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close this book Human Security and Mutual Vulnerability
View the document INTRODUCTION
View the document Acknowledgements
View the document Chapter 1: A Framework for Analysis
View the document Chapter 2: Environmental Insecurity
View the document Chapter 3: Economic Insecurity
View the document Chapter 4: Social Insecurity
View the document Chapter 5: Political Insecurity
View the document Chapter 6: Cultural Insecurity
View the document Conclusion
View the document Bibliography

Chapter 4: Social Insecurity

There has never been a real global society. Nor has there existed a defined global social regime. What does exist is a social construction: an image of social interactions encapsulated in terms such as the global village and similar allegories. There is, however, a process of globalization, expressed in an increased velocity of elite circulation and communications across national boundaries conveying and strengthening that image. Regionally, the emergence of the European Community has meant the expansion of concrete possibilities of horizontal displacements and exchanges among once tighter national compartments. This has also been the case historically, between Canada and the USA.

Perceptions of the global village are grossly distorted by these unique experiences. True, with the disappearance of the Iron Curtain, the theoretical possibilities of travel between Eastern and Western Europe have increased. Yet, for most of the world population, despite claims of an emerging cosmopolitanism, the globalization of social life means hardly more than the virtual reality of canned media and the advertising of products. This is especially the case among the poor, for whom the globalization of the market does not effectively translate into expanded choices, nor in enhanced opportunities. Thus, when we talk about the global village, we are referring to a small elite of the affluent, the powerful and the informed, who really possess a transnational character. The bulk of the world population, while afected by the planetary character of communications, production, distribution, and accumulation, does not partake in the new social regime. Rather, the negative consequences of internationalization have a greater impact on the lives of most people than the promises of a unified and nurturing global social order.

The Sources of Social Insecurity

Although internationalization has meant increased freedom of movement of capital and those who possess it, labour mobility is not an intrinsic characteristic of the present system. For most workers and for the unemployed, globalization means hardly more than the old notion of international division of labour: capital "shopping" for cheaper wages in various national markets and relocating there as a function of lower costs. It is much more likely that the affluent go South than that those in the periphery visit the centre, other than through the fortuitous routes of illegal immigration and exile. A myriad of economic, political, legal, regulatory, and security factors militates against their doing so.

Thus, to talk about a global social order is, at best an illusion, limited by access to resources and the means to acquire mobility. However, there are a number of interconnected factors that constitute global trends affecting the quality of social life in otherwise eminently national and subnational societies. This globalization manifests itself in a number of specific trends.

Population Growth

One of the most misunderstood issues of mutual vulnerability is population increase. Western media are replete with explicit portrayals of the connection between birth rates and human misery. From this perspective, the populace is presented as either a pasive subject, or worse an objective threat to human survival. Although social and physical scientists within the neo-Malthusian camp reduce population growth (and fertility rates especially among the poor) to being the monocausal explanation of poverty and degradation, a considered analysis would give us a more complex picture. A distinction needs to be made (as in the case of the foreign debt) between population growth, a population problem, and a crisis of overpopulation. While population pressures are clearly dysfunctional in already densely inhabited zones, the world as a whole is far from the cataclysmic scenario of having reached its global "carrying capacity." Nor, as Malthusians argue, is the central explanation of poverty, disease, malnutrition, conflict, or injustice.

This is not to ignore that, "rapid population growth in developing countries has been a cause for alarm for many decades" (UN 1992). The 1992 Rio Summit "brought into sharp focus the ecological limits to growth and the dangers posed by large and growing populations driven by poverty to despoil the environment irrevocably" (UN 1992). However, the World Population Council's "population bomb" metaphor is increasingly giving way to a nuanced perception in which the liabilities resulting from population pressures over limited resources have to be balanced with the issues of human resource development (HRD), equity, and sustainability. Indeed, rapid and uncontrolled population increase in the absence of economic development and, most importantly, in conjunction with a skewed distribution of resources is a recipe for catastrophe. The numbers suggest an expanding global population, though with decreasing speed (1.7% in 1990 versus 2.5% in 1965–73). Yet these trends are not uniform. Africa, where the quality of life indicators are the lowest, the population growth rate has accelerated from 2.8% in 1973–80 to 3.1% in 1980–90. A similar tendency is observable in the Middle East and North Africa (from 3.0% to 3.1%). In other less-developed areas (South Asia, East Asia, and Latin America), while still exhibiting growth rates larger than the world average, a significant deceleration has taken place (Table 16).

A recent United Nations report (UN 1993) gave an estimate of the future scenario of the world situation, by projecting current levels and growth trends: the numbers could double in 35–40 years:

The world population in mid-1991 was 5.4 billion. Its annual rate of growth is expected to drop from 1.7 per cent per year at present to 1.6 per cent in 1995–2000, 1.5 per cent in 2000–2005, 1.2 per cent in 2010–2015 and 1.0 per cent in 2020–2025.... The world population is projected to reach 6.3 billion in the year 2000 and 8.5 billion in 2025.

