The Production of Human Security in Premodern and Contemporary History

The Production of Human Security in Premodern and Contemporary History

Junior-Professorship of Environmental History, Ruhr-University Bochum (RUB); in cooperation with the Professorship of Contemporary History (RUB); and the Centre for Mediterranean Studies (RUB)
Vom - Bis
08.04.2010 - 10.04.2010
Sven Speek, Historisches Institut, Ruhr-Universität Bochum

The Production of Human Security in Premodern and Contemporary History, a conference held at the Ruhr-University of Bochum from 8th to 10th of April, drew together historians and political scientists from Europe, debating scope and content of the concept of human security and its applicability to historical analysis. The concept of human security is closely linked to the United Nations Development Programme’s Human Development Report (1994) that stressed the necessity of an expansion of the scope of the concept of security to include – among others – community security, economic security, environmental security and personal security. Indicating a turn away from state-centred securitization focussing on the needs of the nation-state toward the needs of the individual human subject, human security calls attention to the plurality of actors involved in producing security and shaping perceptions of security issues. These complexities were traced at the supposed fringes of classical modernity, contrasting early-modern and late-modern phenomena. The conference was divided into three panels, concerned with (I) the production of security in states and cities, (II) the state as a producer of security in global affairs, as well as (III) environmental crises and disasters. The conference was sponsored by the Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft (DFG) Project Risikozähmung in der Vormoderne and the papers will be published by the Journal Historical Social Research (forthcoming; autumn 2010).

Opening up the first panel, KARL HÄRTER (Frankfurt am Main) described the growing importance of specialised police ordinances from the mid 17th century onwards, linking the emerging concept of public security to the secularisation of the concept of peace. ‘Gute Policey’, a very broad concept encompassing the notion of ’gute Ordnung’, was modified by the increasing specialization of police ordinances, followed by a narrowing of the concept to state-produced security in the 19th century. These developments rested on an intensification of communication and subsequent demands for controlling migration and re-establishing order. He argued that the creation of normative orders should not be narrated as a top-down state-building process, but rather as an interactive process, involving the participation of local communities. This perspective was shared by REBECCA KNAPP (Bochum), who stressed that urban fire-ordinances, while serving to reinforce authority within the city, met with the eager participation of its inhabitants, including the denunciation of offenders failing to reach the prescribed security standards. She contrasted this with the displacement of ordinary citizens from the day to day practice of combating fire, due to growing specialisation of fire fighting machinery, techniques and institutions. ERIC PILTZ (Dresden) argued that the production of security can be interpreted as central to the stabilisation of the identity of local communities. Practices of inclusion and exclusion, typical of corporate neighbourhoods, were central to the production of civic security in the Early Modern city. The subsequent centralisation of administrative concerns, the ‘Verobrigkeitlichung’, tended to displace the neighbourhood of its responsibilities, i.e. of the very means by which its ‘sub-civic’ identity could be maintained and its contribution to civic security achieved.

Turning to contemporary history, KLAUS WEINHAUER (Bielefeld) compared modern perspectives on youth crime. He argued that while late 19th century perspectives were tied to mobile young male workers and were charged with fears of upheaval, youth crime in the late 20th century transgressed social and spatial boundaries. This shift was linked to the emergence of a complex counterculture, characterized by the merging of different styles, thus disallowing straightforward labelling and provoking a general feeling of insecurity. ACHIM SAUPE (Potsdam) drew attention to the marketization and psychologization of security in the late 20th century, exemplified by the 1960s/70s debates about the introduction of the seat belt, and highlighted the prominence of security experts and ‘security gurus’.

In his evening lecture CHRISTOPHER DAASE (Frankfurt am Main) emphasized 20th century shifts in the concept of security. He observed that society had replaced the state as the prime focus of interest by the 1970s. Human security represents a rather recent shift, challenging these group and state based foci of security production. Certain dynamics of scope – from national via international to global security production – parallel this development. The concept of risk was being presented as a new way of operationalizing danger in a setting characterized by uncertainty, replacing the more clear-cut notion of ‘threat’ typical to state-based conceptualisations.

The second panel turned attention to the different means whereby European powers produced maritime security in dealing with the ‘Barbaresc threat’ to trading ships calling at the ports of the Mediterranean. PAUL TÖBELMANN (Heidelberg) argued that crusader ideology represented one of the few instantiations of a common European identity as part of the respublica christiana. Crusader ideology as a way of maintaining the integrity of the body of Christ was contrasted with the pragmatic strategies of ‘border christians’, who regularly sought alliances with their Agarene neighbours, even to combat Christian rivals.

