Alternative Theoretical Tools for Thinking about Security and Urban Planning

In many nations, military professionals, sectarian militias, and other security actors often are critical agents in the planning, design, implementation, and management of urban planning. Yet, security studies scholarship offers little to understand the intersection of security and governance, tending to associate these outcomes with “authoritarian” or “weak” states. In an article for Security Dialogue, DUSP alumna Asmaa Elgamal (PhD ‘23) analyzes spatial planning and land management practices in Egypt and Lebanon to propose two concepts, ‘hyphenated identities’ and the ‘boundless security field,’ as alternative theoretical tools for thinking about security.

“Existing theories of security often assume a context of Western liberal democracy in which security practices are understood to operate within spaces of exception – that is, circumstances, policy domains, places, and populations to which governing norms do not apply,” says Elgamal. “Yet the lived experience of much of the Global South, and particularly the MENA region, suggests that security politics are – and, more importantly, always have been – ubiquitous. Security practices in these contexts are not limited to exceptional measures employed to challenge a set of real or imagined existential threats, but also encompass a range of governance tools, such as state planning, land management, and regulatory practices employed in the everyday management of state affairs.”

In her paper Elgamal examines the categories of actors who perform dual roles as managers of security and managers of other governance matters and how the extent of their influence demonstrates the blending of security logics in the structures of the state. 

Elgamal is the Hicham Alaoui Postdoctoral Fellow at the Weatherhead Center for International Affairs at Harvard University. Her research centers on the connections between development planning, militarism and securitization, and colonial history, particularly as these themes are enmeshed in the politics of the Middle East and North Africa.


Read Elgamal's full paper, "Towards theorizing from the Arab non-periphery: Hyphenated identities and the boundless security field"