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Security from bodily, emotional, and mental harm; this includes security when one cannot take care of oneself (e.g., in infancy and childhood, in old age, or due to illness or disability)



Context within NORA

Relationships to other needs

Clean air and water are needed for bodily security, from health hazards.

Food is needed for security from malnutrition. Food security is a major concern for large numbers of people around the world.

One has a sense of being at home only where one is secure, both emotionally and physically.

In order to obtain help one may need the mobility to reach a relative or friend, a doctor, someone who can provide financial support, and so on.

Clothing may be needed for security from cold, heat, or wet; it may also be needed for security in a social sense (one may not be socially acceptable without the right clothing).

Appropriate shelter is needed for security from the weather, and may also be needed for bodily security from people. More broadly, a safe house is also important to keeping one's belongings safe.

In the absence of physical or mental health, one is in special need of security. A key aspect of social security is access to healthcare.

Nothing is as basic to security as supportive relationships with other people who can help if the need arises. These are critical to tiding over periods of need or helplessness, especially early and late in life.

A meaningful livelihood is key for security both in direct material ways, and in a psychological sense, of feeling secure.

Participation in collective economic and political decision-making is often critical to ensuring that one's basic security needs are met.

If one does not enjoy basic security, one will not be able to devote time to relax or to divert one's attention from matters of daily survival. Neither will one be able to devote any attention to spiritual connection with one’s deeper self and with a transcendent unity. Likewise, one's chances to express oneself will be extremely curtailed.

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Relationships to Organizational forms

Some basic aspects of security can only be provided through self-provisioning: if one is poorly grounded, is emotionally insecure, or tries to control too much, one will never be secure. That is, one must put one's own house in order before hoping to enjoy security. However, since it is impossible to control everything, security beyond one's own house depends on good relationships with others. Community solidarity and sharing can provide this type of security, and to some extent it can be provided by long-term relationships established via committed sales or services, usually mediated via currencies and markets (although the latter can create huge instabilities and thereby insecurity). Certain kinds of networks can provide security, in that if one connection fails, another can fill the breach. Institutions of coercion and denial of choice can provide a certain level of security (in the sense of predictability) at an enormous cost to freedom.


Relationships to Resources

Security depends on assured access (though not necessarily ownership and control) to the resources one needs for life, including air, water, land, energy, some living things (e.g., for food production), some physical, human-made assets. For all of us, it depends on the stability of ecosystems, including the entire atmosphere, hydrosphere, and biosphere. At a deep level, security depends vitally on the intangible asset of trust; if one lacks that, no amount of any other resources will allow one to live securely.

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Understanding patterns of abundance and scarcity


Broad political, economic and ecological context

A truly secure economy would be grounded in the reality of how much can be produced sustainably from the earth, and keep within those limits. It would ensure a reasonably equitable distribution of benefits and responsibilities among people, avoiding extreme inequalities of wealth and assuring that everyone's vital needs were met. This would allow a large degree of trust that other people will not resort to crime, violence, or fraud in order to get what they need or want. Under these circumstances, most conflicts could be resolved peacefully, and only rather few resources would have to be committed to law enforcement.

The distance that separates us from this utopia is the measure of our insecurity.

The sources of our insecurity follow clearly from the above considerations. For example, billions of people face the insecurity that they do not know whether they will get enough food tomorrow if not today, or that they may face physical violence. Many more do not live in such existential insecurity, but are kept in constant anxiety about whether they can keep their jobs, or whether they can afford health care. Such insecurity follows from being denied:

  • access to or control over the resources needed in order to lead productive lives,

  • basic human rights (and often even the recognition of being a person), and

  • an active role in economic and political decision-making.

Even while so many people live insecure lives, a significant minority of the world's population lives in historically unprecedented affluence, created mostly by the labor of those people kept in moderate or extreme insecurity. This wealthy minority feels that they must defend their wealth, both ideologically and by more forceful means, meaning that they never feel completely secure.

It is thus no wonder that enormous amounts of money and other resources are expended in order to create a sense of security for the privileged people, from gated and guarded “communities” to huge military budgets, and to the vast sums expended on spying on ordinary communications across the world.

“Growth” is meanwhile measured not in terms of greater human happiness (which has been stagnant in the affluent countries for decades), but in terms of greater expenditures of money. The way to achieve this growth is to promote increased consumption of resources, with no regard for sustainability. Growth is pushed by a system of currencies and markets that recognizes no “optimum” level, but instead requires unending growth in order to be “healthy.” In the short term, this creates a sense of security as long as the growth machine appears to be working, but at the cost of widespread insecurity as soon as it stalls a little bit. When the growth machine fails altogether, the insecurity will be ubiquitous and extreme.