Varying strategies like consular services, convoys, slave funds, treaties and sea passes were discussed, but no consensus was reached on the question as to why the means employed differed from country to country. MAGNUS RESSEL (Bochum) stressed a confessional background, relating the importance of slave funds in Northern Europe to the emerging Lutheran welfare state. For Sweden JOACHIM ÖSTLUND (Lund) linked the importance attached to trade security at the beginning of the 18th century to the fragile position of the bankrupt state, enforcing a more structured policy of insuring ships against threats. While religious arguments for ransoming, focussing on saving the soul and securing the body of captives, remained intact, greater importance was attached to peace treaties, slave funds being described as a necessity of war. LEOS MÜLLER (Uppsala) pointed to the importance of the Swedish consular service in Northern Africa, acting as a mediator of business, and proposed to include the notion of transaction cost when trying to understand the security management strategies of the state. ERIK GØBEL (Copenhagen) presented a new data set on maritime history, the so called Algerian Sea Pass Protocols, and highlighted the tremendous success of the sea pass system in Denmark, 28.000 Algerian sea passes having been issued by the Danish authorities between 1747 and 1844. Several speakers stressed that the corsairs of Algeria, Tripoli, Tunisia or Morocco were only polemically referred to as pirates and that the concept might lead to a misrepresentation of the relationship between the Northern European and the Barbaresc states, failing to accord for the often successful employment of peace treaties. As ERIC PARDO SAUVAGEOTS (Madrid) lecture on Piracy off Somalia made clear, early modern privateers, operating at the fringes of the Ottoman Empire, presumably had little in common with late-modern phenomena of piracy.

The third panel was inaugurated by GERRIT JASPER SCHENK's (Darmstadt) lecture on the production of environmental security in Renaissance Italy. Schenk emphasised the plurality of methods used to cope with natural disasters, strategies not being limited to the production of certitudo, but involving more pragmatic notions of ‘Daseinsvorsorge’ that were central to the concept of salus publicus and helped to legitimise Renaissance rule. DOMINIK COLLET (Göttingen) used the modern concept of food security to analyse the moral economy of hunger in 18th century Prussia. Collet argued that public granaries played an important part in symbolic politics, increasing confidence in the state. In times of dearth however, corn stored in the granaries did not reach the disenfranchised poor, but served the interest of a rather small group of people, substitute foods remaining more important. As Collet put it, the Prussian state “created security without producing it”.

CORNEL ZWIERLEIN (Bochum) took the invention of the secure society in Enlightenment Europe as a starting point, accentuating the spatial – as opposed to the temporal – aspects of insurance practices. Fire insurance companies working at the fringes of western empires often differentiated cities in accordance with perceived cultural borders, insurability demarcating spaces of modernity and backwardness. This spatially driven vision of modernity seems to be at the centre of globalizing notions of insuring the world, popular with micro-insurances. UWE LUEBKEN (Munich) highlighted the interesting parallel of riot and flood insurance in post-war USA, both representing supposedly uninsurable threats due to their geography of risk. Flood and riot insurance were managed by the same state agency, representing a merger between socializing nature and naturalizing society. As Luebken argued, insuring these threats marked an important shift, force and engineering being typical of earlier management strategies.

MELANIE ARNDT (Potsdam) addressed the problem of German social commitment after Chernobyl, arguing that the German notion of ‘Angst’, central to the Ökopax movement, inspired social actors to get involved in Chernobyl, commitment being represented as a strategy to cope with insecurity, i.e. to assure oneself of the own position – actor not victim – in relation to the GAU. RÜDIGER GRAF (Bochum) called attention to the changing conceptions of energy security in the 20th century, focusing on the history of oil. An object of strategic resource calculation during the war, oil subsequently became emblematic of modern industrialized society and of the western lifestyle, the scope of the concept of energy security being broadened accordingly. Graf argued that this “all-pervasiveness” of the use of fossil fuels in modern society marks a new quality exclusive to our age, its conceptual implications predating human security debates.

