Ordinary security: an ethnography of security practices and perspectives in Tel Aviv
Anthropological approaches to contexts of violence and conflict often focus on the exceptional and extraordinary moment of violence or its memory, leaving little room for the ordinary ways in and through which much conflict is lived. How might conflict and violence permeate ordinary practice, daily events and experience? What about the mundane and anticipatory moments through which violence may be predicted, anticipated and waited upon? This thesis explores ordinary security perspectives and practices among Jewish-Israelis in Tel Aviv. It is based on 21 months of ethnographic fieldwork among security guards, civil guards and city residents between 2005 and 2007 as they do and discuss bitachon (security). Participant observation with street-level security staff, with civil guard patrols and within the critical activities and conversations at a local neighbourhood kiosk café all explore practices, perspectives and experiences of security. This thesis argues that security practices that are often invoked as a precaution against danger and a provider of protection may paradoxically produce a sense of even more danger, uncertainty and insecurity. Security is not only about spectacular conflicts or strategic concepts but is also engaged with and experienced through mundane and ordinary social life. As well as claiming to protect the nation-state or managing strategic threats, security is also a kind of practice and emotion; an atmosphere, activity, and a feeling. Security is not only about extraordinary events and explosive situations, but also about a particular kind of waiting; an uncertain and boring anticipation of potential violence to come. It may be less about performance, legibility, or defence against dangerous others, than the identification of intimate and illegible populations, the playing out of racialized notions of danger and the ethno-nationalist uncertainties of the nation-state. In this context, collective anxieties and insecurities may be brought about not by the scale or magnitude of security threats, but by the perceived incapacity and protective impotence of the state. This thesis contributes to the anthropology of conflict and violence, the anthropology of Israel/Palestine and urban anthropology more generally. It points towards ways in which anthropology may meaningfully contribute to and enter dialogue with security studies, and argues in favour of an ordinary approach to the analysis of conflict and security.