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  • The Security Archipelago: Human-Security States, Sexuality Politics, and the End of Neoliberalism by Paul Amar
  • Sherene Seikaly (bio)
The Security Archipelago: Human-Security States, Sexuality Politics, and the End of Neoliberalism
Paul Amar
Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2013
328 pages. isbn 9780822353843

The reality that one’s body is subject to random acts of state brutality is an organizing tenet of everyday life under military rule. At first glance, The Security Archipelago is an account of military and police corruption and brutality on, in, and through Brazilian and Egyptian bodies. But Paul Amar has done much more than lay out technologies of rule and their hold on the individual and collective body in this dense and exhilarating work.

Through the lenses of the intensely overlapping realms of morality and urban politics, The Security Archipelago provides a new map that refigures how rule works and how it fails to work. By taking governance in Brazil and Egypt seriously, Amar exposes and critiques its heterogeneity and innovative force. For too long radical and conservative scholars of international relations and critical security studies have understood right-leaning policies and practices as unchanging. In a parallel way the lexicon of neoliberalism works as a shorthand to say everything and nothing at once. Amar uses what he calls the “heuristic device” of the human-security state (41) to trouble the staid authoritarian and the ever-illusive neoliberal.

The human-security regime comes to bear as a grammar of legitimacy and power. This regime’s grammar is not better, more consensus-based, or less coercive than the preceding neoliberal regime. However, there is a lot that is new about it. It governs through new fusions of morality and security politics. It uses danger and desire to police the boundary of the human. It “hypervisiblizes” raced, classed, and gendered bodies as sources of danger precisely to render the political nature of hierarchy invisible.

In effect, the human-security state “queers” identity, sanctioning people as subjects of social and moral panic. There is no nonqueer, nonraced, noncolonialized subject under these regimes. We see these queer publics, or “parahumans,” from sex workers in Rio de [End Page 343] Janeiro to activists supporting survivors of sexual brutality in Cairo. In the face of this new grammar and technology these queer publics “everted” or turned the very logic of human security inside out to radically challenge elite and state practices.

By detailing the shift in policy and state circles from freedom from want to freedom from fear, Amar makes interconnected arguments. First, military institutions are not synonymous with authoritarian regimes. Second, the security state is not the ontological opposite of civil society. Third, global governance does not solely emanate from the Global North. The radical wing of critical security studies has focused on the hegemonic North, rendering people in the Global South as either victims or causalities. Perhaps this is why the experts of victimology, as Amar calls it, failed to understand, much less predict, the Arab uprisings.

In chapter 1 Amar illustrates the shift from an emphasis on “development” and “liberalization” to a focus on “security” as the main framework in formal sites of policy making. Chapter 2 historicizes the neglected era of urban modernism in the decolonizing decades of 1950s Egypt and post-1930s Brazil. Here we see the Associação das Travestis e Liberados, whose members destroyed their Brazilian national documents and appealed to the world community to affirm their citizenship. We take a trip to the forgotten history of Badʿia Masabni, the queen of Cairo’s vaudeville economy who was forced underground in the 1950s. Amar shows that by the 1990s elites, urban planners, police, and nongovernmental organizations worked together to police sexuality and remake Cairo and Rio as spaces for elite heritage and shopping. Sexuality politics here are not imports. They are historical and lived sites of contention and innovation.

Chapter 3 presents the “heritage” bloc, whose practitioners seek to protect “humanity,” that is, the monuments and the tourists who appreciate them, from the “thuggery” and “dirt and noise” of working-class residents. Here we see Mohammed Atta, who in the decade before he flew an airplane into the World Trade...


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pp. 343-345
Launched on MUSE
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