The concluding round-table debate was opened by a comment of STEFFEN PATZOLD (Tubingen). Patzold questioned whether the concept of human security applied to many of the lectures given. He suggested that the concept of security might benefit research in helping to break down the strong dichotomy between modernity and premodernity, highlighting new problems and new questions, but stressed that there is little to gain from talking about a postmodern return to premodernity. STEFANIE RÜTHER (Munster) reminded the participants that it might prove helpful to focus on processes of centralisation and professionalization of security production rather than tying security to the modern state per se. She asked crucially whether we are conceptualising security as a product of action or as a creation of language, whether security measures are a reply to more threats or to more talk about threats. Both commentators agreed that the medieval society knew and could not know an encompassing concept comparable to human security, especially due to different concepts of individuality and law, but that security should not be treated as a concept applicable exclusively to modern society. FRIEDER MIßFELDER (Zurich) tentatively suggested that what we observe as a strong dichotomy, state security replacing human security and vice versa, probably simply merged in classical modernity, state security issues and human security issues being enshrined in the same institutions. In late modernity this symbiosis is once again breaking up, opening up a field of comparison between state and post-state societies. CHRISTOPHER DAASE (Frankfurt am Main) suggested that the concept human security, representing a rather ideological concept, should be replaced by a more generic term. He proposed to focus on the question of how security issues and basic needs are addressed, discussed and provided for in different societies.

To sum up, the concept of human security, even if difficult to handle, proved apt to provoke ardent debate, offering a starting point from which to further explore and discuss the complexities of security production in communities, states and beyond. Conceptual shifts in time, e.g. from national to human security or from sacred to secular notions of the public good, the tension between state and non-state actors producing and demanding security, practices of creating and of narrating security, as well as the the complex, often paradox relationship of security and insecurity remain among the key questions to be addressed by further study.

Conference overview:

Cornel Zwierlein (Bochum); Rüdiger Graf (Bochum)

Panel I: Production of Security in States and Cities
Chair: Frieder Mißfelder (Zurich)

Karl Härter (Frankfurt am Main): The Production of Security through Administrative Police Ordinances and “gute Policey” in Early Modern Europe

Rebecca Knapp (Bochum): Urban Fire-Security between Public Policy and Technical Specialisation in Early Modern History

Eric Piltz (Dresden): Community and Control – Neighbourhood and Civic Security in Early Modern History

Michal Chvojka (Trnava): The Expansion of State Security Production in Times of Joseph II.

Klaus Weinhauer (Bielefeld): Youth Crime, City Spaces and Security since the 19th Century

Achim Saupe (Potsdam): Expertendiskurse und Sicherheitsgurus

Christopher Daase (Frankfurt am Main): National, Societal and Human Security – On the Transformation of Political Language

Panel 2: The State as Producer of Security in Global Affairs
Chairs: Wolfgang Kaiser (Paris); Rainer Eising (Bochum)

Paul Töbelmann (Heidelberg): Crusader Ideology: A Medieval Forerunner of ‘Common Foreign and Security Production’?

Magnus Ressel (Bochum): The North-European Way of Ransoming – Explorations into an unknown dimension of the Early Modern Europe

Joachim Östlund (Lund): Swedes in Barbary Captivity – The Discourse and Practice of Human Security, 1660-1760

Erik Gøbel (Copenhagen): The Danish Algerian Sea Passes, 1747-1838 – An Example of the Production of Human Security

Leos Müller (Uppsala): Swedish Consular Service in North Africa and Shipping Business

Eric Pardo Sauvageot (Madrid): Piracy off Somalia and its Challenges to Maritime Security

Panel 3: Environmental Crises, Disasters and Human Security
Chairs: Constantin Goschler (Bochum); Rüdiger Graf (Bochum)

Gerrit Jasper Schenk (Darmstadt): Notdurft, Hilfe und glücklicher Zustand. Überlegungen zur Sicherheitsproduktion in der Renaissance im Zusammenhang mit Naturgefahren

Dominik Collet (Gottingen): Storage and Starvation – Food Security in Early Modern Europe

Cornel Zwierlein (Bochum): Insurances and the Perception of Fire Disasters

Uwe Luebken (Munich): Flood and Riot Insurance: Governing Catastrophic Risk in the United States

Melanie Arndt (Potsdam): Von der Verunsicherung zum Engagement? Voraussetzungen und Motivationen deutschen zivilgesellschaftlichen Engagements in Belarus nach Tschernobyl

Thorsten Schulz (Cologne): Transatlantic “Environmental Security” in the 1970s?

Rüdiger Graf (Bochum): Between National and Human Security – Energy in the 1970s and Beyond

Round Table Debate
Commentators: Steffen Patzold (Tubingen); Stefanie Rüther (Munster); Frieder Mißfelder (Zurich); Christopher Daase (Frankfurt am Main)

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