The Changing Agenda of Societal Security

  • Ole WÆver
Part of the Hexagon Series on Human and Environmental Security and Peace book series (HSHES, volume 3)


Security dynamics have some shared features irrespective of their referent object or ‘sector’, and ‘different kinds of security’ often interact so that one actor’s fear for military security triggers countermeasures that make another state worried about its economic security, which in turn triggers countermeasures that let a security dilemma loose operating across ‘kinds’ of security. For these two reasons, it is useful to study economic security, military security, political security, environmental security and other forms together, side by side. But there are also significant differences between, for instance security against military threats and against migration (when viewed as a threat), or between economic security and environmental security. This makes it useful to look systematically at the security of what might be called ‘sectors’ (economic, military, etc) and draw out the particularities regarding what are the main objects defended, who typically acts in this sector, and not least, what dynamics of security and insecurity are characteristic of this sector.


National Identity Collective Identity Ethnic Conflict Security Action Security Study 
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  1. 1.
    Major parts of the present chapter are made up of a much abbreviated version of a chapter in: Wsever/ Buzan/ de Wilde 2008. Permission has been granted by Lynne Rienner Publishers. For meticulous work on the references the author is grateful to Simon Sylvest WÆver. The novel parts of the present chapter compared to the one in Waever/Buzan/de Wilde 2008 are mostly due to the proficient prodding by the lead editor and an anonymous referee.Google Scholar
  2. 2.
    Definition: Securitization is the discursive and political process through which an intersubjective understanding is constructed within a political community to treat something as an existential threat to a valued referent object, and to enable a call for urgent and exceptional measures to deal with the threat. Other central concepts in the theory are ‘referent object’ (that which is deemed threatened and holds a general claim on ‘having to survive’, e.g. the state, the environment or liberal values),’ securitizing actor’ (the one who makes the claim — speech act — of pointing to an existential threat to this referent object and thereby legitimizing extraordinary measures, often but not necessarily to be carried out by the actor itself), and ‘audience’ (those who have to be convinced in order for the speech act to be successful in the sense of opening the door to extraordinary measures, otherwise not available). The central idea of the theory is, that it is not up to analysts to try to settle the ‘what is security?’ question — widening to include the environment or narrowing to only military security — but more usefully one can study this as an open, empirical, political and historical question: who manages to securitize what under what conditions and how? And not least: what are the effects of this? How does the politics of a given issue change when it shifts from being a normal political issue to becoming ascribed the urgency, priority and drama of ‘a matter of security’. Much of the elaboration of this theory (WÆver/ Buzan/ Kelstrup/ Lemaitre 1993; Buzan/Wsever/de Wilde 1998; WÆver/ Buzan/de Wilde 2008) has taken place through exploring the particular dynamics and characteristics of security within the different’ sectors’ of security: economic, environmental, political, military and — as in this chapter — societal.Google Scholar
  3. 3.
    In addition to the sources referenced in the text (most importantly the 1998 and 2007 books by Buzan, Waever and de Wilde), useful introductions to the theory, especially for those with more difficult access to these publications, can be found on the web at http:// (notably the paper “Securitization: Taking Stock of a Research Programme”). It is therefore wrong to accuse the concept or theory of societal security of reification — it studies reification. To do this helps exactly to fight and de-naturalize reification. When it is shown how something is made to function as a thing, this implies that it is not inherently so, and the possibility of acting differently is defended. The ‘thing’ approach is therefore not theoretical reification but the contrary, the precondition for de-reification.Google Scholar
  4. 4.
    The term state-nation is used differently by different authors, but it is commonly taken to refer to nations being constructed by the states — cases in which state comes ‘before’ nation — in contrast to at least the self-understanding of the classical nation-states, in which nation was assumed to come first(Buzan 1991: 73–74).Google Scholar
  5. 5.
    To define religion is a controversial and problematic affair, because the generic concept of religion evolved out of secularizing Protestantism (Asad 1993, 2003). Religion had not been a distinct category in most societies, but interwoven with social and political affairs. The emerging modern state claimed sovereignty and cultivated a secular rationality and subjectivity, where ‘religion’ was removed from the public sphere and located inside people as a subjective matter of personal faith. The history and sociology of religion has gradually become aware of and self-critical about the way conceptualizations of ‘religion’ in general operated through a Western, Christian prism interpreting and labelling practices in other parts of the world in problematic ways with a concept of ‘religion’. For the present purposes it is fortunately not necessary to present an intensive definition that captures the essence or inner structure of religion, only a minimalist, formal definition according to which we see securitization as religion-related if it involves ideas of human communication or interaction with supernatural beings or objects — either because actors defend practices related to such assumptions, or because they fight other groups on the understanding that these other groups are religious in the sense of acting on the basis of some conception of super-natural beings.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag Berlin Heidelberg 2008

Authors and Affiliations

  • Ole WÆver
    • 1
  1. 1.Department of Political ScienceCSSCopenhagen KDenmark

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