Security: An Australian Genealogy




Burke, Anthony

Journal Title

Journal ISSN

Volume Title



This thesis is a study of the deployment and operation of security through Australian political history. In doing so, it takes a distinctive approach to both the concept of security and the historical material which it encounters. Rather than seeing security as an ontologically stable concept or state of affairs, it analyses security as a political technology which has had a profound impact on the political, cultural and economic forms of life which have been held to characterise the Australian nation and the modernisation path of the Asia-Pacific region. In fact, it argues that security needs to be placed alongside a range of other economic, political, technological, philosophic and scientific developments as one of the key events of our modernity. By the beginning of the twentieth century security had been entrenched as a unique and pervasive form which combined 'totalising'and 'individualising' modes of power-here liberal constructions of atomistic, acquisitive subjectivity were integrated with a strong image of the nation-statel which became the principle for a movement of geopolitical power in which colonisation and trade were portrayed as progressive and universalising forces. In its practical operation, security thus combines modes of personal identity and discipline with macroeconomic management and international policy. The remainder of the thesis describes this technology's operation through the history of Australia and its region, from the initial impetus for colonisation in the desire of the British to rid their island of an entire criminal class, to the construction of an allegedly whole 'Australian' subject at Federation in confrontation with racial, industrial and geopolitical images of the Other. It then traces this politics of security and identity through the vast sacrifice of the Great War, the division and trauma of the Depression, the patriotic struggle for survival of the Pacific War, and the militarism and 'development' of the Cold War, concluding with a chapter which examines how dramatic surface changes in the national identity after 1969 were marred by an underlying continuity to which the violence and rigidity of the past remained essential. In this way the tragedies of East Timor, Cambodia or Soeharto's Indonesia were politically (and ontologically) continuous with the Vietnam war and the genocidal assault on Australia's Aboriginal peoples. The thesis concludes by speculating that a path beyond security will simultaneously empower subjects to challenge the forms of power which construct them and, at the level of the state and economy, will replace a coercive and exploitative relation to difference with an 'ethic of engagement' in which the Other might finally begin to speak on its own terms.






Thesis (PhD)

Book Title

Entity type

Access Statement

License Rights



Restricted until