The Sociality of Securitization: Symbolic Weapons of Mass Deception

Emil A. R°yrvik

Emil A. Røyrvik

Postdoctoral Fellow
Norwegian University of Science and Technology, Trondheim



Two dominant and converging social developments of the post-World War II area have reached their climax of crisis in the contemporary era. Although seemingly radically different in nature and origin they are isomorphic in relation and might significantly be described with the common concept of “securitization”; economic-financial securitization on the one hand, and political-military securitization on the other. Both developments and their entanglement have been led by the United States but have engulfed the world on a global scale. Together these major social developments constitute the securitization of the field of global political economy. The global movement, convergence and social implications of the two major trends of securitization are here conceptually coined as a process of “securitization of the social” that in turn produces “a sociality of securitization”. The paper concludes that the two concurrent processes of political-military and economic-financial securitization not only undermine their own explicitly stated social goals of risk reduction, economic growth and social stability, but actively creates the opposite. Rather than encouraging trust, confidence and growth, the sociality of securitization generates social distrust and distancing, cultures of fear, militarism, and deep patterns of global inequality – a “socialism for the wealthy” – and thus evidently undermines sociality itself.


The present argument seeks to develop critical understanding and resistance by unfolding the notion of a “sociality of securitization” through a social analysis of the convergence of two globally dominant forms of political economy; on the one hand the radical expansion and financial takeover in the global economy since the 1970s, and on the other hand, the expansive new militarism culminating in the disastrous “global war on terror”. I label these processes economic-financial securitization and political-military securitization, respectively, and argue that they have reached their climax of convergence and crisis in the contemporary era.

This paper is a continuation of my research in the anthropology of globalized political economy (2008), a work seeking to remedy Edelman and Haugerud’s complaint about the fragmented discourses in anthropology of modernity, development and globalization, where, “… culture is on proud display while historical political economy and economic and financial globalization is largely absent” (2005: 1). Focusing on the management of so-called global corporations through an ethnographic extended case study approach (Burawoy 1998; Evans and Handelman 2006), my investigation led to a description not only of the financial turn of management, but also to the financial takeover of the corporation, and not the least to the “financialization of culture and society” and the corollaries of spiraling and polarizing wealth and poverty patterns. As a contribution to an anthropology of political economy (c.f. Hart and Ortiz 2008) it recognized that financialization and its impacts on culture and society needs to be understood as partly constituted within the political framework of neoliberalization and the expanding neo-imperial militarism it has promoted. The construct of a “sociality of securitization” suggested here, seeks to indicate such an overarching ambition in a single conceptualization.

The present paper argues that the two concurrent processes of “securitization” can be treated within the same analytical framework, theoretically founded on emerging social science concepts such as parapolitics (Wilson 2009), oppositional theorizing (Sturken 1997; MacGregor 2006),and the concept of state crimes against democracy (deHaven-Smith 2006). This can be done, I argue, because at the constituting foundations of both political-military and economic-financial securitization lies both 1) a radical decoupling of systems of rhetoric or symbolic representations on the one hand, and empirical realities on the other, and 2) both processes of securitization are characterized by systematic forms of racketeering.

The financial takeover

The general argument of “financialization” in a nutshell: The power balance between industrial capital and finance capital shifted dramatically in the global economy from the 1970s. During the 80s and 90s and 2000s the upper hand of finance got increasingly stronger. It was a response to the structural crisis constituted by a deepening stagnation, or stagflation, of the economic system from the 70s (Foster and Magdoff 2009), and it developed into what is now widely considered a “culture of neoliberalism” (Comaroff and Comaroff 2001), or a “neoliberal culture complex” of global reach (Hannerz 2007). I argue that what emerged was a globalized culture complex of neoliberal financialization – the historically unprecedented leverage and expansion of finance capital, and the accumulation of massive debt that it has actively promoted (Arrighi 1994, Duménil and Levy 2004; Epstein et al. 2005).

