occurs early in Angel when, acting on an implicit essentializing assumption, Angel kills a demon he believes to be pursuing a pregnant woman, only to discover that the demon was her champion, and that Angel’s own actions have put her unborn child in mortal danger (A2.1).” (p.522)

“In the Buffyverse, the sources of information upon which characters are prepared to
draw include folklore, fairytales, nursery rhymes, prophecies, oracles and visions, as well as their own and others’ first-hand observations and experiences. Buffy, Angel and other characters also make use of informal networks, rumours, gossip and, occasionally, paid informants. Diverse people’s (and demons’) knowledges are taken seriously, and their life experiences given validity; nothing is excluded as worthless purely because of the method by which, or the subject from which, it was obtained (see, for example, Feyerabend, 1975).” (p.525)

Ref: (emphases in blue bold, mine) Christina Rowley and Jutta Weldes (2012) The evolution of international security studies and the everyday: Suggestions from the Buffyverse. Security Dialogue 43: 513-530

Abstract: “Security studies is again reflecting on its origins and debating how best to study in/security. In this article, we interrogate the contemporary evolutionary narrative about (international) security studies. We unpack the myth’s components and argue that it restricts the empirical focus of (international) security studies, limits its analytical insights, and constrains the sorts of interlocutors with whom it engages. We then argue that these limitations can at least partially be remedied by examining the performance of identities and in/securities in everyday life. In order initially to establish the important similarities between (international) security studies and the everyday, we trace elements of the evolutionary myth in Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Angel – which both stand in for, and are, the everyday in our analysis. We then argue that the Buffyverse offers a complex understanding of (identities and) in/security as a terrain of everyday theorizing, negotiation and contestation – what we call the ‘entanglement’ of in/security discourses – that overcomes the shortcomings of (international) security studies and its myth, providing insights fruitful for the study of in/security. In conclusion, we briefly draw out the implications of our analysis for potential directions in (international) security studies scholarship and pedagogy.” (p.513)

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