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Philosophical Thought

Theoretical Approaches to the Study of Security in Social Research

Topchiev Mikhail Sergeevich

ORCID: 0000-0001-8296-6631

PhD in Politics

Head of the Center for the Study of Problems of Integrated Security of the Caspian Macroregion and Countering Terrorism and Extremism, Astrakhan State University named after V.N. Tatishchev.

414056, Russia, Astrakhan region, Astrakhan, Tatishcheva str., 20a

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Abstract: The article is devoted to the analysis of the main scientific approaches to the study of security in foreign and domestic works. Security is understood differently for every country and every person. The security problems in Europe are not the same as those in sub-Saharan Africa. While in the first case we are talking about problems associated with terrorism and migration flows, in the second case - with the problems of hunger and ethno-religious violence. Various approaches to the concept of security, whether too broad or too narrow, explore one particular aspect of security: for traditional security, it is the protection of the state; for human security, it is the protection of the individual. All concepts of security, whether ecological or informational, are interconnected, and the emerging "non-traditional" concepts of security are becoming increasingly important security can be defined as freedom from all kinds of threats (physical, economic, social, political and psychological) to the existence and survival of the state, the human race and other living beings. Theories and perspectives such as idealism, realism, neoliberalism and constructivism have treated the meaning of security in different ways. The traditional view of security before and during the Cold War, which focuses on protecting the state from threats to national interests, has expanded since the end of the Cold War. Security discussions now include issues such as economic security, environmental security, food security, and personal security, among others. In addition, various schools of thought have emerged that explain security differently than the traditional concept. In particular, we can distinguish such security schools as the Welsh, Paris and Copenhagen. Despite the existence of various ideas explaining what security is and how best to guarantee the security of states and individuals, the world is still inherently insecure.


security, safty, Welsh school, Parisian school, Copenhagen School, state security, personal security, threats, National security, social studies

This article is automatically translated. You can find original text of the article here.

The scientific discourse on security studies and international relations has been formed for a long time along with global changes in security threats. Many theories and views on security have been formed to explain, and sometimes rationalize and legitimize the actions of States through the prism of security. The theories of the social contract contributed to the inclusion of the concept of "security" in political discourse through the liberation of man from anarchy and guarantees of his freedom and security. For example, according to the Treaty of Westphalia of 1648, the concept of security was associated with the state. Consequently, the State had the exclusive prerogative to decide what security meant to it [1].Theories and views, such as idealism, realism, neoliberalism and constructivism, have considered the importance of security in different ways.

The traditional view of security before and during the cold war, which focuses on protecting the State from threats to national interests, has expanded since the end of the cold war. Discussions about security now include issues such as economic security, environmental security, food security and personal security, among others. In addition, various scientific schools have emerged that explain security differently than the traditional concept. In particular, the Welsh School, the Paris School and the Copenhagen School deserve mention here. Despite the existence of various ideas explaining what security is and how best to guarantee the security of States and individuals, the world is still characterized by insecurity.

Many social scientists often neglect the importance of conceptualization and conceptual analysis in their discussions about security [2]. The problem lies in their inability to assess the significance and role of such categories.  For example, S. Kononov and A. Zhukov note that researchers often do not follow clear rules or principles when conceptualizing the concept of "security", thereby getting into the problem of constructive validity [3].

In other words, security is a state of protection of vital interests of an individual, society, and the state from internal and external threats, or the ability of an object, phenomenon, or process to persist under destructive influences [4]. Security provides a form of protection that creates a separation between assets and threat [5]. These "assets" can be anything, for example, a person, a place of residence, a community, an object, a nation or an organization.

Researcher A. Wolfers defined security as "the absence of threats to acquired values" [6]. This definition was criticized by D.A. Baldwin, who, in turn, did not agree with the phrase "absence of threats". He rephrased it as "a low probability of damage to acquired valuables": without significantly changing the definition of Wolfers, this reformulation makes it possible to include events such as earthquakes or floods as a "threat" to security [7]. The new definition focused on the preservation of acquired values, rather than on the presence/absence of threats. This also means that "security" can be defined by two specific terms: "security for whom?" and "security of what values?" [7]. Thus, security can be for a state, a person, or an international system (who), as well as for physical security, economic well-being, autonomy, or psychological well-being (values).

