Cerelia Athanassiou- Changing the Global War on Terror: Who is the ‘Ready’ Citizen Arming Against?


Event Date: 21 February 2011
The River Room
King’s College London, Strand Campus
London WC2R 2LS

Problematising Danger

ESRC Seminar Series- Contemporary Biopolitical Security


Co-sponsored by the Biopolitics of Security Network,
and the Emerging Securities Research Unit @ Keele University

Cerelia Athanassiou
University of Bristol

Obama’s US Department of Homeland Security (DHS) has declared a determined move against the Global War on Terror’s (GWOT) ‘culture of fear’ towards a more reasoned, and ‘ready’, ‘culture of preparedness’ (Napolitano 2009). Yet, despite this commitment by the Obama administration to ‘de-securitise’ (Waever 1995) US responses to terrorism, understandings of threat and security remain similar to those articulated by Bush’s GWOT. Obama’s efforts to privilege calm over constant heightened security, and to equate the category of ‘terrorist’ with that of ‘criminal’ (rather than ‘war criminal’), are happening while a fearful population is being trained within a framework of war. Among the instruments of the DHS’s ‘Ready’ campaign is a newly mobilised citizenry, trained to detect, report and, if necessary, tackle individuals suspected of ‘terrorism’. These model citizens are supported in their efforts by resources such as the DHS website, which is becoming increasingly userfriendly and contains multiple sections dedicated to informing, and training, concerned citizens about the terrorist threat.1 These are all resources very much embedded in the tabloid framework of US politics (Debrix 2008), and are part of the Obama strategy of ‘change’. In this paper, I look at the DHS’s ‘Preparedness’ website section and the online resources it makes available for concerned citizens, like the YouTube video ad ‘The 8 Signs of Terrorism’2 and webinars on ‘preparedness’. The aim is to understand how the subject position of the American ‘us’ versus the terrorist ‘other’ is changing, if at all, from its previous articulations, by looking at the intertextualities with previous definitions and understandings of security, threat and danger.






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