Rationalizing danger

How do things become recognized as threatening by and within a given society? To what extent do labels such as ‘threatening’, ‘risky’, ‘secure’, ‘unsafe’, or ‘vulnerable’ instruct policy-making in different ways? And what are the precise causal relations at play between knowledges of danger on the one hand, and actions based on such knowledge on the other? This research cluster looks into the rationalization of insecurity, as well as the interplay between the construction of danger and its enactment in policy-making processes.

Resilience: Unpacking a trend security concept 

JRR‘Resilience’ has become a trend security concept. In many places, resilience has become seen as a fundamental component of devolved proactive approaches to mitigating complex threats whatever their nature. Yet, the resilience concept’s practical applications are as diverse as its definitions. Even for those considering resilience a useful framework, a significant challenge still lies in its  characterization and quantification. This article examines ways in which resilience has been operationalized methodologically. It details ways of measuring resilience, reflects on the development of the highlighted cases, their benefits and limitations. The article maintains, however, that resilience should not be reduced to a methodological problem only. This is because its operationalization also connects with analytical ideas of what and whose kind of responsibility should be measured – as well as political conceptions of who assumes what tasks and responsibility in the resilience framework.

Prior, Tim; Hagmann, Jonas (2014). Resilience: Methodological and political challenges of a trend security concept. Journal of Risk Research 17(6): 281-298. PDF

The causal relations at play between knowing and enacting insecurity   


How does knowledge of insecurity connect with threat-based policy-making? Reflexive approaches to security not only maintain that dangers are socially constructed, but also that they relate with political behavior. Representations of terrorism, for instance, are argued to constitute that danger in distinct ways and thus to make certain counter-terror policies possible. This article challenges this popular perspective. It argues that constitutive argumentation advances an insufficiently tangible argument of effect, and that this conceptual weakness derives from both a problematic foundational social theory and a premature rejection of causation. Drawing on the social theory of Archer and Bhaskar, as well as a differentiated notion of causation, it advances a ‘dialectical causal’ framework for the analysis of representations of danger. Applying it to Swiss terrorism politics, the article shows how this framework improves on constitutive argumentation in disentangling the political powers involved in the production and enactment of representations of danger.


Hagmann, Jonas (2013). Representations of terrorism and the making of counterterrorism policy. Critical Studies on Terrorism 6(3): 429-446. PDF

The analytical and epistemological limits of risk analysis

JRRThe Fukushima catastrophe tragically epitomizes the limitations of dealing with natural and technical hazards. Remarkably yet, authorities’ review of the catastrophe continues to be limited to mistakes and responsibilities of practical risk management. Although state regulations are questioned, technical protection measures verified, and disaster management processes optimized, no deeper discussion about the limits of risk analysis has been engaged thus far. How trustworthy can risk analyses be, and what kind of statements about the future can they actually formulate? This article examines the analytical and epistemological boundaries of risk analysis. Drawing on cases of international nuclear risk management, it tests and problematizes the definition of risk, the methodology of their registration, and the interpretation of their results. Following this discussion, the article draws conclusions concerning the usefulness and necessity of a differentiated and informed discourse on the potential and the limitations of the risk analysis method – an approach which today enjoys increasing popularity in a variety of policy sectors ranging from critical infrastructure protection to national and international security.


Hagmann, Jonas (2012). Fukushima: Probing the analytical and epistemological limits of risk analysis. Journal of Risk Research 15(7): 801-815. PDF

National risk registers: The measurement, comparison and ranking of all kinds of danger

SD.gifEuropean civil protection agencies have become highly active in measuring, comparing and ranking all kinds of public danger, ranging from natural hazards to industrial risks and political perils. This article focuses on this production of integrated ‘national risk registers’ and the analytical power politics in which they are complicit. It argues, first, that by positing ‘science’ as an objective determinant of security truth, the registers advance modernist understandings of how knowledge about danger can be arrived at – thus discounting both ‘sovereign’ and popular authorities. Second, it shows that by operationalizing traditional risk-assessment formulas, risk registers empower seemingly apolitical decisions in security affairs, taken on the basis of cost–benefit thinking. Third, it discusses how risk registers’ focus on ‘themes’ tiptoes around the definition of referent objects, thus avoiding explicit decisions about beneficiaries of particular security decisions. Taking these factors into account, the article finds the new risk registers to depoliticize national security debates – while transforming insecurity into something permanent and inevitable.


Hagmann, Jonas; Dunn Cavelty, Myriam (2012). National risk registers: Security scientism and the propagation of permanent insecurity. Security Dialogue 43(1): 79-96. PDF

Neue Gefahrenkonzepte in der internationalen (Un-)Sicherheitsanalyse 

Cover_GefahrenkonzepteDie heutigen sicherheitspolitischen Debatten und Untersuchungen werden zunehmend von neuen Gefahrenkonzepten geprägt. Während Begriffe wie Sicherheit und Bedrohung früher als dominante Leitideen fungierten, werden Gefährdungen heute vermehrt anhand der neuen Konzepte Risiko, Verwundbarkeit und Resilienz untersucht. Welchen Mehrwert liefern diese neuen Begriffe in der Sicherheitsanalyse? Diese Studie definiert die Ansätze der drei Begriffe, beschreibt ihre Herkunft und vergleicht sie miteinander. Gleichzeitig hinterfragt sie die Nutzen und Effekte der neuen Gefahrenkonzepte kritisch. Ziel der Studie ist zu hinterfragen, wie die drei neuen Gefahrenkonzepte neue Politikperspektiven eröffnen, aber auch wie sie diese analytisch in bestimmte Bahnen lenken.


Hagmann, Jonas (2012). Risiko, Verwundbarkeit, Resilienz: Neue Gefahrenkonzepte in der internationalen Sicherheitsanalyse. Risk and Resilience Research Group Factsheet. Zürich: Center for Security Studies, ETH Zürich, 20p. PDF

Räume der Unsicherheit: Konstruktion, Emanzipation und Exklusion durch Sicherheitspolitik

GH.pngDie kritischen Sicherheitsstudien befassen sich seit den neunziger Jahren mit der Frage, wie Gefahrendiskurse politische Landschaften von Inklusion und Exklusion erschaffen, wie sie die gesellschaftliche Meinungsbildung strukturieren, und wie sie die sicherheitspolitische Handhabung des öffentlichen Raumes definieren. Dieser Artikel präsentiert eine Einführung in die in der Schweiz noch immer wenig bekannten kritischen Sicherheitsstudien. Er fasst die konzeptionellen Überlegungen ihrer heutigen Denkschulen zusammen, und er illustriert sie anhand praktischer Fallbeispiele aus der jüngeren schweizerischen Sicherheitspolitik. Ziel des Artikels ist es aufzuzeigen, wie Sicherheitspolitiken verschiedene politische Räumlichkeiten erschaffen und gestalten, wodurch ein Dialog zwischen der Politischen Geographie und der Disziplin der Internationalen Beziehungen geschaffen werden soll.


Hagmann, Jonas (2010). Räume der Unsicherheit: Konstruktion, Emanzipation und Exklusion durch Sicherheitspolitik. Geographica Helvetica. Themenheft: Geographie der Unsicherheit 65(3): 172-180. PDF