2 July 2020

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

PhD Fellow Stine Ilum has contributed to Journal of Extreme Anthropology with the peer-reviewed article ‘The Good City – Counterterrorism and the Ethical Work of Transformation in Copenhagen’.

In between 2016 and 2017, a number of terrorist attacks took place in public spaces in cities across Europe. Consequently, numerous concrete blocks were placed in the streets of Copenhagen in order to prevent similar attacks made with vehicles towards people in the public space. For the Municipality of Copenhagen, this became the first step in a long process of dealing with the question of how to secure the city’s public spaces.

Based on a year of ethnographic fieldwork conducted in 2018-2019 among professionals working with counterterrorism in Copenhagen, Stine Ilum describes and discusses how the city of Copenhagen handled the challenge.

The article argues that employees at the Municipality of Copenhagen mobilised moral discourses and values associated with liberal democracy and the welfare state in order to minimise the presence of security measures in the public space. They initiated what she calls an ethical work of transformation by shaping the materiality of the concrete blocks into security measures more in line with the moral values they associated with the public space and the good city.

By following the ethical work of transformation done on counterterrorism measures, the article shows how moral values and materiality can be intertwined. Adding this material dimension to literature on morality and ethics, sheds new light on discussions of security and morality.

Read the article as pdf (open access).