The Polysemy of Security Community-Building: Toward a “People-Centered” Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN)?

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Martel, Stéphanie
Southeast Asia; International Relations; Security communities; Discourse; Diplomacy; Security; Regionalism; ASEAN
This article contributes to ongoing debates on security community-building in international relations (IR) by focusing on the productive role of discursive contestation in this process. It builds on recent work associated with the “practice” turn, discourse theory, and the study of security communities in the Global South to propose a new understanding of how the diversification of security governance impacts security community-building. The article develops an original discourse-based approach that conceptualizes security community-building as a polysemic, omnidirectional, and contested process in which social agents debate the meaning of security and the boundaries of community. It applies this approach to the case of Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) to show how contestation over the organization's identity as a security community “in the making” takes place along two dimensions. First, different (and potentially incompatible) versions of the community compete for dominance. Second, contestation also unfolds “internally,” among social agents who agree on which version ought to prevail. I illustrate this part of the argument through an examination of the debate over ASEAN's identity as a “people-centered” community. The demonstration is supported by the analysis of “texts” enacted in the discursive field where the security community is talked into existence, as well as interviews with practitioners.