Workshop: Security: Politics, Culture and Concepts

Yesterday, Prof. Dr. Annette Spellerberg, chair for urban sociology at the University of Kaiserslautern, and Prof. Dr. Georg Wenzelburger welcomed a range of experts from both political science and sociology to a joint workshop on “Security: Politics, Culture and Concepts”. The workshop was an important step in the preparation process for a grant application by Prof. Spellerberg and Prof. Wenzelburger.

Georg Wenzelburger presenting the draft project to the workshop participants

Their draft project focuses on the variance of security policies across German states as well as German cities. The multi-level structure of the German political system featuring federal, state, and (several) local levels of government exhibits a remarkable diversity in the delivery of security services. The project aims to explore and to explain this diversity by analyzing the impact of “security cultures”. Within organizations such as the state police forces, courts but also political parties or local administrations particular practices, understandings or norms of how to deal with security issues – and also what to regard as a security issue – have been established over time and are passed along. These cultures and their interplay with other causal factors are the focal point of the planned research. The draft project is structured at the moment in four sub-projects which will deal with (1) the exploration and explanation of the variance on the state level, (2) the impact of security cultures on policy transfer across states and between levels, (3) the impact of local security cultures on security concepts within cities, and (4) the influence of such local security concepts on the feelings of insecurity within cities. The sub-projects are tightly linked by studying the same cases of security concepts for mass events and for urban hotspots of insecurity.

Variety in the the harshness of security policies across German states based on a preliminary qualitative coding

At the workshop, Prof. Dr. Dietrich Oberwittler, Prof. Dr. Rita Haverkamp, Dr. Jasmin Riedl, and Dipl-Pol. Dipl.-Psych Hermann Groß held short presentations on current questions of security research before – along with further guests – they commented on the draft project which was presented by Michaela Ehbrecht and Georg Wenzelburger. The ensuing discussion yielded many insights and very good hints of how to further improve the project. The discussion zoomed in on the concept of “security culture” and very importantly how to operationalize such a concept and to ultimately measure it. Very important in this regard were remarks by security practitioners such as personnel of the local police departments who also attended the workshop.

In sum, the workshop proved once again the need for cooperation across the disciplines of social science, the value of a dialogue between academia and practitioners, and the merit of seeking advice and critique when developing a draft grant application.

Helge Staff

[photo by the author, diagram by Georg Wenzelburger]