SEMINAR: Securitization Theory:Debates and Doings

Course content

The theory of securitization has established itself worldwide both as a seemingly quite operational tool to structure empirical studies and as one of the focal points of several major debates in security studies. Or more bluntly put: as a favored target for a sizable and varied critique. Many debaters have noticed that the theory especially during the 1990s was quite receptive to criticism and continued its development in exchanges with other ‘schools’ (Critical Security Studies, Agenda setting theory, feminism, Paris School) as well as ad-hoc critics. In contrast to this, many critical articles from recent years have gone unanswered and some noted problems with the theory and its application in empirical analysis have not been handled. An increasingly influential interpretation of the state of theory development depicts two (or more) competing versions of securitization theory, the original speech act based one from Copenhagen (sometimes called ‘philosophical version’) and a more inclusive and process-centred one spearheaded by Thierry Balzacq (sociological version). The time seems ripe for revisiting securitization theory – as theory.


A second reason for re-assessing and possibly updating the theory in addition to the load of theoretical criticisms is constituted by the evolution of security affairs. The original theory emerged and evolved in close contact with the security issues of the day – with theoretical moves often prompted by the need to intervene in security debates. Much has happened on the security agenda since the ‘Framework book’ was published in 1998. Climate change has taken on increased urgency, terrorism prompted a global war on it, and more recently military security has re-entered Europe as a security concern. While it would be possible to lean back complacently and notice that the title of a Copenhagen School book coming up for its 25 years anniversary seems topical today: ‘Identity, Migration and the new (!?) security agenda in Europe’ (Wæver et al 1993), it is more appropriate to question both whether the concept of ‘societal security’ promoted in that book actually fits current populist dynamics and also the overall constellation of security might have changed as reflected in debates on risk society and ontological security. A second main context for evaluations of the theory will be how well it keeps up with ongoing transformations of the actual security field.


In this re-assessment of the theory, particular attention will be paid to what possible improvements of the theory can be identified and conversely what fundamental errors of construction can be identified that inherently limit any possible evolution of the theory. Thus, a central focus will be discussion of ’theory development’ and the two main reference points for assessing this: philosophical-analytical criteria about the quality of a theory and empirical-political-practical ones concerning the ability of a theory to relate productively to actual security practices. In addition, speech act theory will be given a certain pride of place due to idiosyncrasies of the teacher. Not only philosophy of language but also philosophy of science (especially theory of theory) will come into play as part of these discussions of theory development.


The seminar is expected to serve for participants as 1) an introduction to one specific theory, securitization theory, 2) an insight into the general field of security studies, especially the various mostly European ‘critical’ schools, 3) a state of the art discussion of the current and future shape of securitization theory, 4) an overview of possible forms of usage of the theory and thus a possible launching pad for own analyses, 5) understanding of a the dynamics of theory developments including the motivations and considerations by those actors articulating theory as well as the structure of the field of debate on security theory, 6) an introduction to the usage of meta-theoretical and philosophy of science criteria for assessing ‘what is a good theory?’ and what improvements of a theory are progress and which ones actually water it out or undermine it?



The course will be structured under headings close to this:

  • The Idea – what is securitization and in what context was the concept invented?
  • Conceptual History of ‘Security’ + Disciplinary History and Sociology of ‘Security Studies’
  • Early Critics of Securitization Theory (McSweeney, Knudsen, Hansen, Williams)
  • Aberystwyth – Paris – Copenhagen: Three European Schools?
  • Balzacq et al.: another theory of securitization?
  • Empirical applications (late 20th century): migrants and minorities, securitized and desecuritized
  • Weeks 12-13-14 are class-free – due to Easter as well as the teacher’s conferencing
  • Discussion of student papers
  • Speech Act Theory Revisited
  • Climate
  • Religion
  • Ontological Security
  • The Debates over Risk, Everydayness and Positive Security
  • Theory of theory – philosophy of science and theoryness
  • Conclusions


An alternative title for the course would be ‘Securitization Theory: The Copenhagen School and its Critics’. The Copenhagen School is often defined through three constitutive ideas: 1) the sector perspective on security (economic, military, political, societal and environmental), 2) regional security complexes, and 3) securitization (i.e. the very idea of security as a speech act). In this course, emphasis will be placed on part three with a certain inclusion of number one, but practically no coverage of the regional security dimension. In this respect, it is not a general evaluation of the Copenhagen School or all critics of it. Focus will be on ‘securitization’ and on ‘securitization theory’ as a theory of security developed by the Copenhagen School. The chosen title is meant to centre attention on the issue of what we are doing when we securitize and when we theorize security. 


Only open to master students


Learning outcome

Knowledge and understanding

Students will obtain in-depth knowledge of various versions of securitization theory and their application to different sets of security issues. In particular, the students will gain a deepened understanding of the dynamics and relevance of theory development: why do theories develop the way they do, how do we assess what constitutes improvement and deterioration respectively, and how can I productively mobilize a given form of theory in an empirical analysis that produces both empirical insight and theoretical progress?



Students will hone their ability to analyze security issues as well as the theories used for this purpose.



The participants will gain an ability to engage competently in academic debates on security theory (and by implication other theories), understanding both the socio-scientific contexts of theory development and the nature of the field of political science scholarship. Also they will improve their ability to analyze security challenges and controversies in a reflective and productive manner.

The main format will be 2 hours sessions based on readings with a presentation by the teacher and discussion in groups and/or all together. Much emphasis will be placed on actual discussions, so the seminar really presupposes preparations, i.e. active reading of the texts. Participants are to write a mid-term paper during weeks 12-14 (no teaching those weeks). The paper should be a literature review of a part of the field i.e. it has to map a particular debate or the applications of securitization theory to a specific issue area or case. In addition to a paper of 5 pages, the student has to produce a graphic representation of the mapping and make a brief presentation in class on the basis of this (session 7, week 15). The final paper can be a development of the analysis begun in this midterm paper.

  • Barry Buzan, Jaap de Wilde and Ole Wæver, Security: A new framework of analysis, Boulder CO: Lynne Rienner 1998.


  • Thierry Balzacq (ed.) Securitization Theory: How security problems emerge and dissolve, London: Routledge 2011.


  • Ole Wæver, unpublished drafts of chapters from a monograph under completion.

Participants are expected to have a general understanding of theories of international relations equivalent to the department’s course in ‘International Relations’ at the BA. Knowledge of a particular policy area (i.e. climate, migration, or war) is useful as well as an openness to sociology of science, philosophy of science and theories of language.


Session 7 is devoted to a discussion of the midterm papers and in addition, the participants will meet individually with the teacher after the course to get feedback on the final paper.

7,5 ECTS
Type of assessment
Written examination
Individual written
Marking scale
7-point grading scale
Censorship form
No external censorship
Criteria for exam assessment


  • Grade 12 is given for an outstanding performance: the student lives up to the course's goal description in an independent and convincing manner with no or few and minor shortcomings
  • Grade 7 is given for a good performance: the student is confidently able to live up to the goal description, albeit with several shortcomings
  • Grade 02 is given for an adequate performance: the minimum acceptable performance in which the student is only able to live up to the goal description in an insecure and incomplete manner
  • Category
  • Hours
  • Class Instruction
  • 28
  • English
  • 28