Another researcher M. Malek defined security as the value and/or maintenance of a system over time, as well as the absence of threats to it, after studying the nature of the term "security" and wondering "was it a goal, concept, discipline, problem area or research program?" [8]. Malek proposed his definition of security as "a real or perceived state when there are no threats, or when existing threats do not pose a danger to the object in question." In his opinion, this definition has two main advantages over other definitions of security:

I. it covers all aspects, and also refers to the general content of the term "security" at all levels and areas of analysis;

II. it does not exclude the possibility of creating subfields in the widely understood context of security research, especially when new types of threats arise [8].

However, in our opinion, the attempt to include all aspects and types of threats makes this definition vague.

It is worth noting that the traditional approach to security focuses mainly, or even exclusively, on military problems [9]. This is a realistic concept of security based on Hobbes' ideas, which puts the state as a reference object of security. Since the time of Thomas Hobbes, security has been firmly embedded in the theory and practice of modern statehood. As a result, the safety of people has become a "Leviathan affair", which is also called the common good or the state. Consequently, citizens and the state had to unite to conclude a social contract. This agreement implied that the state should ensure security, and citizens, in turn, agreed with its authority [10]. In addition, the only way to peace is for people to renounce their natural rights and establish the supreme power (state). Now the state acts as a defender and provider of security [11].

Moreover, realists also see the state as sovereign and the only one with a monopoly on legal force. Thus, the State is the only legal entity with the authority to resolve conflicts within itself, between itself and another State and between other international actors. They proceed from the fact that the State interacts with other States to protect its national interests, and security interests top the list of other interests. For them, military and related issues are dominant in world politics.

A. Grisold in his work [12] identified five safety characteristics:

· ensuring the existence of the State as a political community and the physical survival of its population;

· protection of territorial integrity;

· maintaining political independence;

· ensuring equality of life;

· the introduction of vital interests of the state into the national security policy.

These features show that security is the responsibility of the State. Traditionally, State sovereignty and legitimacy depend on the level of independence of this State and its ability to manage its territory without outside interference. Another important aspect of the traditional concept of security is the support of the government by citizens [13].

E.V. Midzha defines security as "freedom from danger or threat to the nation's ability to protect and develop itself, promote its cherished values and legitimate interests and improve the well-being of its people" [14]. Security here manifests itself at the level of a nation-State, a group and individuals and has internal and external dimensions. External security is related to freedom from danger or threat from the external environment. And researcher T.A. Imobege considers internal security as "freedom from or absence of those tendencies that can weaken the internal cohesion and corporate existence of the nation and its ability to maintain its vital institutions to promote its core values and socio-political and economic goals, as well as to meet the legitimate demands of the people. Finally, internal security also implies freedom from danger to life, well-being and the presence of a favorable atmosphere for people to realize their legitimate interests in society" [15].

According to E. Oshio, who connects the concept of security with national security, the term "national security" cannot be precisely defined. This is partly due, in his opinion, to the fact that the nature and concept of national security can vary from one State to another. Like other contested concepts, this term contains an ideological element that makes empirical data as a means of dispute resolution irrelevant [16]. Thus , two main trends in the definition of national security can be distinguished:

Firstly, it is a State-oriented concept that considers national security from the point of view of the protection and survival of the State. This concept identifies "defense" with "security" and defines the army as the guarantor of national security, and equates national security with the security of the state. The second trend in the definition of national security is as follows: security implies freedom from danger or threat to a country's ability to protect and develop itself, promote its values and ensure the well-being of its people. At the same time, the importance of human well-being for the security of the country is taken into account [16].

This opinion was very popular during the Cold War, when the major world powers (the Soviet Union and the United States) made their security dependent on the balance of power between states [17]. The traditional concept of security at that time, according to T. Owen, considered states as rational entities, and security was considered as protection against invasion using technical and military capabilities [18].

The traditional concept of security has also been criticized for its narrow view of security, focusing on the State, justifying wars and using dangerous weapons of mass destruction while ignoring the opinions of individual countries. For example, researcher K. P. Misra criticizes this concept as insufficiently developed and does not take into account many factors. For him, such an understanding of security as exclusively military affairs was the main factor contributing to wars and armed conflicts [19].

Social constructivists view security as the result of a process of social and political interaction in which social values and norms, collective identity and cultural traditions play an essential role [20]. With this approach, security is achieved after the perception and fears of "threats", "challenges", "vulnerabilities" and "risks" of security are dissipated and overcome [20].

Followers of neorealism, such as Kenneth Waltz, view the state as a key figure when it comes to security, and due to the anarchic nature of the international system, states will strive for one or another offensive military potential to protect themselves [21]. This means that security is best ensured by having a strong army and preparing for war, regardless of whether it starts or not [22]. The neorealist approach has often been criticized for a rather narrow view of security based on military actions, and emphasized the state as the guarantor of security, thus ignoring other issues, such as, for example, food security or climate change [23].

