A Tainted Trade? Moral Ambivalence and Legitimation Work in the Private Security Industry

The British Journal of Sociology, Vol. 62, pp. 283-303, 2011

Posted: 22 Jun 2011

See all articles by Benjamin J. Goold

Benjamin J. Goold

University of British Columbia - Faculty of Law

Ian Loader

University of Oxford - Faculty of Law

Anjelica Thumala

Pontifical Catholic University of Chile

Date Written: 2011

Abstract

The private security industry is often represented - and typically represents itself - as an expanding business, confident of its place in the world and sure of its ability to meet a rising demand for security. But closer inspection of the ways in which industry players talk about its past, present and future suggests that this self-promotion is accompanied by unease about the industry's condition and legitimacy. In this paper, we analyse the self-understandings of those who sell security - as revealed in interviews conducted with key industry players and in a range of trade materials - in order to highlight and dissect the constitutive elements of this ambivalence. This analysis begins by describing the reputational problems that are currently thought to beset the industry and the underlying fears about its status and worth that these difficulties disclose. We then examine how security players seek to legitimate the industry using various narratives of professionalization. Four such narratives are identified - regulation, education, association and borrowing - each of which seeks to justify private security and enhance the industry's social worth. What is striking about these legitimation claims is that they tend not to justify the selling of security in market terms. In conclusion we ask why this is the case and argue that market justifications are ‘closed-off’ by a moral ambivalence that attaches to an industry trading in products which cannot guarantee to deliver the condition that its consumers crave.

Keywords: Commodification, legitimation, markets, morality, security

Suggested Citation

Goold, Benjamin J. and Loader, Ian and Thumala, Anjelica, A Tainted Trade? Moral Ambivalence and Legitimation Work in the Private Security Industry (2011). The British Journal of Sociology, Vol. 62, pp. 283-303, 2011. Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=1870326

Benjamin J. Goold (Contact Author)

University of British Columbia - Faculty of Law ( email )

1822 East Mall
Vancouver, British Columbia V6T 1Z1
Canada
(604) 822-3752 (Phone)

HOME PAGE: http://www.bjgoold.net/

Ian Loader

University of Oxford - Faculty of Law ( email )

St. Cross Building
St. Cross Road
Oxford, OX1 3UJ
United Kingdom

Anjelica Thumala

Pontifical Catholic University of Chile

Av Libertador General Bernardo O'Higgins 340
Santiago, Región Metropolitana 8331150
Chile

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