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What Do People Talk About When They Talk About Experiencing Safety?

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International Security Management

Abstract

Current discussions on the ways people experience safety in urban public spaces are often characterised by a negative view—the absence of unsafety—and rarely include positive sensations related to the safety experience itself. Some scholars have argued that this could be an artefact of more or less standardised methods used in the field. In fact, perceived safety and fear of crime are most often studied as disconnected from people’s everyday lives and practices, with little room provided for research participants to formulate what safety actually means to them in their circumstances. Although standardised approaches provide us with an intensity of the safety experience, all underlying ideas, meanings, sensations and perceptions are commonly forced into a single numerical rating. In order to gain insight into these aspects of the safety experience, we present the results of a bottom-up explorative approach in which participants were asked to freely describe what it means for them to feel safe. We detected three main themes: the absence of negative aspects, the presence of positive aspects and not having to think about safety. In our final section we reflect on the importance and usefulness of these findings for management, policymaking and academia.

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Notes

  1. 1.

    It should be noted that the concept of ‘positive safety’ and efforts to establish a ‘positive criminology’ have also, and at the same time, received critiques (see for instance, Bakker 2015; Van Stokkum 2016).

  2. 2.

    Of course we understand that such definitions may not be neutral but are rather influenced by—political and media-imbued—safety discourses.

  3. 3.

    The OECD is the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development.

  4. 4.

    Importantly, it should be noted that the ideas, meanings, sensations and perceptions people relate to the experience of feeling safe in our study are restricted to a particular group of people who tend to live in the city (interviews) and/or use the city centre (survey). This obviously means that our results are skewed in the sense that they do not include—or underrepresent—those who might feel (to a more or lesser degree) uncomfortable, unable to access or unattracted to the city as a living environment or as a place to visit (see for instance, Little et al. 2005; Pain 2001).

  5. 5.

    Although for some the presence of security personnel was comforting (see section entitled ‘the presence of positive features in the environment’), for others it was an indicator of a higher risk that something dangerous could happen.

  6. 6.

    We wish to underline that by mentioning this, we do not consider the home to (always) be a place of sanctuary, shelter, protection and fearlessness as such. It should be noted that the (feminist) geographical literatures (see for instance, Pain 2001; Stanko 1995; Whitzman 2007) have continuously illustrated that much (fear of) victimisation takes place ‘behind closed doors’, and not in public space. In our analysis, however, this did not appear.

  7. 7.

    See for instance, Fergus McNeill’s (2018) use of photography, song writing and story-telling to study mass supervision and punishment, Henshaw’s (2013) work on urban smellscapes or Vanderveen’s (2018) chapter on visual methods in research on fear of crime.

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Correspondence to Jelle Brands .

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Brands, J., Suojanen, I., van Doorn, J. (2021). What Do People Talk About When They Talk About Experiencing Safety?. In: Jacobs, G., Suojanen, I., Horton, K., Bayerl, P. (eds) International Security Management. Advanced Sciences and Technologies for Security Applications. Springer, Cham. https://doi.org/10.1007/978-3-030-42523-4_6

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