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INTNLREL 116: What is Security and Why Should We Care?

Much in this world is said to depend on security. When governments curtail liberties, they often cite security as the reason. In countries emerging from war it is said that until security is provided, democracy, human rights and justice cannot thrive. Security justifies inconveniences like longer passwords that are nearly impossible to memorize or going through metal detectors to enter sporting events, political talks, and airline gates. One of the fundamental achievements of social democracy in the twentieth century was the provision of social security ? the promise of a funded retirement. Security is thought to be central to processes leading to war: the pursuit of security by one nation state may imperil the security of another, leading to a spiral of conflict, what international relations scholars have labelled "the security dilemma." Sometimes we are asked to dismiss or understand otherwise impolite, nasty, or thoughtless behavior because someone suffers from the absence of securi more »
Much in this world is said to depend on security. When governments curtail liberties, they often cite security as the reason. In countries emerging from war it is said that until security is provided, democracy, human rights and justice cannot thrive. Security justifies inconveniences like longer passwords that are nearly impossible to memorize or going through metal detectors to enter sporting events, political talks, and airline gates. One of the fundamental achievements of social democracy in the twentieth century was the provision of social security ? the promise of a funded retirement. Security is thought to be central to processes leading to war: the pursuit of security by one nation state may imperil the security of another, leading to a spiral of conflict, what international relations scholars have labelled "the security dilemma." Sometimes we are asked to dismiss or understand otherwise impolite, nasty, or thoughtless behavior because someone suffers from the absence of security: 'Bob is not a terrible person; he's just insecure.' The power of security to structure so much of social life rests on some pretty impressive magic: everybody uses the word assuming everyone has a shared understanding of its meaning. But there is good reason to be skeptical. For one, despite its importance and centrality in social and political life, security suffers from vagueness and imprecision. It can connote freedom from fear, or freedom from threat. Security's modifiers are abundant and suggest a wealth of objects to be secured; a non-exhaustive list includes human, social, national, international, nuclear, cyber, food, economic, energy, and homeland. Even if we discover that security is all that it is cracked up to be, its relation to other key words such as risk, trust, credibility, insurance and predictability remain relatively unexplored. In this course we will interrogate what people talk about when they talk about security. We will investigate how the meanings of security have shifted throughout history. We will ask why security becomes a societal preoccupation at different times in history. We will ask whether our current preoccupation with security will be permanent.
Terms: Win | Units: 5
Instructors: Stedman, S. (PI)
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