My research is underpinned by a fascination with the concept of security, specifically the desire to better understand what security does in practice. As such I focus my attention on security governance and the implementation of security policy, here with a particular interest in capacity-building activities. Collectively this means that I study the content of security policy, how it is delivered along policy chains and with what impact on day-to-day activities. Indeed I am as intrigued about what some may describe as the small things, the procedural, even (incorrectly in my view!) the mundane, as I am with the grand strategies out of which most policies emerge. Institutional structures, compliance and auditing processes, the relationship between different security stakeholders, are all the kind of issues I examine. This research objective emerges from my belief that the desire for, and pursuit of, security shapes lives universally and on a continual basis, and as such should be better understood.
I draw predominantly upon insights from Security Studies literature in my work, although I am also interested in literature on leadership, decision-making, organisational development and community-building and thinking through the ways insights from this literature might relate to the security field. Although security is an essentially contested concept, I regard Paul Williams’ overarching definition of the concept, located in his edited book Security Studies: An Introduction (2008, p. 5), as a useful starting point. Security, Williams notes, ‘…is most commonly associated with the alleviation of threats to cherished values; especially those which, if left unchecked, threaten the survival of a particular referent object in the near future’.
In all my research I embrace what could be described as non-traditional approaches to security. More specifically, I understand the label ‘non-traditional’ to refer, in very basic and broad terms, to those approaches which embrace the conceptualisation of security as socially constructed. Here the central assumption made is that our understanding of what it means to be secure, what issues are regarded as security issues, indeed what is regarded as the reality of security as a whole is constructed inter-subjectively through processes of negotiation and contestation. This approach means that I generally embrace a qualitative research methodology, utilising methods such as discourse analysis and semi-structured interviews to examine security.
My principal research interest is in maritime security, in particular port and coastal security.
My interest in ports stem from the important position they play as nodes in the global supply chain, hubs in the transport network and as border management locations. I conceptualise ports as geographic sites encapsulating a variety of vessels, facilities and associated practices, which, in security terms, could be both targets of criminality and violence and/or vulnerable spaces exploited by those with the intent to commit criminal and violent acts elsewhere. I understand coastal security in wider terms as encapsulating the whole coastline, including ports but also harbours and inlets, out to the limit of a state’s territorial waters (12 nautical miles from the baseline). My interest in this space principally stems from its immediate connection to ports.
Unsurprisingly in the context of my overall research objective, when thinking about the security challenges associated with ports and coastal areas and the response to them, I am particularly interested in maritime security governance and the implementation of security policy, with a particular interest in maritime security capacity-building activities. In general terms I understand governance as encapsulating the rules and regulations established, alongside the resources deployed, in order to respond to presented security challenges. Capacity-building meanwhile encapsulates the ways and means through which perceived gaps between what should and can be done in terms of enhancing maritime security are addressed. Across my maritime security research I seek to illustrate the (in)security nexus between land and sea and its particular importance for achieving more sustainable development. This stems from a more holistic conceptualisation of maritime security influenced by the concepts of human and societal security.
I also maintain supplementary research interests in international terrorism and counterterrorism efforts, critical infrastructure protection, the foreign, defence and security policies of the United Kingdom, the work of the Commonwealth, the security considerations of Island States, and the security profile of rising powers.
My interests are evident in my research activities, which currently revolve around two, interconnected workstreams.
1) ‘Responding to Illicit Trafficking and Smuggling: capacity-building efforts in Small Island Developing States.’
In this workstream I am interested in shedding further light on the maritime security considerations of Small Island Developing States (SIDS). To help do this I seek to better understand those activities undertaken to reduce the propensity for SIDS to be transit nodes in illicit trafficking and smuggling through an examination of capacity-building efforts in relation to port and coastal security. Many SIDS are in significant geo-strategic positions with regards to global illicit trafficking and smuggling activities, finding themselves as transit nodes in the movement of both people and goods. This position has real, negative consequences for the SIDS, challenging broader development efforts by undermining economic growth and creating political and social instability. Regionally my initial focus is on the Western Indian Ocean and I have received funding from Coventry University to undertake a pilot study in this workstream.
2) ‘Enhancing Maritime Security: what role for the public?’
Debates about enhancing maritime security, particularly when focused on efforts to respond to piracy, have predominantly examined the role played by state actors alongside the private sector. Influenced by witnessing the growth in the number of what I call ‘resilient citizens’ in the context of responses to international terrorism in the United Kingdom (see here), alongside my ongoing Economic and Social Research Council funded seminar series which has looked at the way in which maritime insecurity impacts upon the lives of vulnerable populations such as coastal communities and seafarers (see here); I am interested in mapping out and better understanding the role the public play in enhancing maritime security. Questions I am interested in include: How do these populations experience maritime (in)security? What mechanisms are in place to enable these populations to help respond to maritime (in)security? Should they have such responsibilities? What are the consequences of public engagement? How should the public and civil society organisations work with the state and private sectors?
In terms of my previous research you can read my PhD thesis on the securitisation of UK maritime infrastructure in the context of responses to international terrorism here.
You can learn more about my publications, research funding and presentations here.