Scholars advocating a sociological view of securitisation have criticised the Copenhagen school for its overemphasis on the grammar of security and its neglect of the social situatedness of securitisation. Accordingly, these critics have also pointed to the relevance of rhetorical strategy, that is, how agents tailor their securitising moves to specific audiences and contexts. This article advances our knowledge of rhetorical strategies of securitisation in two ways. First, it introduces the four rhetorical appeals of authority, fidelity, presence, and emotionality as text-level factors that facilitate the success of securitising moves. Second, the article focuses on rhetorical assemblage and argues that narrative theory enables us to gain a nuanced understanding of how securitising actors seek to create the four rhetorical appeals by selecting and combining discursive resources. To illustrate the added value of this theoretical framework, I use the documentary movies Countdown to Zero and Nuclear Tipping Point. These documentaries are securitising moves that seek to persuade a public audience in the United States of the existential threat that nuclear weapons pose and to mobilise this audience to support the cause of disarmament.
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The label of ‘rhetorical strategy’ is more accurate than the two alternative labels as it highlights the persuasive/argumentative and situated character of securitisation. As James Martin (2014: 9) notes, ‘[t]o explore rhetoric is to consider how, at specific moments and locations, ideas are fashioned into arguments with a certain force and direction in order to win the assent of an audience’. Buzan et al. also point to the rhetorical dimension of securitisation by referring to the ‘particular rhetoric and semiotic structure’ (Buzan et al. 1998: 25) of securitising moves.
These qualities of securitising actors are at the core of the so-called Paris school of security studies. See, for example, Bigo and Tsoukala (2008).
Although Aristotle argued in his writings that rhetors actively construct these characteristics (Amossy 2001), an audience may already attribute these characteristics as a consequence of past communicative encounters.
Debra Hawhee (2011) argues for a more encompassing treatment of the visual in rhetorical studies. She notes that scholars of rhetoric should not only address visual rhetoric as the persuasive use of visual objects and perspectives but also what she labels ‘rhetorical vision’, that is, ‘rhetoric’s role in sense perception and the importance of developing a rhetorical style that infuses words with perceivable movement and life, with visualizable action’ (Hawhee 2011: 140).
See Nedeau et al. (1995: 560).
See also van Veeren (2011).
Secondary locations that appear throughout the documentary include countries of the former Soviet Union, Pakistan, and Iran.
The label and concept of focalisation were originally developed by Gérard Genette (1983/1988).
As Sanford and Emmott (2012: 173) note, identification only follows from the use of the generic you if it ‘describes certain experiences that are sufficiently general to parallel any reader’s everyday experience’.
See also Binns and Ryder (2015).
Glenn Hook (1985: 67) labels these two perspectives as top-down and bottom-up, or perpetrator- and victim-perspectives on nuclear weapons.
This syllogism has been very powerful but not uncontested in the post-9/11 debate about nuclear proliferation. Brian Michel Jenkins (2008: 191), for example, argues that ‘[e]ven jihadists must calibrate their violence or risk isolation. While asserting that they are justified in killing millions, they argue among themselves about the application of violence’.
Countdown to Zero also includes clips that show soldiers and civilians cheering after China’s first nuclear test (0:25:10), people celebrating in the street after India’s nuclear test in 1974 (0:25:48) and a North Korean rally with imagery of a launching missile (0:27:52). The images of cheering crowds suggest that the handling of nuclear weapons by these states is guided by emotions and impulses rather than rational reflection. According to Hugh Gusterson, this image of new nuclear-weapon states is the heart of what he – drawing on the work of Edward Said – calls ‘nuclear orientalism’ (1999: 123–28).
Bal refers to this type of narrator as a character-bound narrator (2009: pos. 631).
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Countdown to Zero (2010, dir. Lucy Walker, produced by Global Zero).
Nuclear Tipping Point (2010, dir. Ben Goddard, produced by the Nuclear Security Initiative).
This article received valuable input from presentations at the 2012 ISSS/ISAC Annual Conference in Chapel Hill, NC, and the 2014 Annual Convention of the ISA in Toronto. I also thank Ulla Jasper, Rens van Munster, Juha Vuori, three anonymous reviewers, and the editors of JIRD for their very helpful comments on earlier versions of the article, as well as Participant Media and the Nuclear Threat Initiative for granting me the permission to use still images of Countdown to Zero and Nuclear Tipping Point.
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Senn, M. The art of constructing (in)security: probing rhetorical strategies of securitisation. J Int Relat Dev 20, 605–630 (2017). https://doi.org/10.1057/jird.2016.7
- narrative theory
- nuclear disarmament
- rhetorical strategy