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22. January 2015 09:00

Discussion Paper "The Future of Security Research in the Social Sciences and Humanities"

Security, the security of society and of individuals, is at the centre of concerns of contemporary society. In recent years it has, however, become clear that developing new technologies alone will not improve our security. It is now widely accepted that security depends as much on attitudes and behaviour of individuals and groups as on availability of new technological solutions. If we want to feel more secure, better protected, we need to better understand the social, cultural and psychological factors underlying human understanding of security but also of insecurity. This can only be achieved through contributions from multiple disciplines of social sciences and humanities: sociology and psychology, history and philosophy, law and theology, anthropology and linguistics, and others working closely together with medical, technical and environmental sciences.

Aware of the challenge to integrate the humanities and social sciences in considerations of security, the ESF Standing Committee for the Humanities (HUM (formerly SCH)) invited Professor J. Peter Burgess (Peace Research Institute Oslo, PRIO; Vrije Universiteit Brussels) to prepare a discussion paper analysing the current state of security research and proposing new research avenues.

The present paper is very timely, taking stock of recent debates and developments and it challenges up-to-date approach to security research. It argues that security research faces a major change and calls for new and innovative scientific thinking.

The aim of the report is twofold. First, it seeks to describe the premises, values, and the social, political and scientific institutions, funding arrangements, and cultural activities around which security research revolves today. Second, it argues that the social sciences and humanities are indispensable for understanding present and future security challenges. The report challenges the opposition between industry-driven, technologically-oriented research and development and societal conceptions of both security and insecurity. Although this opposition is both unnuanced and somewhat exaggerated, it continues to nourish tensions between researchers, practitioners and policy makers. More importantly, this divide contributes to closing, instead of opening, research horizons, weakening the position of the most visionary thinkers and researchers. It implicitly gives free reign to technology research that, while perhaps at the forefront of technological advances, is out of touch with the public sphere where security is provided.

The paper concludes with ‘Recommendations: Strategies for a future security research agenda’ outlining new directions in humanities and social sciences based security research.

The discussion paper is addressed not only to research policy makers and research funders but also to researchers involved in security research. Its findings and recommendations are aimed at enriching the understanding of this research field and stimulating innovative proposals. It is the intention of the Standing Committee for the Humanities that the paper opens a discussion on new ways forward.

Notes for Editors


Professor J. Peter Burgess

Dr Nina Kancewicz-Hoffman


About The European Science Foundation

The European Science Foundation (ESF) was established in 1974 to provide a common platform for its Member Organisations – the main research funding and research performing organisations in Europe – to advance European research collaboration and explore new directions for research. ESF provides valuable services to the scientific and academic communities – such as peer review, evaluation, career tracking, conferences, implementation of new research support mechanisms and the hosting of high-level expert boards and committees – with the aim of supporting and driving the future of a globally competitive European Research Area. ESF currently has 66 member organisations in 29 countries.

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