On Backlash: Emotion and the Politicisation of Security

In: European Review of International Studies
Eric Van Rythoven Carleton University, Ottawa

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This article explores the role of emotion in the politicisation of security through the concept of backlash: the idea of visceral and reactionary episodes where security claims are adamantly rejected and the subject of ‘security’ becomes intensely controversial. Starting by examining the role of emotion in politicisation, I make the case for viewing emotions as playing a key role in the distribution of certainty in security discourse. Building on this epistemic view of emotion, I review how backlash is understood in other fields before tailoring a definition for security studies centered around four constitutive features: reaction, hostility, emotion, and contagion. The final section focuses on the politicising effects of backlash including the mobilisation of backlash movements, the intensification of controversy, and arena shifting. The discussion concludes by suggesting that the concept of backlash offers a promising research agenda for those inquiring into the politicisation of security.

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