At the heart of the financial takeover of the global economy have been the processes of “financial securitization”. Along with other mechanisms of what Harvey has labeled “accumulation by dispossession” (2005), the most notable consequence of this development has been a predatory system that has radically redistributed, and not created, wealth towards the rich echelons of society (Galbraith 2005). Paraphrasing Gore Vidal, Palma states that the political and economic system was transformed into “socialism for the rich and capitalism for the rest” (2009: 862). This led to the restoration of power of a particular form of a capitalist class, often mistakenly euphemized as “market powers”; but which better can be described as finance, that “… complex of upper capitalist classes, whose property materializes in the holding of securities (stock shares, bonds, Treasury Bills, etc.), and financial institutions (central banks, banks, funds, etc.)” (Duménil and Lévy 2004: 16).

Economic-financial securitization

A simple definition of the wave of financial securitization, is provided by economist Paul Krugman, one of the economists currently (2009) involved in deep self-critique on behalf of conventional economics: “Underlying the glamorous new world of finance was the process of securitization. Loans no longer stayed with the lender. Instead, they were sold on to others, who sliced, diced and puréed individual debts to synthesize new assets... And financial wizards were lavishly rewarded for overseeing the process. But the wizards were frauds, whether they knew it or not, and their magic turned out to be no more than a collection of cheap stage tricks. Above all, the key promise of securitization - that it would make the financial system more robust by spreading risk more widely - turned out to be a lie.”1

The fantastic rise in the international circulation of money since the 1970s has been mainly due to the rise in pure financial transactions. For example, these included money movements related to payments on debts and trading in foreign currencies, the latter which by the end of the century amounted to US $1.5 trillion a day. This is a figure equivalent to more than the annual Gross National Product of the UK (Fulcher 2004). The emergence of the Eurodollar, or Eurocurrency, market from the 1960s is the single most important factor here (Dickens 2005; Arrighi 1994). By 2004 this market alone amounted to transactions of US $1.9 trillion a day.2 According to Manuel Castells international investment of mostly a speculative nature increased by a factor of nearly 200 from 1970 to 1997 (Fulcher 2004: 94).

Taking into account the astronomical rise in the financial derivatives market, the magnitude of financialization really comes into view: The total value of financial derivatives globally was probably only a few million dollars in 1970 and it subsequently grew to about $100 million in 1980, $100 billion by 1990, and to $100 trillion by 2000 (LiPuma and Lee 2004: 74). In 2007 the Bank for International Settlements (BIS) estimated that derivatives currently outstanding now amounted to more that $600 trillion. This is an almost incomprehensible figure.

The gross domestic product of all the countries in the world combined is only about 60 trillion dollars (BIS 2008/2007). And this fantastic growth in the financial derivatives economy has occured while the growth in GDP has been steadily declining the last 30 years or so (Maddison 2001; Harvey 2005). Thus, the relationship to the underlying economy, as measured in terms of the production and consumption of goods and services, has become thinner and thinner and more and more opaque.

As early as 2002 Warren Buffet, then the world’s richest man, wrote that derivatives are ”financial weapons of mass destruction”, indeed a ”megacatastrophe risk”, and ”time bombs, both for the parties that deal in them and the economic system”.3 And yet since 2002 the market grew even faster. The derivatives market is now alone more than 10 times the size of global GDP, and about 40 times the size of US GDP. Historian Niall Ferguson is therefore right to conclude that, “Planet finance is beginning to dwarf Planet Earth”, and that we are living in a time defined by the ascent of “man the banker” (2008: 5).

Furthermore, as LiPuma and Lee note, the economistic view, that hides the creative effects of speculative derivatives, also, more significantly, substitutes underlying reality by surface appearance. They sate, “derivatives create their surface appearance by creatively presupposing social contexts of use, which economistic analysis then (mis)takes as an objective, external, and imposed reality (2004: 64-65). This provided a basic foundation upon which a radical decoupling, firstly of systems of symbolic representations of value and their material referents, and secondly of “representation and reality” more generally, was actualized.

Moreover, the processes of economic-financial securitization enabled the finance elite, both through the radical inflation of the finance economy and, not least, through the big public bailouts of the financial institutions after the great crash, to amass tremendous amounts of wealth by dispossessing the public at large. Herein lies the racketeering at the heart of economic-financial securitization.

