Published on August 2, 2017
Stephen J. Collier, Chair of the Graduate Program in International Affairs, was recently awarded the David Edge Prize by the Society of Social Studies of Science. Collier, and his colleague, University of Southern California’s Andrew Lakoff, were awarded the prize for their 2015 article “Vital Systems Security: Reflexive Biopolitics and the Government of Emergency” which combines theoretical and historical analysis to outline the lineage, and trace the nature of of the concept of “vital systems security.”
Collier and Lakoff argue that the early 20th century saw the development of security mechanisms designed to protect essential and interlinked systems on which collective life depended, such as transportation, electricity, and water. What began as a project of preparedness for nuclear war during the Cold War expanded to domains beyond national security. In the article, the authors claim that vital systems security operates as a “reflexive biopolitics” which seek to manage risks created by modernization. The authors assert that rather than necessarily requiring “extraordinary executive powers,” vital systems security “provides a ready-to-hand toolkit for administering emergencies.”
In its assessment of Collier and Lakoff’s article, the Society for Social Studies of Science noted that the authors not only expand on existing literature on biopolitics, but also engage with risk society theory and provide a framework for assessing governmental techniques of disaster management. The Society of Social Studies for Science also praised the author’s argument that the concept of “state of exception” was over-utilized, restricting forms of governance as well as shaping and normalizing the way the state exercises power during emergencies.
Stephen J. Collier has conducted research in Russia, Georgia, and the United States, and has published on a range of topics including post-socialism, neoliberalism, infrastructure, social welfare, planning, and contemporary security. He is author of Post-Soviet Social: Neoliberalism, Social Modernity, Biopolitics (Princeton University Press, 2011), and co-editor of Biosecurity Interventions (Columbia University Press, 2008), and Global Assemblages (Blackwell, 2005). He is completing a book on the government of catastrophes in the United States during the 20th century.