Whose security? Building inclusive and secure societies in an unequal and insecure world

Robin Luckham


This paper analyses the connection between security and development with the aim of clarifying the intricate issues involved in this interface. It argues that the nexus between security and development is historical, but also dependent on the rapidly changing world, evolving out of colonialism to facing the challenge of powerful market forces and technology for global profits. It highlights four central challenges: collective action; the short-term development cycle vs. an historic understanding of events that have lead to particular contexts of insecurity;  democratic alternatives to existing practice; and citizens participation in defining security and holding institutions to account.

Key issues

  • The interface between security and development is challenging. While security, economic development and human freedom are often seen as being interlinked, in practice this creates difficulties, particularly in complex, violent conflict.  Whose security? From what risks or threats?
  • Security is both supply and demand; it is a process of social and political ordering, and an entitlement of citizens to protection from violence, social injustice, and externals risk such as famine.  In principle, it is equally shared and socially inclusive, even if in practice it is not. Recognition of how ordinary citizens understand security and the ways in which people experience violence and insecurity based on their varying social identities is key.
  • Risk and insecurity operates at the local, sub-national, national, and international levels, and these different levels affect each other. Analysis that does not recognise this complexity risks concealing more than it reveals. An important question is: whose risk?
  • The shift towards a more plural and decentralised world is likely to reconfigure the interface between both security and development.  This includes: the rise of the BRICS; the marketisation of security (eg increased visibility of consultancy firms delivering services, and businesses increasingly operating in fragile and conflict-affected states); rapid technological changes in ICT and questions of who gets to define and represent security; and new forms of subaltern politics facilitated by new ICTs and social media.


To move towards more inclusive, democratic and secure societies, the following needs to be considered:

  • Collective action is necessary to minimise global insecurities. However, market forces and national interests are, at times, at odds with existing structures of international collaboration, state regulation and democratic accountability. Strategies to overcome this should be forward-thinking and robust enough to confront established hierarchies of power and wealth.
  • Short-term development cycles vs. the long, historic view.  While there is a need for short-term solutions in crisis situations, there is also a need to look at how patterns of insecurity come about in a particular context.
  • Democratic strategies towards military and security establishments are vital to ease war-to-peace transitions; to protect against regression to military or authoritarian governance; and to ensure democratic accountability, even in functioning democracies. They require good empirical understanding of how and for whom security institutions function, as well as the political contexts in which they operate.
  • Moving beyond a state-centric view of security. A citizen perspective ought to be the departure point for security analysis and policy, particularly in ensuring the voices of the poor and vulnerable are heard at the local level and can hold policing and justice institutions to account.


Luckham, R. (2015). Whose security? Building inclusive and secure societies in an unequal and insecure world. IDS Evidence Report No. 151.