It is estimated, by amongst none other than Alan Greenspan, that the unleashing of the global financial crisis wrought a total global equity loss between just 2007 and 2009 in the range of US $40 trillion, about two thirds of world GDP (Greenspan 2009; Robbins 2009). More significantly, the impact is not confined to the financial sector. For 2009 the IMF predicted in October a decline in world economic activity of 1.1 percent, and 3.4 for the advanced economies. The European Central Bank expected in September 2009 GDP to fall by 4.1 percent in 2009. The International Labour Organisation estimates that unemployment world-wide could rise to 30-50 million people from 2007 to 2009, and that more than 200 million people will be pushed into poverty (Blankenburg and Palma 2009: 432).

Political-military securitization

In recent decades we have witnessed the confluence of financialization with another major expansion of securitization, that of political-military securitization. Together, economic-financial securitization and political-military securitization are two major and converging social developments of the post-world war II area that have reached their climax of crisis in the contemporary era.

This latter process of political-military securitization is the process whereby a certain issue, potentially any issue in society, is transformed into a matter of security (Wæver 1995). Securitization is an extreme version of politicization that enables the use of extraordinary means in the name of security – such as war-making, suspension of civil rights, torture, surveillance and secrecy. Securitization in this sense is in the contemporarily exemplified by the expanding new American-led militarism that has culminated in the disastrous and fraudulent “global war on terrorism”, and has involved social relations in the post 11. September climate becoming “hyper-securitized” and suffused with a “rhetoric and culture of shared fears” (Giroux 2003: 2). Already in his State of the Union Address January 29, 2002, then President George W. Bush stated that “the war on terror is only the beginning” (ibid).

The global war on terror is constituted culturally in terms of what C. Wright Mills in 1965 called a “military metaphysics”. Mills defined this metaphysics as “the cast of mind that defines international reality as basically military” (1965: 222). In a similar argument, the new militarism, according to Bacevich, presents itself as a marriage between “a militaristic cast of mind and utopian ends”, between “a military metaphysics and eschatological ambitions” (2005: 3,7). Militarization perceived as “the contradictory and tense social process in which civil society organizes itself for the production of violence” (Lutz 2002: 723),4 involves both the intensification of the labor and resources allocated to military purposes and a discursive process, constituting “a shift in general societal beliefs and values in ways necessary to legitimate the use of force…” (ibid.). With nearly a quarter of a million troops, nearly 1000 military bases, more than 26,000 buildings and structures across 46 countries and territories, and a 2010 defense budget of $680 billion, the largest in world history and larger than the military expenditures of the whole rest of the world combined,5 “the global omnipresence and unparalleled lethality of the U.S. military, and the ambition with which it is being deployed around the world [is unprecedented]”, writes Catherine Lutz (2009: 1). The global war on terror include the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq and numerous other political “securitization” measures. Moreover, it involves the partial transformation of the state itself, from a constitutional or democratic state to a “security state”.

In 1955 Hans Morgenthau, one of the founders of modern political science, discussed the existence of a US “dual state” (Morgenthau 1962; Tunander 2009).6 To Morgenthau the state comprised both a “regular state hierarchy” acting by the rule of law, and a more hidden “security hierarchy”, what Tunander (2009) labels the “security state”, or what in Turkey is referred to as the “deep state” (Scott 2007). The latter not only exists in parallel with the former, but also monitors and controls it. The security state intervenes when necessary, “vetoing” democratic decisions and thus limiting the range of democratic policy. It also, as Tunander argues, and also “fine tunes democracy”, as Tunander argues; through, for example, “the ‘fostering’ of war or terrorism to create fear and increase public demands for protection” (2009: 57). Indeed, as a growing amount of authors have noted, the politics of fear involved in governmental practices of inflating and communicating threats of terrorism constructs and harnesses cultures of fear (Furedi 2002, 2005; Mythen and Walklate 2006; Linke and Taana Smith 2009).

