Over the past three decades, an on-going debate has developed around the ways and extent to which the hierarchical, state-led provision of security and policing has been displaced by a move toward a polycentric, network-oriented mode of governance. This paper, firstly, analytically reconstructs the debate, suggesting that it is characterised by descriptive concordance, explanatory confluence, and normative dissonance. In other words, the major area of contention has been around the social and political implications of the State’s decentring by a networked provision of security, a transition that is accepted as having actually taken place. It is argued, secondly, that the debate has neglected to some considerable extent the inherent functional (as opposed to normative) limitations of networked governance, and that all parties to the debate may have been somewhat precipitous in accepting that such modes for delivering security can be functionally efficacious. Drawing on social theoretical explorations of ‘governance failure’, I identify three distinctive failure tendencies inherent in nodal networks, and evaluate their implications for the wider debate on the future of security provision.
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