1st Edition

State Secrecy and Security Refiguring the Covert Imaginary

By William Walters Copyright 2021
    190 Pages 7 B/W Illustrations
    by Routledge

    190 Pages 7 B/W Illustrations
    by Routledge

    In State Secrecy and Security: Refiguring the Covert Imaginary, William Walters calls for secrecy to be given a more central place in critical security studies and elevated to become a core concept when theorising power in liberal democracies.

    Through investigations into such themes as the mobility of cryptographic secrets, the power of public inquiries, the connection between secrecy and place-making, and the aesthetics of secrecy within immigration enforcement, Walters challenges commonplace understandings of the covert and develops new concepts, methods and themes for secrecy and security research. Walters identifies the covert imaginary as both a limit on our ability to think politics differently and a ground to develop a richer understanding of power.

    State Secrecy and Security offers readers a set of thinking tools to better understand the strange powers that hiding, revealing, lying, confessing, professing ignorance and many other operations of secrecy put in motion. It will be a valuable resource for scholars and students of security, secrecy and politics more broadly.

    Introduction: Secrecy, Security, and the Covert Imaginary

    1 Deciphering Venona: Time, Space, and the Mobilization of Secrecy

    2 On Orford Ness, An Island Full of National Secrets

    3 The 9/11 Commission: Secrecy and Public Inquiry

    4 Anti-Deportation: Migration and the Aesthetics of Secrecy



    William Walters teaches politics at Carleton University, Ottawa, Canada, where he is the Public Affairs Research Excellence Chair (2019-22). He is the author of Unemployment and Government: Genealogies of the Social (2000) and Governmentality: Critical Encounters (Routledge 2012), co-author of Governing Europe: Discourse, Governmentality, and European Integration (Routledge, 2005), and co-editor of Global Governmentality (Routledge, 2004) and Viapolitics: Borders, Migration, and the Power of Locomotion (forthcoming).

    "State Secrecy and Security reverses the inattention to secrecy in critical security studies and proposes to unsettle the limits to how we understand secrecy and security. Walters probes how secrecy is problematised and assembled across a range of complex sites, from weapons testing to public inquiries and immigration enforcement. The book will be crucial reading for critical scholars analysing techno-social apparatuses of security and interdisciplinary research grappling with secrecy methodologically and conceptually." - Claudia Aradau, Professor of International Studies, King’s College London.

    "William Walters makes an excellent case for putting secrecy at the center of critical security studies. He expands the concept of secrecy to cover such topical and pervasive practices as strategic ignorance and conspiracies of silence. His case studies then show how these practices operate through emotions such as jealousy and fear, and how they reinforce social hierarchies. His book deserves to be widely read. It should inspire exciting new research agendas." - Mark Bevir, Professor of Political Science, University of California, Berkeley.

    "Can you keep a secret? You can? Well, just between you and me, this is a great book. William Walters looks at the ways that secrecy is used to organize and structure state security. He does so through four compelling case studies that examine espionage and cryptanalysis; covert military research sites; national inquiries and disclosure; and the public secret of immigration deportation. State Secrecy and Security exposes how covert imaginaries are constituted and reconstituted through places, technologies, publics and artefacts so that they become core to projects to both the making and unmaking of national security. You could keep all of these fascinating insights all to yourself. But you won’t want to. You’ll want to tell everyone you know." - Emily Gilbert, Professor of Geography, University of Toronto.

    "Through a meticulous probing of a series of case studies in secrecy, Walters exposes and unravels the covert imaginary at the heart of our political condition. This imaginary involves a matrix of assumptions, structures, images, and attitudes about secrecy that limit our political understanding, impoverish our ability to understand state power, and thwart attempts at critical analysis of security. The challenge, he argues, is not to define, delimit or measure secrecy, but to establish the political work that secrecy does, in the hope that we might then start to imagine politics differently." - Mark Neocleous, Professor of the Critique of Political Economy, Brunel University London.