The security racket

In its simplest form the protection racket is instantiated by the Mafia when they claim money off “clients” to protect them from a danger that is, in fact the Mafia itself (Gambetta 1993; Varese 2001). What might be labeled the security racket, I argue, has been at the core of the political economy of global capitalism over recent decades. Both the main processes of securitization function as forms of racketeering and in this respect, as symbolic weapons of mass deception on the global scale, symbolic weapons that, however, also do actual material work on several levels, that, evidently even undermines sociality itself.      Indeed, the great political theorist Charles Tilley has conceptualized war-making and state-making as a form of protection racket: states emerged as powerful institutions which extracted wealth from those they controlled, returning little but the promise to limit the extent of plunder and to keep other plunderers at bay (1985). Tilly argues that the logic of the protection racket applies to some extent also in war-making and state-making, only with the added advantage that it is perceived as legitimate.

Let us use “the global war on terror” as an example. Based on the most comprehensive available empirical documentation and statistics, we find that non-state terrorism is a marginal danger to human life. In the 40 year period from 1968 (when the data is first recorded) until 2007, 50 000 people have been killed due to terrorism on the entire planet. In Western Europe the number is 1400, in North America 3500, including the 3000 victims on 9/11.7 Historian Eric Hobsbawm describes the state of affairs as follows: “However, the actual dangers to world stability, or to any stable state, from the activities of the Pan-Islamic terrorist networks against which America proclaimed its global war, or for that matter from the sum total of all the terrorist movements now in action anywhere, are negligible” (2008: 49-50). The (in)significance of these terrorism figures can brought into sharp relief when compared to the fact that in every half hour of every day a person is murdered in the US, totaling about 17000 victims a year. Every six minutes someone is forcibly raped, every minute a robbery takes place, and every 38 seconds someone is assaulted.8

Taken together the ‘actual’ threat posed by non-state terrorism poses, the political rhetoric and public attention, and, not least, the real political and military consequences of the global war on terror, fit nicely the schema of the protection/security racket. Considering government actions as racketeering, Tilly writes: “Since governments themselves commonly simulate, stimulate, or even fabricate threats of external war and since the repressive and extractive activities of governments often constitute the largest current threats to the livelihoods of their own citizens, many governments operate in essentially the same ways as racketeers” (Tilly 1985: 171). As early as September 20, 2001, at the inception of the global war on terror, Bush famously declared that, “either you are with us, or you are with the terrorists”.9 And this presaged the establishment of extreme repressive powers. Notably, the CIA received legal authority by the President to assassinate alleged terrorists all over the world, including Americans (Tunander 2004).

The current U.S. policies in the war on terror have tried to revive the “apocalyptic terrors of the cold war, when they no longer have any plausibility, by inventing ‘enemies’ that legitimize the expansion and use of its global power” (Hobsbawm 2007: 137). But let us not forget that insights about the fostering and fabrications of enemies in the interest of elite rulers have been acknowledged in political philosophy at least back to Machiavelli, who stated: “Therefore many judge that a wise prince must, whenever he has the occasion, foster with cunning some hostility so that in stamping it out his greatness will increase as a result”.10 With the US in a leading role, the international community of state powers have inflated, fabricated and directed a terror threat out of all proportions that has created cultures of fear, from which the very same state powers might legitimate securitization and militarization as protection of the people who are, allegedly, potential victims of the (inflated) threat.

Securitizing the social – the sociality of securitization

Based in two different historical trajectories the two trends of economic-financial and political-military securitization on the other hand have the last decades merged into a desperate global spectacle to sustain US imperialism and global hegemony. Economic-financial securitization, or global financialization of the economy, was the strategy to overcome the structural crisis of the 1970’s, in an enchanted belief that the expansion of finance alone – money in its purest form, free from both production and consumption – could continue and save capitalism and US dominance of the world economy.

As the history of failing empires show, in its final stages militarism and economic decline go hand in hand (Kennedy 1989; Arrighi 1994). The US invention of the global war on terror was a similarly desperate measure to fabricate enemies to create cultures of fear that would justify protection by the continuation and expansion of US global political dominance and unilateralism, and to save its economic hegemony by political means and military force. But as the history of empires reveals, “military ‘security’ alone is never enough” (Kennedy 1989: 696).

