Societal Security in Europe: critical perspectives


17 - 19 Oct 2018


Vrije Universiteit Brussel (VUB), Belgium


Kristoffer Lidén, PRIO




Marte Nilsen:


J. Peter Burgess, Ecole Normale Supérieure (ENS)

Emma Mc Cluskey, Kings College London

Reinhard KreisslVienna Centre for Societal Security (VICESSE)

Nina Boy, PRIO

Kristoffer LidénPRIO

​This course provides an overview of scholarly perspectives and debates on policies, perceptions, actors, economy and ethics of security in Europe.

The course is organised by PRIO and VUB in collaboration with the Societal Security Network (SOURCE) - Virtual Centre of Excellence on Societal Security in Europe,funded by the 7th Framework Programme of the European Commission.

(A full course description will be published soon. For an indication of the format, see the 2016 course page.)

Course Description:

Conflict with Russia, fight against IS, aftershocks of the global financial crisis, cyber attacks, nationalism and the 'refugee crisis' are shaping a new era of security in Europe. The post-Cold War period is over, where international war was a thing of the past and political liberalism the universal future. Yet, how should we conceive of the current state of security politics? 

In the absense of the existential military threat of the Cold War, the attention of security politics shifted towards a range of 'new' threats - man-made and natural, partly related to our reliance on advanced technology (as in Ulrich Beck's notion of 'risk society'). Pandemics, industry accidents, pollution, flooding, global warming and terrorism were among the dangers included in this broadened notion of national/civil/internal/homeland security. 

While introduced with a more narrow focus on social identities, the concept of 'societal security' was picked up by politicians, bureaucrats, security industry and academics to describe how this development involved a shift from the traditional referent object of security – the sovereignty of the nation-state – to the security of society at large. Beyond material aspects of life such as physical protection, shelter, subsistence and critical infrastructure, societal security includes complex social aspects such as values, ideas, confidence, trust and belonging. In contrast to the individual centric notion of 'human security', it nonetheless concentrates on that which is of shared public concern - complementing private and corporate security.

This course invites a reassessment of security politics in Europe through a critical engagement with the notion of societal security. Sessions investigate key aspects including threat perceptions, security actors, institutional dynamics, relations between financial and societal security, new security technology and the ethics of security. Guiding questions will be to discern how security is reconfigurated in open and less visible ways, how technologies impact values in the securing of society and how the continued relevance of the state can be conceptualized. 

While drawing on perspectives from critical security studies, sociology and philosophy, the course is interdisciplinary and welcomes participants from other disciplines like political science, history, law, anthropology and human geography. 

The course draws on research and material from the SOURCE Societal Security Network. It is organised by PRIO in collaboration with VUB, within the Research School on Peace and Conflict. 

A separate web-course platform will be developed with resources for the participants.          


Wed 17 Oct

10.00 - 11.00 Introduction 

11.00 – 13.00 Societal security - state of the art  (J. Peter Burgess) 

13.00 – 14.00 Lunch 

14.00 – 16.00 Discussion on SOURCE reports (introductions by participants)  

Thu 18 Oct

10.00 – 12.00 Actors, institutions and practices (Emma Mc Kluskey)

12.15 - 13.00 Relevance for PhD projects of the participants (discussion)  

13.00 – 14.00 Lunch 

14.00 – 16.00 Perceptions of security (Reinhard Kreissl)

19.00 Course dinner 

Fri 19 Oct
10.00 – 12.00 Finance and security (Nina Boy) 

12.15 – 13.00 Relevance for participants (discussion) 

13.00 – 14.00 Ethics of societal security (Kristoffer Lidén) 

15.15 – 16.00 Concluding session

(There may be changes to the course schedule.)


​Application deadline: 1 August 2018

Essay proposal deadline: 26 October 2018

Essay hand-in deadline: 15 December 2018


​The course equals 5 ECTS (according to the standards of the University of Oslo) upon comprehensive preparation, active participation and the satisfactory completion of an essay of 4000-5000 words by 15 December 2018.

It is not required to write an essay, but all participants are expected to read the course literature in advance and contribute to discussions in the course sessions. Studends who follow the course without writing an essay may consult their university whether they can still get some ECTS upon documentation of active participation.  

For those writing essays, an essay proposal must be submitted for approval by 26 October. The proposal should include a research question, a few lines on how it is to be addressed and references to relevant course literature.

The essay proposal and course essay are submitted to the course contact: The essays are evaluated by the course leader on a pass/fail basis, within two months after submission.


The deadline for applications is 1 August 2018. Please fill in the application form. PhD candidates are kindly asked to include details of your doctoral project under the 'How does the content of this course...' question (title/topic, theory (one line), method (one line)).  

Who can apply? PhD candidates receive priority but graduate students and post-docs from relevant disciplines may also apply. Professionals working in the field of societal security may apply provided they have a Master degree from a relevant discipline. Current members of the Research School on Peace and Conflict only need to register.

Costs. There is no participation fee but participants are expected to cover their own travel and accommodation cost. Five stipends for basic accommodation at the near-by Anker Hotel are available for PhD students who do not have access to funding for such course participation through their universities. 

Applicants will be notified about the outcome of their application within a week after the deadline. Early applicants may request a prior evaluation of their application in an e-mail to  if necessary in order to make travel arrangements.

Course Literature:


Please address any application questions to Marte Nilsen.