Constructing cybersecurity – Q&A with Andrew Whiting

Posted by Alice Hoad - Monday, 11 May 2020


How would you like someone who has read your book to sum it up in one sentence?

A clearly written and well-researched account of how private sector expertise constructs cybersecurity, and how relationships between the industry and the state help extend a strategy of neoliberal governance.

What book in your field has inspired you the most?

Cyber-Security and Threat Politics by Myriam Dunn Cavelty. When I first began grappling with questions about the way cybersecurity was constructed across various discourses this book really helped to organise my thinking. I’m not the sort of reader that often consumes pages and pages in one go; I normally have a few books ‘on the go’ at any one moment in time and break down my reading into short sections over days and weeks whether that’s fiction or non-fiction. One thing I remember about first reading Cyber-Security and Threat Politics was how uncharacteristically quickly I went through it scribbling down notes as I went. The author did a very good job of using the research to illustrate the argument in an engaging manner and they took the time to breakdown important concepts and theoretical tools to aid with comprehension. Dunn Cavelty’s book was inspiring because it helped bring together my thinking and offered an example of how I could explore the sorts of questions I had about the formation of cybersecurity knowledge.

Did your research take you to any unexpected places?

Physically, no not really!

Which writing process do you use (computer, longhand, dictate, other)?

Computer. I adopted the tried and tested approach of putting off the writing process for longer than I should have. When I finally got around to writing I would quickly get frustrated with what I’d written, delete that, read some more, write again, be content with that for now and inevitably return to it again later.

Why did you choose to publish with MUP?

I think a lot of that decision was based on the impact and influence that books published by MUP had on the overall direction of my research interests and approach going back to my undergraduate studies. For example, books like Richard Jackson’s Writing the war on terrorism influenced both the sorts of questions I wanted to explore and the way in which I wanted to set about doing it.

What are you working on now?

I am currently leading a project looking at counter-terrorism (Prevent) in UK Higher Education, conducting some collaborative research into depictions of notable terrorists within newspaper obituaries and working with colleagues at Birmingham City University to explore the teaching and learning of ‘sensitive subjects’ within Universities.

If you could go back and give yourself once piece of advice when starting out on this project, what would it be?

This is the first solo authored monograph I have written, and subsequently I think I have taken a lot of lessons from the process. One thing that stands out to me is not being too precious about the draft writing phase and remembering that not everything you write during the process has to be your best writing. This is advice I give regularly to students I am supervising and yet I was a lot better at giving it out than taking it!

During the early stages of the project I found myself reading and researching more and more, creating volumes and volumes of notes and annotated PDF files. Very little of this was ever wasted time but I did find that switching from months of this sort of work to suddenly writing a chapter about it felt quite intimidating and often lead to frustrating and fairly inefficient progress. Later in the process, I found a more effective way of addressing this issue and striking the balance between these different types of work. I would aim to write something about what I was reading or researching on a more consistent basis and, instead of worrying about where specifically it was going to fall within the final document, I just tried to capture my thinking in smaller sections.

Rarely did these sections end up simply plugging in to the final document and sometimes they were scrapped altogether. However, using this approach I was able to produce valuable sections of prose and extended notes on a more frequent basis that I could use as steppingstones towards a large section or chapter. Committing something to paper a little more frequently throughout the process not only made things more manageable, but it also served as a useful means of recording my thinking and charting how things had developed and changed.

If you could have been the author of any book, what would it be and why?

I’ll say Discipline and Punish for the impact that this had on me the first time I read it. Not only is it a fascinating and meticulously researched history, but the way in which the research is applied to convey an alternative theory of power had a profound effect on my thinking, research priorities and approach.

What other genres do you enjoy reading?

Histories, dystopian fiction and horror.



Constructing cybersecurity: Power, expertise and the internet security industry by Andrew Whiting is available to buy now.

Andrew Whiting is a Senior Lecturer in Security Studies at Birmingham City University



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