The rational approach takes into account the changing nature of the world and security threats, thereby organizing the field of security research by sorting threats by sectors based on their nature, and also demonstrates the extent to which threats from a particular sector exist at the moment [8]. This approach has often been criticized for being too broad, since proponents of this approach believe that it meets the requirements of the comprehensive nature of security, allowing the inclusion of new sectors that reflect the changing nature of threats and possible new levels of international security [24].

Along with general theoretical approaches, there are several local schools that are nevertheless important for the modern understanding of security.

The Welsh School, or the Aberystwyth School, in turn, offers a critical approach that aims to link security with critical theory (rooted in Marxism), and also relies on the ideas of the Frankfurt School and the philosopher A. Gramsci [25]. Well-known proponents of this theory are K. Booth and R.V. Jones [26]. For the Welsh School, security is emancipation. A sovereign State is not the main guarantor of security, but rather is one of the main causes of insecurity (which makes them a contrast to traditional security). Real security, according to K. Booth, can be achieved by people and groups only if they do not deprive others of security [27].

The Copenhagen School of Security postulates the foundations of its concept in B. Buzan's work "People, States and Fear: the problem of national security in International relations" [28]. The theory focuses on three main concepts:

I. Security sector – i.e. military/state, political sector, public sector and so on, where security is concerned;

II. Regional security – the security of each actor in the region interacts with the security of other actors in the same region. There is usually an intense interdependence in the field of security within a region, but not between regions, which defines the region;

III. Securitization – speaking about security, the actor tries to divert the topic from politics to the field of security problems, thereby legitimizing extraordinary means against a socially constructed threat [29].

Proponents of this approach argue that in international relations something becomes a security problem when it causes outrage as representing an existential threat to any object - a threat that must be dealt with immediately and with the help of emergency measures [30]. Here, security is viewed as a negative, as an inability to resolve issues with the help of normal political actions. Thus, this school prefers desecuritization, in which security issues are removed from the sphere of the extraordinary into the everyday public sphere [31]. The Copenhagen School has been criticized by critical security specialists for objectifying (placing in sectors) security objects, arguing that these objects, like threats, are social constructs [32].

The Paris School opposes the dominance of international relations in security studies. From this point of view, the securitization process is not necessarily the result of a decision or a strategy of the subject, but is the result of a field effect [33]. The school believes that security is a socially constructed concept, and claims that security is the result of the process of "insecuritization". The pioneers of this school are M. Foucault and D. Bigot [34,35].

The approach to human security is a relatively new approach in security studies, whose representatives argued that the state—oriented view of realism ignored states and, in particular, their citizens, who suffered the most from the wars of war [36]. The Commission on Human Security (CHS) defines this area of security as "... the protection of fundamental freedoms – the freedoms that make up the essence of life, i.e. the protection of people from critical and widespread threats and situations. This means using processes based on people's strengths and aspirations; creating political, social, environmental, economic, military and cultural systems that together give people the building blocks for survival, livelihood and dignity"[37]. Thus, human security considers people as the main object, in contrast to the traditional concept of security, which puts the state as the main object and concentrates on how best to protect it. The emphasis is on ensuring the well-being of people and responding to the needs of people in the fight against sources of threats. In addition, research in the field of human security is aimed not only at finding means to protect the nation from external aggression, but also to protect it from a number of threats, such as environmental pollution, disease, poverty, and so on. Thus, human security encompasses many aspects of security, such as food security, environmental security, legal security, gender security, etc..

Some researchers criticize the approach to human security mainly for the secondary role of the state and its sovereignty in ensuring security [38]. However, proponents of the theory of human security argue that a person is the appropriate guarantor of security, and state practice should reflect this, and not focus on military power [39]. Researchers believe that the traditional approach to security is no longer relevant in this extremely globalized era, when threats such as climate change, terrorism and poverty outnumber inter-country conflicts and wars. However, the state cannot maintain its security without ensuring the security of its citizens: there can be no human security without traditional security [40].


Conceptualizing security issues is not an easy task. This is due to the fact that today the very concept of "security" is interpreted very broadly and has many dimensions and indicators. The moment the analyst tries to include all the measurements and indicators, the concept will eventually become ambiguous. The only way to overcome this is to subject the conceptualization process to several dimensions, which will make it inductive rather than universal.

