CeSeR Launched with Conference on Security Research: Multidisciplinary Perspectives

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By Juliet Kaarbo and Andrew Neal, University of Edinburgh

In the autumn of 2015, the Centre for Security Research (CeSeR) at the University of Edinburgh was officially launched with a two-day conference (on the 22nd and 23rd of October).  CeSeR is co-directed by Professor Juliet Kaarbo and Dr Andrew Neal, both based in Politics and International Relations at Edinburgh.

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Photo:  © jane barlow

The conference began with welcoming remarks by Professor Fiona Mackay, Dean and Head of the School for Social and Political Science. Professor Mackay stressed the School’s commitment to multi- and interdisciplinary research and viewed CeSeR as a wonderful expression of that commitment.  Professor Ailsa Henderson, Head of the Politics and International Relations subject area, also welcomed the conference participants and CeSeR’s launch.  Professor Henderson connected CeSeR to a long history of security research in Politics and International Relations, including the department’s role in the ‘Edinburgh Conversations.’  These conversations were a series of meetings, held in Edinburgh and in Moscow, in the 1980s of military, political and academic figures from the Soviet Union, the United States and Britain who met to discuss difficult issues in East-West relations and prospects for easing tensions and reducing risks of nuclear war.
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Three decades later, CeSeR revives attention to security research, broadly defined.  The Centre’s most basic function is to serve as an umbrella for the diverse and rich research that is on-going across the University of Edinburgh and beyond, through external networks and collaborations.  The umbrella metaphor was behind the design of the launch conference.  CeSeR members teamed up in pairs and invited internal and external presenters.  The result was a diverse set of panels on small states and security policy, critical security studies, surveillance and privacy, just war theory, East European security, gender and security, and Middle East security.  In addition, there were two sessions devoted to Scotland and security.  This was connected to Dr Andrew Neal’s successful ESRC Seminar Series on Security in Scotland:  With or without constitutional change.  This seminar series ran from 2014 and examined security issues in the run-up to and period after the Scottish referendum.  The series informed academic and public understanding of Scottish security and was also meant to develop security research in Scotland.   For this reason, the Seminar Series help to fund CeSeR’s launch conference.

The participants at the conference – both presenters and audience members – were a mix of academics from several disciplines, policymakers, post graduate students, and undergraduate students.  Scholars and post-grads in attendance represented a number of different universities in Scotland (Edinburgh, Glasgow, St Andrews, and Stirling, Strathclyde), England (Durham, Lincoln, LSE, Newcastle, Open University, Oxford, Warwick), Belgium (Namur), Germany (Freiburg, Magdeburg, & Marburg), and Iceland (University of Iceland).  Insights and contributions from the presentations and queries and comments from the audience covered a wide-range of security questions.

Questions Addressed in CeSeR’s Launch Conference

  • How do small states act differently in international negotiations?
  • What does resilience mean for state-building?
  • Are drones unique in warfare and what is their ethical and legal standing?
  • What makes high policing and global policing legitimate?
  • How can intelligence and surveillance agencies be held accountable?
  • How can financial security be mobilized and connected to identity debates?
  • What is the role of authority and victory in the just war tradition?
  • What are the contours of nationalism and national identity in contemporary and historical politics in Ukraine and Russia?
  • Where to next for the women, peace and security agenda?
  • What is a feminist foreign and security policy?
  • What are the dynamics of sexual violence in conflict and how are militaries responding?
  • What are the contours of cyber-security, political Islam, and insurgency in current Middle East international relations?

The diversity of these topics was directly addressed by the conference’s keynote speaker, Professor Jef Huysmans (Open University).  Professor Huysmans’s talk, entitled ‘Security Unbound’ raised the challenges of the broad and multiple meanings of security found in contemporary security research.  He advised researchers to keep the strands of security ‘fractured’, while being sensitive to the connections that can be made.

These are challenges indeed and ones that CeSeR will confront and address in its future, as it works to promote to support and connect diverse forms of security research across disciplines.  As the Centre moves forward, it heeds the call of Professor Mackay in her opening remarks at the launch conference, ‘All Hail CeSeR.’

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Photo:  © jane barlow