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Homeland Security, its Law, and its State – a Design of Power for the 21st Century

12 January 2015

Homeland Security, its Law, and its State – a Design of Power for the 21st Century  (Routledge, 2014)

Christos Boukalas

Law and Society fellow, Cardiff School of Law and Politics

This book assesses the impact of post-9/11 domestic counterterrorism policy on US political life. It examines political discourse, law, institutional architecture, and state-population relations, and shows that ‘homeland security’ is a project with wide-ranging implications for democratic institutions and culture.

These implications are addressed through a novel, strategic-relational, analytical framework which, drawing mainly from the work of Nicos Poulantzas and Bob Jessop, treats law and the state as social relations and as strategic terrains of social struggle. It therefore relates developments in law to those in the state and in social dynamics, while respecting the institutional specificity of each of these fields, thus avoiding collapsing one into the other.

On this basis, the book provides a brief overview of the conjuncture on the eve of 9/11, marked by a two-fold, political and economic, crisis enveloping neoliberal economic and social strategies and institutional arrangements. The assessment of the situation (the form of law and the state, economic strategies, and social dynamics) just before 9/11 not only helps appreciate the changes that homeland security initiates, but also connects counterterrorism with the strategies of specific social forces, and relates homeland security to crisis.

From thereon, the book investigates homeland security, starting with its most discursive aspects, continuing with its institutionality, and ending with its more tangible expressions. First, from the lens of Critical Discourse Analysis, it examines the new political representations in counterterrorism discourse, especially regarding the relation between the state and the population.

Further, it examines the form and content of counterterrorism law, the powers it provides, and the structure and functions it prescribes for the state; as well as the resistance to counterterrorism powers from within the state (especially parts of Congress and of the judiciary).

Next, the book examines the changes in the policing mechanism: its major institutional restructure through the introduction of the Department of Homeland Security and the drastic restructure of the intelligence mechanism; and its practice, where intelligence becomes primary over law-enforcement, resulting to a new, centralised, intelligence-led model of policing.

Finally, it examines how homeland security ‘meets’ the population, thus helping assess its effects on citizenship and state-society relations. It examines, first, forms of popular support to homeland security, organised in the Citizen Corps programme. Second, it reviews forms of popular resistance to homeland security, especially as expressed in the (widely overlooked) ‘resolutions movement’. And, third, it looks at specific cases of repression of political activity under the aegis of homeland security.

The entire examination of these different (discursive, legal, state-institutional, and social) aspects of homeland security, is firmly geared towards an assessment of its impact on the overall shape of the US polity, especially its effects on democracy. Along these lines, the author concludes that homeland security has transformed the US into a hybrid polity: the legal and political institutions of democracy continue to function smoothly and keep their institutional shape intact; but their content and practices become increasingly authoritarian and exclude the population from politics. Crucially, the legal and political forms that homeland security set in place remain operative beyond counterterrorism, in the context of the current economic crisis. They are a permanent configuration of power.

This book is an indispensable companion for students of (counter-) Terrorism and Security Studies, Politics, Human Rights, Constitutional and Criminal Law, American Studies, and Criminology.