Security is understood differently for each country and each person. The security problems in Europe do not coincide with the security problems in sub-Saharan Africa. While in the first case we are talking about problems related to terrorism and migration flows, in the second case – with the problems of hunger and ethno-religious violence. Various approaches to the concept of security, whether too broad or too narrow, study one specific aspect of security: for traditional security, it is the protection of the state; for human security, it is the protection of the individual. All security concepts, whether environmental or informational, are interconnected, and emerging "non-traditional" security concepts are becoming increasingly important. Relatively new concepts try to cover everything possible to solve the security problem, even if it seems too broad for empirical research, but security and the threats associated with it are constantly changing, which requires the emergence of new approaches to its study.

Thus, security can be defined as freedom from all kinds of threats (physical, economic, social, political and psychological) to the existence and survival of the State, the human race and other living beings.


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This article is devoted to a really more than relevant topic at the present cultural and historical moment and analyzes various approaches to understanding the problem of social security, as well as various forms of its implementation and representation. Security problems have always faced every person and humanity as a whole. They have acquired fundamentally new features in the modern world, which is multifaceted, dynamic and full of acute contradictions. Current life is characterized by the involvement of all mankind in global processes, whose course is accelerated by unprecedented scientific and technological progress, the aggravation of social, economic, raw materials and other problems that are becoming global. Security is a quantitative and qualitative characteristic of the protection of the environment of life, honor, dignity, values of an individual, a social group, society, and civilization as a whole from the effects of adverse factors and conditions. The formation of the scientific concept of security from a theoretical point of view is a matter of fundamental importance, since, firstly, this concept should reflect the essence of this phenomenon and, secondly, formulate it correctly, highlight the most important elements of the substantive part of the problem, both methodological and related to the field of applied activity. Discussions and discussions of various concepts and developments on security issues taking place among scientists, public and government figures, politicians indicate a significant dispersion of opinions, the lack of a complete methodological basis, and the desire to approach the problem sometimes only on the basis of foreign experience, mainly American, while ignoring the experience of their own country. Recently, the following definition of security has become widespread: "the protection of society, the individual, and the state from dangers and threats." Such a definition narrows the meaning of security by the term "security", that is, it actually detaches the effect of protection from attack. To protect means to defend, to block, to close someone or something. At the same time, the most important properties and functions of safety are belittled and lost — preventive actions to ensure safety: reducing, weakening, eliminating and preventing hazards and threats. Other points of view can be cited, but this will not make the question clearer. Of course, every point of view, every view has the right to life and carries a certain positive beginning. But it seems that considering the security problem from such positions will inevitably lead to a one-sided disclosure of the essence and content of this phenomenon. Apparently, a different, perhaps an integrated approach is required, since security as a phenomenon is multidimensional and diverse. The analysis of these and other definitions, each of which reveals the nature of such a phenomenon as security from its own point of view, allows us to identify the most essential, basic elements in them. Firstly, most of the authors understand security as the condition of a potential victim, an object of danger. Secondly, safety is very often considered as the ability of an object, phenomenon, process to preserve its essence and basic characteristic in conditions of purposeful, destructive influence from the outside or in the object, phenomenon, process itself. Thirdly, security is a systemic category, it is a property of a system built on the principles of stability, self-regulation, and integrity. Security is designed to protect each of these properties of the system, since a destructive effect on any of these properties will lead to the death of the system as a whole. Fourthly, security is considered as a crucial condition for the life of an individual, society, and the state, which allows them to preserve and multiply their material and spiritual values. Fifth, security in its absolute expression is the absence of dangers and threats to the material and spiritual spheres. Safety in the initial and most general sense of the word is a state in which there is no danger, there is protection from dangers. But for people, being safe does not mean living without danger at all. The latter always or almost always exist and, within certain limits, may even have a positive meaning, becoming one of the reasons for the necessary human activity. Dangers, stresses, problems, and difficulties are not only inevitable in people's lives, but also useful to some extent, since they also play a mobilizing role in activities, communication, and behavior. Therefore, safety is rather not the absence of danger, but protection from it. It is one of the conditions for self-determination, self-development of the individual, various communities, people, and humanity as a whole. Security is an acceptable level of risk for society as a whole, and for each individual in particular, since the axiom of potential danger states that there is no such state when the risk of a threat is zero. The work is written in a clear language and a good literary style, there is an appeal not only to the arguments of supporters, but also to the counterarguments of opponents of the author's approach, which is expressed quite clearly. I would especially like to note the rich bibliography of the article, where there is a large number of original texts and sources, because this issue has a rich history of consideration in world research practice. This text will be of interest to a certain part of the magazine's audience and may cause an interesting discussion.
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