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Materializing US Security: Guantanamo's Object Lessons and Concrete Messages

International Political Sociology

Published online on


While a growing body of literature working at the intersection of security and visual studies recognizes the value of studying images, how these visualities are produced is less theorized, especially with respect to materialities and their capacity to compel meanings. Analyzing the tours of Joint Task Force Guantanamo, which have been arranged by the US military for VIP visitors since the site opened, this article argues that the selective organization and presentation of specific matter was image‐making and therefore meaning‐making. Through efforts to produce a spectacle of detention, Guantánamo was deliberately constructed as “safe, humane, legal, transparent”—in the process shifting the meaning of these very concepts. Guantánamo's tours as visual and material practices were therefore used to produce meaning in the debate over the future of the site and how best to secure the US state post‐9/11. They were part of the constitution of the war's legitimacy, leading, ultimately, to certain understandings of security. Guantánamo, with its “object lessons” and “concrete messages,” is therefore a useful case study for understanding security meaning‐making as produced by the interaction of linguistic, visual, and material domains and their elements.