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From Risk Society to Security Society

Lookup NU author(s): Professor Simin Davoudi


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© 2015 Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht. In the pre-modern time, natural hazards were viewed as divine retributions decreed from on high by divine forces such as Fortuna -the Roman goddess of fate and translated into English as fortune. People were passively exposed to these ‘strokes of fate’ and believed that they were unable to change them. The Enlightenment project sought to bring such fates under human control by moulding the world to their purposes. The interventions meant that natural hazards which were previously seen as external to and beyond the social realm became increasingly intertwined with it. Modernity and its “technoscience turned what was nonhuman Nature into something contingent and coincident with human society” (Luke 1999: 10), and by doing so it transformed hazards into risks. The distinction between the two lies in the role of human intervention in nature. Whereas hazard refers to a natural event, risk refers to an event whose occurrence is directly or indirectly linked to human action.“Risks are made, hazards naturally occur” as Ulrich Beck (2012: 13-15) put it. It is this understanding of risk which is at the heart of Beck’ ‘risk society’ and the hallmark of what he calls ‘reflexive modernity’(Beck 1996). He argues that, the present ecological crisis, along with other social transformations, signifies the emergence of a new form of societal arrangement which he describes as ‘risk society’ Risk society represents a new phase in the process of modernisation in which the production of wealth is systematically accompanied by the social production of risks (Beck 1992: 19). He suggests that the more modern a society becomes, the more unintended consequences it produces, and as these become known and acknowledged, they call the foundations of industrial modernisation into question” (Beck 1998: 91). He describes this contemporary social experience as reflexive modernisation referring to an era when modernity is dealing with problems literally of its own making (Dalby 2008: 445). Concerns about risk usher in deep anxieties about security. The more we have fabricated uncertainties (Beck 1996) the greater our sense of insecurity. In the contemporary ecologies of fear (Davis 1999) the risk society becomes intertwined with the security society. Like risk, security is socially produced but, whereas risk threatens, security promises (Zedner 2003: 176). It gives people both a sense of being safe and the means to achieve that. It promises a condition in which risk is non-existent, neutralised or avoided (ibid). While non-existence of risk is utopian, the desire for neutralization or avoidance of risk provides the rationale for relentless pursuit of security (Davoudi 2012). Risk and security, therefore, feed from one another in the sense that keeping up the demand for security requires maintaining a heightened sense of risk. Attraction of such circularity has led to the recasting of many social and environmental problems as security measures. Furthermore, security is not just a means to an end (i.e. protection from risk), but is an end in itself (i.e. a positive good). It is sold as a desirable product in and of its own right (Zedner 2003: 160). The pursuit of security is as much about security providers seeking raison detres for their operations as it is about risk prevention. As a commodity with a price, security becomes factored into both private suppliers and urban governance strategic decisions and calculations with profound distributional implications and potential for political exploitation. For urban governance security is becoming a highly sought-after commodity which competes with other commodities in terms of economic and social costs. As Sassen (2011) suggests, security is increasingly urbanized, and cities are increasingly in competition with one another in positioning themselves on the world league tables of safe places. Emphasis is shifting from urban sustainability to risk and security. Together, risk and security provoke strong emotions and legitimise extraordinary exercise of power. They renounce or displace social conflicts and lead to practices which may otherwise seem indefensible. They create imaginaries of fear which renounce social conflict, foreclose politics, and crowd out descending voices. They squeeze out the arenas in which questions about justice, fairness and conflicts can be raised. Thus, the hallmark of the reflexive modernity has become not just the risk society, as Beck suggests, but also the security society (Davoudi, Environ Plann C: Govern Policy 32(2):360, 375, 2014). The recasting of social and environmental problems as security problems reflects and reinforces securitisation as the hegemonic discourse of the twenty-first century.

Publication metadata

Author(s): Davoudi S

Publication type: Book Chapter

Publication status: Published

Book Title: Risk Governance: The Articulation of Hazard, Politics and Ecology

Year: 2015

Pages: 465-467

Online publication date: 12/09/2014

Acceptance date: 01/01/1900

Publisher: Springer Netherlands


DOI: 10.1007/978-94-017-9328-5_24

Library holdings: Search Newcastle University Library for this item

ISBN: 9789401793285