Online SOURCE PhD Course - Societal Security: Critical Perspectives

Conflict with Russia, fight against IS, aftershocks of the global financial crisis, cyber attacks, nationalism and the 'refugee crisis' are shaping a new era of security in Europe. The post-Cold War period is over, where international war was a thing of the past and political liberalism the universal future. Yet, how should we conceive the current state of security politics in Europe?

In the absense of the existential military threat of the Cold War, the attention of security politics shifted towards a range of 'new' threats - man-made and natural, partly related to our reliance on advanced technology (as in Ulrich Beck's notion of 'risk society'). Pandemics, industry accidents, pollution, flooding, global warming and terrorism were among the dangers included in this broadened notion of national/civil/internal/homeland security.

While introduced with a more narrow focus on social identities, the concept of 'societal security' was picked up by politicians, bureaucrats, security industry and academics to describe how this development involved a shift from the traditional referent object of security – the sovereignty of the nation-state – to the security of society at large. Beyond material aspects of life such as physical protection, shelter, subsistence and critical infrastructure, societal security includes complex social aspects such as values, ideas, confidence, trust and belonging. In contrast to the individual centric notion of 'human security', it nonetheless concentrates on that which is of shared public concern - complementing private and corporate security.

This course invites a reassessment of security politics in Europe through a critical engagement with the notion of societal security. Sessions investigate key aspects including threat perceptions, security actors, institutional dynamics, relations between financial and societal security, new security technology and the ethics of security. Guiding questions will be how security is reconfigurated in open and less visible ways, how technologies impact values in the securing of society and how the continued relevance of the state can be conceptualized.

While drawing on perspectives from critical security studies, sociology and philosophy, the course is interdisciplinary and welcomes participants from other relevant disciplines like political science, history, law, anthropology and human geography.

The course draws on research and material from the SOURCE Societal Security Network. It was organised by PRIO in collaboration with VUB, within the Research School on Peace and Conflict.

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