Societal Security: Critical Perspectives

Please note: This page refers to a course that has already taken place.

17 - 19 Oct 2018

Institute for European Studies (IES) at Vrije Universiteit Brussels, Belgium

Kristoffer Lidén (PRIO), with Irina van der Vet and Ólöf Söebech (IES, VUB)


Marte Nilsen:

J. Peter Burgess, Ecole Normale Supérieure (ENS)

Emma Mc Cluskey, Kings College London

Reinhard KreisslVienna Centre for Societal Security (VICESSE)

Nina Boy, Institute of Advanced Studies & Department of Politics and International Studies, University of Warwick

Kristoffer LidénPRIO

​This course provides an overview of scholarly perspectives and debates on policies, perceptions, actors, economy, ethics and technology of security in Europe.

The course is organised by PRIO and VUB in collaboration with the Societal Security Network (SOURCE) - Virtual Centre of Excellence on Societal Security in Europe - in association with the Nordic Centre for Security Technology and Societal Values (NordSTEVA).

The course takes place at Vrije Universiteit Brussel (VUB)Belgium - Institute for European Studies (IES). Map and address.

Societal security course logos

Course Description:

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 is organised by PRIO in collaboration with VUB, within the Research School on Peace and Conflict. 


Wed 17 Oct

09:30 Breakfast

10.00 - 11.00 Introduction 

11.00 – 12.45 Societal security - state of the art  (J. Peter Burgess) 

12.45 – 14.00 Lunch 

14.00 – 16.00 Presentations of relevant research projects of participants

19.00 Course dinner 

Thu 18 Oct

08.45 Breakfast

09.15 – 11.00 Actors, institutions and practices (Emma Mc Kluskey)

11.15 – 13.00 Perceptions of security (Reinhard Kreissl)

13.00 – 14.00 Lunch

14.00 - 16.00 Relevance for research projects of the participants (discussion) 

Fri 19 Oct

08.45 Breakfast

09.15 – 11.00 Finance and security (Nina Boy) 

11.15 - 13.00 Risk, technology and the ethics of security (Kristoffer Lidén)

13.00 – 14.00 Lunch

14.00 - 15.00 Relevance for research projects of the participants (discussion)

15.15 – 16.00 Concluding session

(Changes may occur.)


​Application deadline: 10 September 2018 

Essay proposal deadline: 26 October 2018

Essay hand-in deadline: 15 December 2018


​The course equals 5 ECTS (according to the standards of the University of Oslo) upon comprehensive preparation, active participation and the satisfactory completion of an essay of 4000-5000 words by 15 December 2018.

It is not required to write an essay, but all participants are expected to read the course literature in advance and contribute to discussions in the course sessions. Studends who follow the course without writing an essay may consult their university whether they can still get some ECTS upon documentation of active participation.  

For those writing essays, an essay proposal must be submitted for approval by 26 October. The proposal should include a research question, a few lines on how it is to be addressed and references to relevant course literature.

The essay proposal and course essay are submitted to the course contact: The essays are evaluated by the course leader on a pass/fail basis, within two months after submission.


The deadline for applications is 10 September 2018. Please fill in the application form. Please include details of your research project (the dissertation if PhD candidate) under the 'How does the content of this course...' question (title/topic, theory (one line), method(s) (one line)).  

Who can apply? PhD candidates receive priority but graduate students and post-docs from relevant disciplines may also apply. Professionals working in the field of societal security may apply provided they have a Master degree from a relevant discipline. 

Costs. There is no participation fee. Course participants are welcome to register as members of the SOURCE primary network ( Primary network members can get their travel costs for the course (travel and accommodation) reimbursed with up to 500 EURO (upon documentation of the original receipts). You are then required to purchase the cheapest mode of travel (within reason) of your preferred mode of transport, and budget accommodation (up to 3 nights covered). 

Applicants will be notified about the outcome of their application within a week after the deadline. 

Participants are expected to make their own travel arrangements. 

Course Literature:

(Changes may occur.)

Societal security - state of the art 

Core readings:

Bilgin, Pinar (2003) Individual and societal dimensions of security, International Studies Review 5: 203–22

Burgess,  J. Peter (2016) 'An ethics of security' in Gabi Schlag, Julian Junk and Christopher Daase (eds.) Transformations of Security Studies. Dialogues, Diversity and Discipline (London: Routledge), 94-109

Buzan, Barry, Ole Wæver and Japp de Wilde (1998) 'The societal sector', in Security: A New Framework for Analysis (Boulder: Lynne Rienner), 119-140

Recommended readings:

McSweeney, Bill (1996) Identity and Security: Buzan and the Copenhagen School, Review of International Studies 22: 01, 81-93

Roe, Paul (2005) Ethnic violence and the societal security dilemma. Routledge studies in nationalism and ethnicity (New York: Routledge)

Theiler, Tobias (2003) Societal security and social psychology, Review of International Studies 29: 2, 249-68

Waever, Ole (2008)'The Changing Agenda of Societal Security', in Hans Günter Brauch, Úrsula Oswald Spring, Czeslaw Mesjasz, John Grin, Pál Dunay, Navnita Chadha Behera, Béchir Chourou, Patricia Kameri-Mbote and P. H. Liotta, eds., Globalization and Environmental Challenges. Springer Berlin Heidelberg: 581-93

Actors, institutions and practices

Core readings:

Basaran, Tugba, Didier Bigo, Emmanuel-Pierre Guittet, Rob J. Walker (eds), (2017) International Political Sociology: Transversal Lines. Routledge. Selection: Introduction: 'Transversal lines- an introduction'

Jones, Chris (2017) Market forces: the development of the EU security-industrial complex, Statewatch/Transnational Institute. Selection: Sections 1 and 2. 

