A new approach to Human Security

Yesterday, members of our department and Thomas H. Eriksen (Oslo University) presented their new book A World of Insecurity. This collection of essays is the result of years of  fruitful cooperation and debate in the context of the department’s research programme, Constructing Human Security in a Globalizing World (CONSEC), and it provides a captivating sample of the research carried out by our staff.

The concept of Human Security was introduced by the UN Development Programme in 1994, in order to expand the scope of development work and research. Human Security was defined as ‘freedom from want and freedom from fear’. This books draws on a different approach that includes subjective and existential dimensions in an area which has been dominated by quantitative and ‘objective’ measurements of well-being.

Rather than as a field of inquiry, the book defines Human Security as a multidimensional and dynamic conceptual lens which allows us to link the various dimensions – superficially classified as physical and existential security – with one another in order to achieve a richer, more complex and more compelling analysis. Thus, this approach goes beyond peace-keeping operations, post-conflict reconstruction and military culture, and includes other aspects of anthropology (like religion, ethnicity, transnationalism, gender, social and political transformations, natural resource management, and development).

Widening the conceptualization of Human Security and making it more differentiated, the contributors to the volume came across contradictory manifestations of Human Security. In specific circumstances, some people are willing to risk their own or others’ physical or economic security for religious or ethnic reasons. If such cultural and religious dimensions are left out of the equation, then a Human Security analysis is bound to be incomplete, theoretically barren, and politically irrelevant. Therefore the researchers taking part in CONSEC have explored ways of conceptualizing Human Security to include such cultural and existential dimensions as well.

The chapters can be grouped in three sections. Following the introduction, three chapters discuss the political and political economy aspects of human security (Salman, Venema, De Theije & Bal). The next four chapters (Bal & Sinha-Kerkhoff, Brouwer, Bartels et al., Droogers) focus on the human security aspects of questions of identity and belonging. The last four chapters (Den Uyl, Evers, Kooiman, Salemink) zoom in on human security questions in relation to state policies and practices. For the complete table of contents see the website of the publisher, Macmillan.

The publisher describes the book in these words: “A variety of compelling case studies indicate that, in fact, material security alone cannot adequately explain or fully account for human activity in a range of different settings, and exposed to a variety of different threats. This forceful intervention will expand and deepen the entire concept of human security, in the process endowing it with political relevance. It is an essential book for students of development studies and anthropology.”

The above text is a revision (by Daan Beekers) of the announcement of the book launch, which was provided by the editors of A World of Insecurity:

Thomas Hylland Eriksen, Professor of Anthropology at the University of Oslo.

Ellen Bal, Assistant Professor in Social and Cultural Anthropology at VU University. On this weblog she wrote ‘Nederland is vol (of was het nou de wereld?)’.

Oscar Salemink, Professor in Social and Cultural Anthropology at VU University. He wrote ‘Hoe dicht bij huis zit de rot? Over corruptie ver weg en dichtbij’ on Standplaats Wereld.

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