Both strategies of securitization have reached their climax of crisis in the contemporary.  The result of the financial crisis so far has according to the IMF been a total global equity loss since 2007 of some US $40 trillion, about two thirds of world GDP. Furthermore, unemployment forecasts are staggering (Robbins 2009), and patterns of economic inequality are unprecedented in modern times (Hart 2002; UNDP 2005). As the historical analysis of the waning of US hegemony provided by Giovanni Arrighi (1994; 2007) shows, the signal crisis of the American empire occurred in the 1970s with the decoupling of the dollar from the gold standard, the Vietnam War and the first oil crisis, while the terminal crisis of the US political economic hegemony can be seen in the invasion of Iraq and Afghanistan on the one hand, and the systemic financial crisis on the other.

Furthermore, the two concurrent processes of political-military and economic-financial securitization not only undermine their own explicitly stated social goals of risk reduction, economic growth and social stability, but actively produce their opposite. Concurrently these hegemonic forms of “securitizing the social”, thus have deep consequences for the constitution and deconstruction of sociality itself.  Defining socialities as the qualitiative forms of social relationships (Glaeser 2006: 70), and as constituted to a large extent by political economic processes, this paper has outlined both some of the key constitutive dynamics that securitize the social, and significant social implications of these processes.

The securitization of the social by the two powerful concurrent processes of economic-financial and political-military securitization, and the global movement, convergence and social implications of these two major social developments, constitute a hegemonically dominant form of social relations with special qualities that conceptually has been coined the sociality of securitization. Rather than encouraging trust, confidence and growth, the sociality of securitization creates qualitative relations of social distrust and distancing, generates cultures of fear and militarism, and produces misery and deep patterns of global inequality. Thus, evidently, it undermines sociality itself.


1. Paul Krugman, “The Market Mystique”, 27 March 2009, The New York Times.

2. Bank for International Settlements, BIS Quarterly, December 2004

3. In a letter to the shareholders of Berkshire Hathaway Inc. Available online.

4. Quoting Michael Geyer, “The militarization of Europe, 1914-1945”.

5. On 28 October 2009 President Barack Obama signed the 2010 Defense Authorization Act, the largest military budget in U.S. and world history. In 2009 the defense budget was $651 billion, compared to the 2000 budget of $280 billion. It has more than doubled in 10 years, and importantly the defense budget is in reality much larger because the defense budget excludes many military items that are “hidden” within other state budgets. Non-US aggregate real expenditure on military worldwide in 2007 remained at approximately the 1998 level, about half a trillion dollars (

6. According to Tunander (2009: 69), this part of Morgenthau’s book, chapter 29, “The Corruption of Patriotism”, had been published in 1955 in The New Republic og Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists.

7. Most years terrorism victims are zero in the US. The most comprehensive database for terrorism statistics was the “MIPT Terrorism Knowledge Base”. The database was available for the public online at until 31 March 2008. The database was run by a non-profit organization, but funded through the US Department of Homeland Security, and integrated data from a number of sources; the RAND Terrorism Chronology and RAND-MIPT Terrorism Incident databases; the Terrorism Indictment database; and DeticaDFI's research on terrorist organizations. When TKB ceased operation as the most comprehensive terrorism incident database, the website announced that it was to be integrated with the so-called “Global Terrorism Database” (GTD). GTD is organized very differently from the former TKB, and with far less valuable functionality for analysis. Where precise tools and data where openly availably available to the public through TKB online, with sources cited, you have to contact GTD to get access to parts of data sets. Wikipedia describes TKB the following way: “The TKB contains historical information on terrorism dating back to 1968, with over 29,000 incident profiles, 900 group profiles, and 1,200 leader biographies. The TKB is a free website and contains several features to analyze terrorism data, including graphing tools, interactive maps, and statistical summaries. The TKB ceased operations on 31st March, 2008” (, accessed13 Juli 2008).

8. See the FBI’s ”crime clock” at (accessed 16 September 2009); and the FBI report ”Crime in the United States 2007”.

9. President Bush “Address to a Joint Session of Congress and the American People”, September 20, 2001. Accessible here:

10. Quoted in Scott (2007: 194).



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