The Good City: Counterterrorism and the Ethical Work of Transformation in Copenhagen

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In 2016-2017, a number of terrorist attacks took place in public spaces in cities across Europe. Following this, numerous concrete blocks were placed in the streets of Copenhagen in order to prevent similar attacks made with vehicles towards people in the public spaces of the city. For the Municipality of Copenhagen, the concrete blocks became the first step in a long process of dealing with the question of how to best secure the city’s public spaces. To the municipal employees, the concrete blocks made Copenhagen’s public spaces express negative moral values such as hostility and fear. Therefore, the employees initiated what I will call an ethical work of transformation by shaping the concrete blocks into measures more in line with the moral values they associated with a good city. Where literature on security point to a worldwide increase in security measures, often legitimized by way of moral discourses of protecting democratic values and saving lives, this article provides an example of a counter movement, where a public institution mobilized moral discourses and values associated with liberal democracy and the welfare state in order to minimize the presence of security measures in the public space. By following the ethical work of transformation of the security measures, the article further shows how moral values and materiality are intertwined. Adding this material dimension to literature on morality/ethics sheds new light on discussions of security, as security measures become more than mere material inventory in the streets, they become a manifestation of certain moral values in the city.
Original languageEnglish
JournalJournal of Extreme Anthropology
Volume4
Issue number1
Pages (from-to)157-176
Number of pages20
Publication statusPublished - 2020

    Research areas

  • Faculty of Social Sciences - counterterrorism, public space, security measures, morality/ethics, materiality, the good city

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