One of the central debates in Ontological Security Studies (OSS) has been about the level-of-analysis. While some authors focus on individuals, others have scaled up the concept and applied it to collectives such as states as the main ontological security seekers.

In this article, we contribute to the level-of-analysis debate in OSS by providing a novel argument in defense of scaling up. By drawing on the literatures on complexity and securitization, we conceptualize ontological security as an emergent phenomenon. It arises from the ground-up and is driven by feedback loops in a non-linear and spontaneous fashion from horizontal micro-interactions and securitizations from below, ultimately reaching a tipping point.

We illustrate this argument in a case study of anti-immigrant mobilization in Serbia since the outbreak of the European migration crisis (2015–2020). At the outset of the crisis, state officials interpreted the migration crisis as a manageable and temporary situation, adopted an “open door” policy and even banned far-right extremist demonstrations against migration.

Over time, however, ontological insecurity over the migrant threat has gradually emerged from the bottom-up through a cascade of rumors, connective action, and everyday securitizing acts.

While it might be too early to conclude that the national tipping point has been reached, this case study clearly shows why ontological insecurity merits to be studied as an emergent phenomenon.


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