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  • The Security Archipelago: Human-Security States, Sexuality Politics, and the End of Neoliberalism by Paul Amar
  • Rahul Rao
Paul Amar The Security Archipelago: Human-Security States, Sexuality Politics, and the End of Neoliberalism Durham and London: Duke University Press, 2013, 310 pp. ISBN 978-0-8223-5398-0

In his book The Security Archipelago, Paul Amar charts the rise of what he calls the “human-security state,” a battleground for contending discourses of securitization aimed at the protection, rescue, and securing of idealized forms of humanity. This is a queer book in lots of ways. Although not exclusively concerned with sexual minorities, stigmatized sexual publics (sex workers, homosexuals, working-class masculinities) occupy center stage as the bodies on which, and over which, conflicts over security are enacted. Resonating with a broader literature that identifies disagreements over sexual and gender rights as an increasingly salient fault line in international politics (Puar 2007), this book illustrates how sex and gender are at the heart of the rearticulation of state regimes in what world systems theorists once referred to as the “semi-periphery.” Focusing on Egypt and Brazil as emblematic of this zone, and more specifically on Cairo and Rio de Janeiro as urban laboratories of human security practices, Amar traces how the imperative of sexual and cultural rescue—as expressed in policies on subjects as wide ranging as sex work, tourism, urban [End Page 336] planning, and infrastructure development—have come to produce what he sees as a form of governance through morality rather than the market.

But this is also a queer book in the more profound sense of unsettling taken-for-granted assumptions and dichotomies in international and comparative politics. The security state does not stand irrevocably opposed to civil society; authoritarianism is not antithetical to humanitarianism. Instead, the book offers a number of instances in which each finds uses for, and opportunities for rehabilitation in, the other. In this sense, the book is an account of weird complicities and strange bedfellows. Evangelical Protestants converge with entrepreneurial police in the anti-trafficking politics of Rio, even as the security state in Cairo appropriates discourses from the very oppositional figures and movements ranged against it.

Amar is at his best in the ethnographic chapters at the heart of the book. Here we see how stigmatized sexual publics are variously positioned in political economy and culturalist discourses, with politics emerging in the tensions between these positions. Amar is attentive to the very different ways in which these tensions play out in his different field sites. Broadly, while in Cairo these sexual publics tend to be positioned as cultural enemies but economic assets of the nation, a different kind of dilemma unfolds in Rio, where the city struggles to reconcile its traditional positive valuation of eroticized interracial commingling with the imperative of cleaning up the city for business (70).

In chapter 3, Amar offers an astute gendered reading of contrasting policies for the rescue and protection of the crumbling cultural heritage of Fatimid Cairo. Here, an elite “heritage bloc” of planners influenced by international and Western models of conservation view the local population as impediments to both the survival of monuments and their enjoyment by upper-class Egyptians and foreign tourists. Ranged against them are a powerful conservative “morality bloc” that is critical of the involvement of Western players in the protection of Cairo’s Islamic heritage and of the sexual licentiousness of the tourist economy in which it remains imbricated. Amar finds alternative approaches to these questions in the nonviolent working-class movements emerging out of the local population of the historic quarter, which reject both the classphobia of the conservationists and the puritanism of the moralists. Conversely, the technocratic Salafist imaginary of Mohammad Atta—now notorious for his role as a 9/11 hijacker, but previously deeply engaged with these questions as an urban planning student—seeks to reconcile the heritage bloc’s interest in sustaining tourist revenue with the morality bloc’s conservatism, by advocating a reoccupation of historic Cairo by the wealthy elites who have deserted it. Chapter 4 offers an analogously gendered reading of urban planning politics in Rio. Here a purportedly race-neutral “security...


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pp. 336-340
Launched on MUSE
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