Dr Martin Coward

IAS Fellow at Trevelyan College, Durham University (January – March 2015)

Martin works at the intersection of International Political Theory and Security Studies and is particularly concerned with questions of war, violence, (in)security, identity, and community. To date his research has focused on the conceptual understanding of (in)security and organised violence in an urban context, particularly the ‘urbanisation of security’, attacks on critical infrastructure and urbicide.

Martin’s current research addresses the political and ethical entailments of network thinking, particularly insofar as it legitimates various forms of violence. His work is informed by post-structuralist international theory and continental philosophy (especially the work of Martin Heidegger, Jean-Luc Nancy and William Connolly).

Prior to his appointment at the University of Manchester, Dr Coward was a Senior Lecture in International Politics at Newcastle University. His previous research featured two major strands: urbicide and infrastructures. His 2009 book Urbicide: The Politics of Urban Destruction marks the culmination of a major research project to outline a conceptual understanding of assaults on cities by ethnic-nationalists. Taking the destruction of Sarajevo and Mostar in Bosnia as its starting provocation, this project sought to understand why ethnic nationalists target the city in itself rather than as a means to achieve military goals. Urbicide argued that the fabric of the city is constitutive of public spaces that are the basis for a plural political culture. Since ethnic nationalists seek homogeneity, they seek to destroy the capacity of the fabric of the city to generate such plurality, rebuilding it in ways that support exclusive monocultures.

More recently – in research published in Security Dialogue and Environment and Planning D: Society and Space – Dr Coward has focused on the ways in which terrorism attacks the networked infrastructures of the city. This research suggests that metropolitan life is characterised by a complex ecology of networked infrastructure: roads, rails, cables, conduits and so on. Attacking this infrastructure is a way to strike to those things that are supportive of the way of life of contemporary city dwellers. This work has developed into a critical re-thinking of the underlying idea of the network. Often used as a sociologically descriptive term for the organisation of many entities from urban fabric to terrorist organisations, the network has become a way of imagining the world that has distinctive political consequences. In recent work on drone warfare Dr Coward has argued that the idea of the network produces a dangerous temptation towards a global program of targeted killings.

Dr Coward holds a PhD from Newcastle University and an MA in Ideology and Discourse Analysis from the University of Essex. He received a BA (Hons) in Communication and Image Studies from the University of Kent. From 2002 to 2009 he worked at the University of Sussex. He is an Editor In Chief of the Political Studies Association journal Politics and a Trustee for the British International Studies Association (where he is the academic lead for specialist working groups).

While at the IAS Dr Coward will be developing new lines of enquiry about the securitisation of urban infrastructure. More specifically he will be examining the manner in which national infrastructure becomes an object of security. Security discourses assume that ‘we’ more or less know what the national critical infrastructure is. And yet this obscures the conditions of emergence of items of infrastructure as security concerns. Drawing on the concept of emergence, Dr Coward will outline the way in which both discursive and affective forces are at play in constituting infrastructures as ‘national’ and ‘critical’. This work will reveal the way in which the emergence of infrastructure as a security problem tells us much about the ways in which we imagine ourselves to be vulnerable in contemporary urbanised societies.