Debbie Lisle – Danger’s Other: Pleasure, Leisure & Travel


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

Debbie Lisle





Is it possible to think security by referring ideas of danger to understandings of life, livelihoods and lifestyles, instead of ready-made ‘objects’ of security such as sovereignty, territory, the nation-state, citizens, borders, and sociological categories such as class and gender?

When security is framed through constituent objects, the first critical move is to work out how danger constitutes itself, and is constituted, over and against its opposite. For me, some of the key forces that danger constructs itself against are not ‘safety’ or even ‘security’, but rather the ‘life, livelihoods and lifestyles’ that emerge around pleasure, leisure and travel. One way to work out this oppositional logic is to trace how, since the events of 9/11 (and more specifically the bombings of hotels, bars, and nightclubs in Bali and Mombasa in October / November 2002), the tourism and leisure industry as a whole has become a strategic ‘object’ of security that needs to be protected from the dangers of terrorism. Governments, policy-makers, media commentators and scholars in Tourism and Hospitality Studies have used the emerging rhetoric of ‘soft targets’ to make sense of how seemingly benign places like hotels and tourist attractions are now on the front line of the War on Terror. Tourism and leisure’s vast labour force, its wealth generation, its cultural capital, its advertising and marketing campaigns, its increasingly comprehensive insurance arrangements, its ever-regenerating fantasy landscapes, and most importantly, its material infrastructure, have all become objects of utility that can be calculated. These objects are accorded monetary value in terms of how much it will cost to protect the tourism and leisure industries from terrorist attacks (e.g. the hastily arranged flights home for tourists in Egypt January 2011), and how much potential revenue will be lost if the industry is attacked (e.g. American airline reservations and hotel occupancy dropped 50% after 9/11). Such calculations opened up the tourism industry to all kinds of invasive techniques and practices of security, surveillance and monitoring all in the name of protecting holiday makers and valuable tourism infrastructure from terrorism. The notion here is that if the securitizing process is successful, it will restore more robust and protected circuits of travel, cultural exchange and commerce all over the world, allow tourists to start travelling again, and allow the tourism industry – the world’s biggest – to start generating revenue again. What this suggests is that the rhetoric of soft targets helped, in part, to resolve the security / freedom contradiction that emerged after 9/11: it allowed people to keep travelling for business and pleasure, but it ensured that those travellers and their hosts were safe within the security envelope of the Coalition of the Willing.

There are, of course, further implications of an approach that traces the oppositional framing of danger / pleasure and reveals the manner in which travel, tourism, and leisure come to be taken as objects of security. For example, there is a powerful geopolitical imaginary at work here which positions those who value travel and cultural exchange squarely within the liberal moment – they are members of a diverse, global, cosmopolitan community that is committed to fighting radical Islamic terrorists who, apparently, do not value travel and cultural exchange in the same way. After the events of Bali and Mombasa especially, governments, media commentators and scholars in Tourism and Media Studies reproduced this geopolitical imaginary uncritically, which led to claims that (a) terrorists have a ‘Medieval’ mindset whereas we are ‘Modern’ (ignoring the clear Orientalist and racist implications of such a logic) and (b) Western tourists are entirely innocent victims of terrorism (ignoring that tourism is complicit in many forms of cultural imperialism and exploitation)

This kind of genealogical tracing of the opposition between danger / pleasure is a necessary move, but it is not sufficient. Too often it remains a static framing (both in space and in time) that lifts practices of tourism and leisure out of the realm of the political. I want to argue that danger’s relationship with pleasure, leisure and travel is, and has always been, a much more complex and entangled affair. Indeed, to think about danger outside of dominant discourses of security and risk requires us to move on from tracing static oppositional logics as if the assemblage of hierarchies and asymmetries never moves. What we need to think about is how oppositional logics such as danger / pleasure operate relationally; that is, how danger has always been juxtaposed with pleasure, leisure and travel in ways that do not necessarily or always privilege the urgency and drama of danger.

Thinking relationally requires an additional and rather difficult re-imagination: it requires us to think of oppositional logics such as danger / pleasure in terms of their constant mobility, circulation, adaptability and transformation. This suggests that the juxtaposition of danger with pleasure, leisure and travel is constantly mutating and reforming. Certainly there are times when it coalesces into a recognizable asymmetry that must be revealed and resisted (e.g. the War on Terror’s securitization of the leisure and tourism industry). But there are many other moments in which these two forces circulate, mutate, reverse and infect one another such that their constituent subjectivities and power relations are reassembled. To start thinking about how these mutations occur, we need to start not with oppositions, but rather with the juxtapositions of danger / pleasure, leisure, travel:

Experiences of pleasure, leisure and travel in martial contexts (e.g. a soldier’s thrill at killing enemies; the voyeurism of watching war and playing war games; the leisure infrastructures accompanying force deployment; the travel opportunities afforded by active service and R&R)

War’s mobilization of existing leisure and travel infrastructure (e.g. troop requisitioning of hotels; soccer stadia used for mass killings; hotels used for detention and deportation)

Leisure and tourism experiences that seek out danger (e.g. journeys to war zones immediately post-conflict by journalists, artists, amateur war reporters) or take conflict and war as their object (e.g. battlefield tourism; War tours; museum commemorations of war; war re-enactments).


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