Bigo, D and E. Mc Cluskey (2018) 'What is a PARIS Approach to (In)securitisation? Political Anthropological Research in International Sociology' in OUP Handbook of International Security, Alexandra Gheciu and William C. Wohlforth (eds), Oxford University Press.

Recommended readings:

Bigo, Didier, Julien Jeandesboz, Emmanuel-Pierre Guittet, and Amandine Scherrer (2011) Developing an EU Internal Security Strategy, Fighting Terrorism and Organised Crime. Brussels: European Parliament - Committee on Civil Liberties Study

Bossong, Raphael and Mark Rhinard (2016) Theorising internal security cooperation in the EU- Bossong and Rhinard (Chapter 1 on alternative perspectives for internal security cooperation- setting the scene)

Huysmans, Jeff and Joao Pontes Nogueira, J (2016) '10 years of IPS: Fracturing IR' in International Political Sociology 10 (4): 299-319 

Georgakakis, Didier, and Jay Rowell, Eds. (2013) The Field of Eurocracy: Mapping EU Actors and Professionals. Houndmills, Basingstoke, Hampshire ; New York, NY: Palgrave Macmillan.

de Vries, Leonie Ansems , Sergio Carrera, Elspeth Guild (2016) 'Documenting the Migration Crisis in the Mediterranean: Spaces of Transit, Migration Management and Migrant Agency.' Brussels: Centre for European Policy Studies, Liberty and Security in Europe Papers No. 94.

SOURCE reports

Bigo, Didier, and Médéric Martin-Mazé (2014) Report on Theory and Methodology for Mapping of Societal Security Networks (SOURCE - D4.1). London: King's College. Available at:

Perceptions of security

Core readings:

Molotch, Harvey (2012) Against Security. How we go wrong at Airports, Subways and other Sites of Ambiguous Danger (Princeton University Press)

Mueller, John and Mark. G. Stewart (2016) Chasing Ghosts. The Policing of Terrorism. Oxford: Oxford University Press. Chapter 2, pp. 53-88.

Recommended readings: 

Beckett, Kathy (1997) Making Crime Pay (Oxford University Press)

Davis, Mike (1998) Ecology of Fear: Los Angeles and the Imagination of Disaster (Metropolitan)

Sarasin, Philipp (2008) Anthrax. Bioterror as Fact and Fantasy (Harvard University Press)

SOURCE Reports:

Annual Societal Security Reports 1-3 (2015-2017). Available at: 

(Report #4  was added 13.10. for your reference, reading it is not required due to late addition).

Finance and security

Core readings:

de Goede, Marieke (2017) 'Financial Security', Finance and Society, 3(2): 159-72. Available at

Boy, Nina (2017) 'Finance-security: where to go?', Finance and Society, 3(2): 208-15. Available at

Recommended readings:

Langley, Paul (2017) 'Finance/ security/ life', Finance and Society, 3(2): 173-79. Available at

Martin, Randy (2007) An Empire of Indifference: American War and the Financial Logic of Risk Management. Durham and London: Duke University Press.

Gilbert, Emily (2017) 'Militaries, finance and (in)security', Finance and Society, 3(2): 180-187. Available at

SOURCE reports:

Boy, Nina et al (2015) Analytic report on the impact of the financial crisis on societal security in Europe. Available at SOURCE website: 

Boy, Nina et al (2015) Report on the role of financial regulation in the provision of security. Available at SOURCE website:

Boy, Nina (2015) Report on the theory of risk as a societal security instrument. Available at SOURCE website:

Risk, technology and the ethics of security

Core readings:

Amoore, Louise (2013) The Politics of Possibility: Risk and Security Beyond Probability. Durham: Duke University Press. Selection: Introduction: On the politics of possibility; Chapter 1: On authority; Chapter 2: On risk. 

Nyman, Jonna and Anthony Burke (eds.) (2016) Ethical Security Studies: A New Research Agenda (London: Routledge). Selection: Nyman and Burke, Introduction: Imagining Ethical Security Studies; Chapter 1: Vivienne Jabri, Security: critique, analysis and ethics; Chapter 2: Matt McDonald, Whose Security? Ethics and the referent. 

Recommended readings:

Burgess, J. Peter (2010)The Ethical Subject of Security: Geopolitical Reason and the Threat to Europe. (London: Routledge), Introduction, Chapters 1-2 and Conclusion. 

Chandler, David (2014) Resilience: The Governance of Complexity (London: Routledge), Chapters 6-9

European Group on Ethics in Science and New Security Technologies (2014) Ethics of Security and Surveillance Technology. Opinion 28. European Commission. Chapter 3. Available at:    

SOURCE reports

Kundnani, Arun and Ben Hayes (2018) The globalisation of Countering Violent Extremism policies: Undermining human rights, instrumentalising civil society. Transnational Institute and SOURCE. Available at: 

Lidén, Kristoffer and Ben Hayes, with Médéric Martin-Mazé, Roger Von Laufenberg and Reinhard Kreissl (2015) Report on Human Values in Threat Analysis. SOURCE. Available at .  

Boy, Nina, Elida Jacobsen and Kristoffer Lidén (2016) Report on Societal Ethics and Biometric Technologies. SOURCE. Available at: