Southeast Asia’s “obsession with rights”: Authoritarianism, security governance, and cultures of impunity

Authors: Samuel Henkin*, University of Kansas
Topics: Political Geography, Human Rights
Keywords: Security governance, Southeast Asia, violence, impunity, authoritarianism, state power
Session Type: Paper
Day: 4/7/2019
Start / End Time: 3:55 PM / 5:35 PM
Room: 8217, Park Tower Suites, Marriott, Lobby Level
Presentation File: No File Uploaded


Recent scholarly research on state power and governance regimes has drawn considerable attention to the social, political, and spatial dynamics of the rise in authoritarian forms of governance as a growing global phenomenon. While research on this “new authoritarianism” engenders a dynamism of epistemic inquiry in diverse modes of governance—authoritarianism, populism, fascism—the actual everyday practices continue to be undertheorized. Under the pretenses of a (global) security order whereby regimes use repressive (violent) actions, hyper-surveillance, and persuasive rhetoric, citizens’ liberties are continually eroded in the name of security, stability, and law and order. As the 50th anniversary of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) in 2017 passed, fundamental challenges of (elite) power consolidation and shortcomings of democratic governance proclaimed a guest list of “semi-authoritarian”, “almost-democracies”, and “unfree” states. This project is concerned with techniques of governance that dislocate democratic practices and processes and (re)shape the accountability and legitimacy of state power framed within greater discourses of “law and order” in Southeast Asia. It explores how security governance regimes in Southeast Asia employ state sanctioned violence—from lawful intervention in everyday spaces to unlawful killings—with ostensibly growing impunity. I examine how discursive and operative shifts in security-civilian relations blur juridical accountabilities and imbue the state with the legitimacy to pursue violent practices. It is a critical intervention in understanding state security politics that produce, enable, and give meaning to the productive capacities of violence in shaping spatialities of power in everyday life.

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