Security without borders?

Conference "Grenzenlose Sicherheit? – Gesellschaftliche Dimensionen der Sicherheitsforschung" 7./8.5.2015 Berlin

By Ulrike Hess-Meining

I recently participated in the conference „Grenzenlose Sicherheit? – Gesellschaftliche Dimensionen der Sicherheitsforschung“ (“Security without borders? —Societal dimensions of security research”). The conference was organised by the German Ministry of Education and Research (BMBF) and “SiFO” (Fachdialog Sicherheitsforschung) in Berlin. Key speakers included Saskia Sassen (Columbia University, New York) and Cornel Zwierlein (Ruhr-Universität Bochum and Harvard). Sessions were held referring to “Security for future urban spaces”, “Forms of organized crime in economy and finances” and “Security management by networking”. The latter proved to be especially interesting in our PsyCris working context.

Michael Liegl (Mainz/Lancaster) spoke about “Resilient Society? Chances and Challenges by civic participation, digital volunteers and (g)local self-help in emergency aid”. Regarding our own discussion on “walk-in-volunteers” it was very interesting to hear something about “digital volunteers”. Liegl provided examples following the Boston Marathon Bombing e.g. “Boston Strong”, or a platform for localisation, e.g. the software “Ushahidi” that was used in the 2010 Haiti earthquake. A controversial example might be the “UAViators” (, flying into crises regions with the aim to let their drones “explore” the situation. The question arises if there is a new landscape of emergency response that ignores the local population. “Digital volunteers” and “walk-in-volunteers” show positive as well as problematic sides of unorganised help in crisis. This discussion will continue in PsyCris.

Jan-Hinrik Schmidt (Hamburg) provided an interesting example on the use of twitter as a resource in the recent Nepal earthquake within his lecture “Social media in crises and disaster”. Widespread use of social media is given in establishing condolence groups or commemorative websites. Schmidt concluded that further research is needed.

Meike Wolf (Frankfurt/Main) gave insight into an empirical study comparing London and Frankfurt public health departments on influenza preparedness (“Global menaces, local answers: Considerations given by cultural anthropology regarding influenza preparedness”). One London interviewee stressed “the importance of making friends before we need them” so “in an emergency they would have met in the past”. Also in London an interviewee mentioned that “the plans were activated but nobody used them”. In PsyCris we also deal with these two aspects. The importance of networks and social capital, and in consequence the significance that people know each other to improve preparedness and contingency planning, is a central issue in our project. Additionally, the failure of plans in a crisis situation and the conception of alternatives is a major problem PsyCris is working on.

The conference ended with an interesting discussion on “Future as crisis? – Challenges for security research”.

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