Given the pervasive sources of insecurity, it is no wonder that many people feel insecure – sometimes more than is warranted by their current situation. This may happen, for example, as a result of having survived traumatic circumstances in the past. In addition, people who lack deep self-awareness and therefore poorly understand their own needs may attach themselves to imagined sources of security that do not serve them well, and therefore feel perennially insecure. A sense of security thus depends not only on current external circumstances, but also on a person's inner life. Both inner work (e.g., meditation and reflection, counseling and therapy) and outer work (changing social realities) is need in order to regain balance.

The social means to obtain greater security can be found in currencies and exchange systems that do not depend on unending growth, and on commons-based economic arrangements that ensure that all stakeholders share equitably in both the benefits and the responsibilities associated with resource use. In this sense, virtually all the “approaches toward greater abundance” listed anywhere in the NORA knowledge base help to increase security. These will not all be listed here.

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Focused methods to increase security

Some approaches toward greater abundance, however, focus more specifically on security and will be covered here – as long as they do not increase some people's security by making others insecure, or putting the environment at risk.

Some of these approaches try to help people who are under imminent threat, right now, without bothering about analysis of the causes, whether those be social (e.g., social environments that promote sexual abuse and harassment) or natural (e.g., droughts or floods). Such responses are often needed for quick response that cannot wait until the causes of insecurity are addressed.

Another array of approaches to creating greater security try to be more comprehensive, providing lasting support, even while doing little to remove the causes of insecurity. Social welfare programs, and insurance schemes (especially mutual insurances, co-owned by their customers) do this. The rationale is either that dangerous events cannot be avoided (e.g., everybody may fall sick, and tornadoes can strike unexpectedly in lots of places), or that it is not feasible to greatly reduce certain risks (for example, the risk of being unemployed).

A further series of attempts to create greater security seeks to remove the risk itself, or adapt in such a way that the threatening event is no longer dangerous. Building houses on stilts such that a flood is no longer dangerous would be a case in point. Designing neighborhood roads in such ways that car-drivers are forced to drive more slowly vastly reduces the risk of life-threatening accidents. Establishing an alliance of worker cooperatives that enables workers who are no longer needed in one enterprise to easily find work in another one (as practiced by the Mondragon cooperatives in Spain) vastly reduces the risk of unemployment. Making sure that sources of drinking water are clean can virtually eliminate a variety of epidemic diseases.

An array of methods from across the spectrum sketched out above is needed in order to ensure greater security for all people. However, if the methods that address the causes of insecurity make real headway, it should be possible to reduce the effort expended on the more stopgap methods. For example, if the number of traffic accidents declines because of better design of roadways (slowing down cars), then fewer emergency room treatments of injured people are needed (this has actually happened in recent decades in a number of countries). If water sources are clean, then far fewer people need to be treated for infectious diseases (this has also happened wherever good water supplies have been established). There is no reason why similar approaches might not be effective concerning risks which we consider inevitable today.

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Approaches toward creating greater abundance

Note that this is a very preliminary list


Emergency services

Shelters and services for abused women

Shelters and services for abused children

Emergency relief in the case of natural disasters (e.g., earthquakes, floods)

Emergency health-care services

Firefighting and related emergency services

Emergency interventions concerning violent crime


Long-term programs

Programs to empower women, children, men who have been traumatized (e.g., suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder)

Community-rebuilding in the wake of disaster (natural or man-made)

Structural defenses against disasters (e.g., levees against floods)

Social welfare programs

Retirement programs

Insurance (especially customer-owned, mutual insurance)


Reducing risks

Building methods that are resistant or resilient to, or reduce the hazards of


severe storms


land or mudslides

Designing roads and transportation infrastructure to reduce traffic hazards

Clean water provision

Educational programs

Assurance of employment (e.g., as done by Mondragon cooperatives)

Commons trusts (using revenue from shared resources to provide a guaranteed minimum income)


Addressing personal feelings of insecurity

meditative/contemplative methods

counseling programs


community-based programs

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to be added

Bündnis Entwicklung Hilft (Alliance Development Works): World Security Report



very preliminary list!

Beck, Ulrich. 1992. Risk Society: Toward a New Modernity. Sage Publications.

Breman, Jan. 1996. Footloose Labour: Working in India's Informal Economy. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

____. 2003. The Labouring Poor in India: Patterns of Exploitation, Subordination and Exclusion. New Delhi: Oxofrd University Press.

Caldwell, Christine. 1996. Getting Our Bodies Back: Recovery, Healing, and Transformation through Body-Centered Psychotherapy. Boston: Shambhala Publications.

Molotch, Harvey. 2012. Against Security: How we go wrong at airports, subways, and other sites of ambiguous danger. Princeton and Oxford: Princeton University Press.

Nordstrom, Carolyn. 2004. Shadows of War: Violence, Power, and International Profiteering in the Twenty-First Century. Berkeley: University of California Press.

Peluso, Nancy Lee, and Michael Watts (eds.). 2001. Violent Environments. Ithace, NY: Cornell University Press.

Wilkinson, Richard. 1996. Unhealthy Societies: The Afflications of Inequality. Routledge: London.


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