Sub-theme 27: Practices of Organizing Security: Ethics, Law and Force [merged with sub-theme 59]


Call for Papers

Law enforcement, armed forces and various manifestations of organizations producing security (and being secured) have long captured the imagination of sociologists and organization scholars. There are good reasons for this and a wealth of now classic works has emerged from studying them. All at once, these organizations are unique and universal. Producing security makes organizations deeply unique, fascinating for how they amplify (sometimes ad extremis) features of organizational life otherwise much less salient: uncertainty and risk in work are dramatically greater than in the average office and ideas of control, discipline, service and uniformity much more persistent than many other forms of work. At the same time, the organizations engaged in the production of security are so very exemplary of organizations and societies in general, providing a ‘micro-cosmos’ or ‘laboratory’ for the study of issues like occupational identity, organizational culture, (resistance to) technological change, inclusion and exclusion in the organization of security (who is assumed to provide, need and challenge security), and many others. Dramatically and subtly, they also influence everyday lives and societies in ways direct and indirect, material and ideological, psychological and political (Wildavsky, 1991; King & Murray, 2001). No wonder that their proper organization has so long engaged seminal thinkers.
As they always have, these organizations are currently changing and the end-point and intermediate states of those changes are uncertain and unclear. The boundaries between public and private provision of ‘security services’ are in flux as states increasingly relinquish their monopoly on the use of force (Heinecken, 2014). State and non-state actors increasingly demand and supply security internationally and domestically and the ‘market for security’ is becoming a real market in ways that it has not been in the Western world since perhaps the Renaissance (Scahill, 2008; McFate, 2015). Technology and innovation is pushing at the boundaries of how security work is done and, quite possibly, contesting its very nature. Big data is enabling new, but epistemologically uncertain and ethically unprecedented, ways of policing the national body (Joh, 2014), while drones and robotics question the premises of ‘presence’ in the exercise of security (Sharkey, 2008). All the while, security organizations are under institutional pressures to conform to the ideological tenets and managerial fashions of the day. New Public Management, at least in Europe, has brought about new ways of managing and thinking about the production of security as similar and comparable to other forms of (public) service production (Anderson & Tengblad, 2009). Individually and interactively, what do these changes mean for how security and its production get organized around us? Scenarios that before seemed to belong to the realm of science fiction now seem tremendously real and present.
But, for all these changes, the organizations most visibly associated with producing security also remain, obstinately or heroically depending on your view, the same. The threats they face change and dealing with this causes conflict, as it always has (Morison, 1968; Weiner, 2010). The police and military organizations that we recognize as providers of state security remain large, hierarchical and deeply ideological organizations with strong cultures, clearly gendered work identities and a penchant for secrecy, confidentiality and bureaucratic control of information.
In this sub-theme, we hope to provide a platform for exploring some of these issues, understanding how the production of security and the organizations engaged in it are changing (and whether this is towards a ‘good organization’ of security). We invite papers interested in police, military, agencies and companies engaged in security in various forms. Papers might range from micro-level examinations of how security work gets accomplished, under what tensions and understanding organizational questions of the dilemmas and ethics of change and stability, to macro-discussions of the role and ideals of the state in producing and monopolizing the production of security. The sub-theme, then, will seek to create a discussion between differing perspectives of the changing and constant nature of these organizations, the organizational and societal consequences of changes and how they can be studied.
It is certainly true that security organizations can provide extreme and therefore illuminating cases for many organizational issues (e.g. culture, control, legitimacy, power, knowledge, diversity, identity, risk, PR and branding) and social dynamics more generally. It is certainly also true that these organizations can have profound impact on everyday life, which merits scholarly attention. But what role do these organizations play today? What are the key consequences of and what tensions characterize their action? How can these consequences and tensions be most interestingly and clearly leveraged? How does one go about studying these organizations, cloaked as they (by necessity, perhaps?) are by secrecy and organizational culture, and critically engaging with them? We invite all submissions to reflect on these questions. By implication, we are open to a wide range of conceptual and methodological approaches and welcome a diversity of submissions.


  • Anderson, T., & Tengblad, S. (2009): “When complexity meets culture: new public management and the Swedish police.” Qualitative Research in Accounting & Management, 6 (1/2), 41–56.
  • Heinecken, L. (2014): “Outsourcing Public Security. The Unforeseen Consequences for the Military Profession.” Armed Forces & Society, 40 (4), 625–646.
  • Joh, E.E. (2014): “Policing by numbers: Big Data and the fourth amendment.” Washington Law Review, 89 (1), 35–68.
  • King, G., & Murray, C.J.L. (2001): “Rethinking Human Security.” Political Science Quarterly, 116 (4), 585–610.
  • McFate, S. (2015): The Modern Mercenary: Private Armies and What They Mean for World Order. Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press.
  • Morison, E.E. (1968): Men, Machines and Modern Times. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.
  • Scahill, J. (2008): Blackwater: The Rise of the World’s Most Powerful Mercenary Army. New York: Nation Books.
  • Sharkey, N. (2008): “The Ethical Frontiers of Robotics.” Science, 322, 1800–1801.
  • Weiner, S.K. (2010): “Organizational interests vs. Battlefield needs: The US Military and Mine Resistant Ambush Vehicles in Iraq.” Polity, 42, 461–482.
  • Wildavsky, A. (1991): Searching for Safety. New Brunswick, N.J.: Transaction Books.