Re-imagining security discourse

Re-imagining security discourse

Duncan Hunter (U. Hull)  & Malcolm N. MacDonald (U. Warwick)

Security discourse has conventionally been conceived of either as the provenance of international relations, in which it is often analysed through the more abstract lens of ‘discourse theory’ informed by post-structuralist philosophy, or as the provenance of applied linguistics  in which it is often analysed through the lens of ‘discourse analysis’, informed by genre analysis, metaphor analysis and cognitive processing. In this presentation, we will describe how a chance encounter led us to embark on a seven year project which melded together an interdisciplinary theoretical framework and analytical approach to investigate the discourse of security which combined both poststructuralist philosophy and discourse analytical techniques, and was supported by evidence from an innovative application of corpus tools. In this talk we will discuss retrospectively – and hopefully dialogically – on how we worked our way through the various stages of our project to develop our various research outputs and eventually to pull them together into a monograph (MacDonald & Hunter, 2018, forthcoming). Inter alia:

  • We will reflect on how we situated our project in relation to previous CDA analyses of security discourse; and how ultimately, we arrived at a post-Foucauldian theoretical framework which drew on the work of Giorgio Agamben (2005) and Didier Bigo (2008) in order to enable us to generate a theory of discourse specific to the domains of security which we were analysing.
  • We will describe our tussle with the limitations and affordances and of a corpus-based techniques to arrive at an approach which combined both machine-based and human-interpretive analyses of four substantial corpora of security documents.
  • We will review how we arrived at the four different contexts of security discourse with which  we engaged over the seven years: UK national security, (MacDonald and Hunter 2013b, MacDonald, Hunter and O’Regan, J.P., 2013); the security operation surrounding the London Olympics (MacDonald and  Hunter 2013a); the discourse of nuclear proliferation, (MacDonald et al, 2015); and the discourse of the US security services (Hunter & MacDonald, 2017a, 2017b).
  • We will selectively ponder one or two of the principal findings from our analysis and speculate on some of the implications for the theorisation of discourse which arose from these.    


All published outputs from our project will be posted in the SCADS Dropbox folder prior to the session. You might like to select one of our papers to skim through in order to fuel a productive discussion.  


Agamben, Giorgio (2005).  State of Exception. Chicago:  University of Chicago Press.

Bigo, Didier (2008). “Globalised Insecurity: the Field and the Ban-opticon”.  In Terror, Insecurity and Liberty: Illiberal Practices of Liberal Regimes after 9/11.  (Ed.  Didier Bigo and A. Tsoukala) Abingdon: Routledge,  pp. 10-49.

MacDonald, M. N. & D. Hunter (2018, forthcoming). The Discourse of International Security. Palgrave Macmillan.

Hunter  D. & MacDonald, Malcolm N. (2017a). Arguments for Exception in US Security Discourse. Discourse and Society 28, 5 (Sept), pp. 493-511.

Hunter  D. & MacDonald, M. N. (2017b). The emergence of a security discipline in the post 9-11 discourse of U.S. security organisations. Critical Discourse Studies, 17(2)  206-222.

MacDonald, M. N., A. Homolar, S. Schnurr, L. Rethel and R. Vessey (2015). ‘Manufacturing Dissent: the discursive formation of nuclear proliferation (2006-2012). Discourse and Communication, 9 (2),  173-197.

MacDonald, M. N. and  D. Hunter. (2013a) ‘The Discourse of Olympic Security’. Discourse and Society, 24 (1), 66-88.

MacDonald, M. N. and D. Hunter D. (2013b). ‘Governmentality and the Discourse of Counter-Terrorism’. Critical Discourse Analysis across Disciplines 7 (1) 123-140.

MacDonald, M. N., D. Hunter and O’Regan, J.P. (2013). ‘Citizenship, community, and counter-terrorism: UK security discourse, 2001-2011’. Journal of Language and Politics, 12 (3), 445-473.