Languages of Security in the Asia-Pacific

College of Asia and the Pacific, Australian National University

Languages of Security in the Asia-Pacific header image 3


By Matthew Hill

**This page is a sample from the lexicon introduction and is not for redistribution.


Approaching Languages of Security

Language plays a tremendous role in human affairs. It serves as a means of cooperation and as a weapon of conflict. With it, men can solve problems, erect the towering structures of science and poetry – and talk themselves into insanity and social confusion.

– Irving J. Lee[1]


This volume seeks to engage with a vital, but under-explored question at the inter-disciplinary juncture of linguistics, international relations, and area studies: namely, what role does language play in shaping understandings and interpretations of security in the Asia-Pacific? In examining this issue, analysis has focused on identifying and explicating specific terms and their usage, framing the role of language in defining the practical realities of security in the region. The chapters that follow are formatted as sub-lexicons, containing insights into perceptions and attitudes towards both key terms within the international security discourse from across the Asia-Pacific, and indigenous concepts unique to specific cultures and nations from North Korea to India. The result is a survey of the diversity of the impact of language and communication on security across the region.

This introductory paper has the triple objectives of a) surveying the state of the literature on the relationship between language and security, b) identifying the key methodological elements that frame the interdisciplinary approach to the Languages of Security project, and c) identifying the key themes that have arisen out of the research. The intention is to provide background for readers to engage with the lexicon as a whole, while hopefully encouraging further debate both between disciplines and across the region regarding the practical and theoretical implications of the intersection of language and security in the Asia-Pacific.

Such a debate is sorely needed. For much of the post-war period, the disciplinary consensus within security studies has taken a jaundiced view of the relevance of the unique, specific, and particular considerations of actual conflict. Driven primarily by positivist conceptions of knowledge, the discipline sought to focus on developing concrete universal theories of national power, military force, and the threat of organised violence they pose. This drive to emulate the scientific pursuit of ‘natural laws’ has been relatively uncharitable to non-material, less quantifiable considerations. Consequently, it is only recently, with the inroads made by post-modern and constructivist thought, that these objectivist conceptions have been challenged, leading to both a more ecumenical approach to the analysis of security, and a complementary willingness to critically analyse the deeper social, linguistic, cultural, and communicative factors which define security realities. It is this research agenda that motivates this volume.

Analysis will proceed firstly by exploring the scope of the relationship between language and security, incorporating recent developments in the literature as well as canonical contributions to the field. Following this introduction, the project’s specific focus on the local variations in the linguistic conceptions of security across the Asia-Pacific will be outlined, and with it, the methodological underpinnings of its key contributing disciplines: security studies and Asian studies. Reconciliation will be attempted between the divergent epistemological assumptions of these two disciplines, with the aim of identifying a pragmatic synthesis. Finally, the key research themes from the lexicons will be identified and explored.

In approaching this analysis, this survey will harness a four-fold typology of security terms.[2] Type A terms represent ‘trigger’ concepts, those that frame our very understanding of  ‘security’. These include peace, stability, human security, harmony, order, face, and resilience, and reflect the notions that frame debate on security within and between societies. Type B terms are those that focus on referents, the objects of security, ranging from the state, to regime, race, region, religion, and community. Type C terms represents the range of harms that are to be covered by security, encompassing for example reputation, physical attack, race, and the state. Finally, Type D concepts are those that structure the strategies and responses to threats, such as offense, apology, ceasefire, deterrence and confidence building.


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