These figures compound an already bleak scenario, since as mentioned these increases would take place in the poorer regions of the globe. Should these pressures continue to mount in an uncontrolled fashion, population expansion would become a major multiplier to long-term global insecurity. The fundamental variables in the demographic-threat equation, more than fertility rates, are the balance between population and resources (especially land) as well as overconsumption. It is not just a question of more or fewer mouths to feed to be solved simply by birth-control technologies. In fact, as Commoner (1975) has suggested, poverty breeds overpopulation and not the other way around. Societies that reproduce poverty will also tend to produce overpopulation. Equitable economic development tends to generate demographic transitions toward older and stable demographic profiles. This, of itself may generate other problems such as declining productivity, aging of the workforce, an increase in the passivity/activity ratio and the escalating cost of social services. Yet this "demographic implosion" is more manageable than its conterpart.


A related issue is that of migration (Dirks 1993). Massive movements of people have been a constant throughout human history. What makes today's migration unique is the speed of the process combined with the density of existing settlements. The aforementioned United Nations' report stated:

Migration, both from within countries and across borders is mounting. Political and economic disruption are important immediate causes of specific flows of migration, but demographic pressures and growing economic disparities create strong underlying forces for population movements which threaten to become a serious source of international conflict. (UN 1993)

Population displacements into large cities and into developed centres is at the same time an effect and a cause of systemic dysfunction. Potentially, it constitutes a serious problem for both migrant-generating and receiving areas. The younger and better educated migrate first. With rural-to-urban and small-to-large migration, there is a net loss of human capital and a inexorable decay of communities. Regular, steady, and "absorbable" migrations present no major problem to the centre. It needs to be differentiated from massive, uncontrollable, and sudden displacements of the less skilled resulting from calamities. In the latter case, the sustainability of migrant-receiving zones can be put in jeopardy. Already strained services, facilities, and opportunities may lead to irreversible decline and eventually the socioeconomic breakdown of cities. Other than from a purely ethnocentric perspective, international migration is not a difficulty for the receiving area. Normally, the opposite is the case since, by and large, those who leave tend to be among the most skillful and socially mobile members of "exporting" societies. However, as primary groups disintegrate, with a subsequent increase in uncertainty and fear, made more acute by deteriorating economic conditions, xenophobia emerges. Migrants, especially those from a perceived "lower" social standing and visible minorities, are turned into the scapegoats of social discontent. In some cases, elites foment these phobic feelings as a surrogate or "lightning rod" for internal resentments emerging from exploitation, unemployment, and reduced opportunities. When this happens, forceful discrimination, persecutions, "ethnic cleansing," and genocide become likely. Out migration and refugee flows ensue.

Refugee Flows

In addition to the dislocations brought about by the present economic restructuring, social demographic, and steady migratory trends, there are sudden population displacements caused by violent upheavals. The issue of refugee flows is one of the most poorly understood but often-discussed themes. These involuntary and traumatic displacements are spearheaded less by natural catastrophes and economic collapse than by bloody political conflicts, although a combination of factors is not unusual.

The sources of refugee generation have changed since the Second World War. Until then there was a net transfer from the centre to the periphery; since the 1950s, the flow has reversed. For instance, Latin America, from being a receiving region for European refugees, became a refugee-producing area in the 1970s. North America, Europe and Australia have remained as likely points of destination. Since the more developed countries are also the most likely destination of regular migrants, the image of a "refugee crisis" has been constructed.

Undoubtedly massive refugee displacements are bound to have destabilizing consequences upon global security, affecting in particular regions near the zones of conflict and only indirectly core areas. The figure for refugees living outside their national borders for 1989 was about 15 million (Heffernan 1990). A 1991 UNHCR report placed the total of world refugees at 17 million. In addition to the abovementioned "external" refugees, there were nearly 4 million individuals in 1993 living in refugee-like situations and other 27 million displaced within their own borders .

These are "official" figures; actual numbers are probably twice, or even three times, as large. The numbers go up constantly, with annual increases in the recent past of 3 to 6%, by any account much higher than the rate of global population growth. As internal conflicts have multiplied since the end of the Cold War - in the former USSR, in the Balkans, and in central Africa - so has the number of displaced populations. Despite the formal settling of old disputes as in Cambodia, Palestine, and Afghanistan, refugee areas are far from shrinking.

In addition to the displacements caused by war, in many instances refugee flows are compounded by rural poverty, natural catastrophes, socioeconomic dislocation, and deprivation. Refugee crises in already depressed areas have potentially destructive effects for both the generating and the receiving societies. Contrary to widely held belief, the greatest influx of refugees goes to neighbouring territories, usually already troubled regions in poor countries, not to the developed nations of the West. This generates potentially expanding zones of social vulnerability: the direct security threat posed by refugees is further destabilization of the periphery. In other words, refugee issues cannot be seen as purely local issues, affecting specific countries. They could potentially trigger a dysfunctional chain of "ripples" through entire regions. The ratio of refugees to total population in selected contries may help to further clarify the nature of the problem.

Despite abatement of the bitter conflicts in some of the long-standing areas of refugee generation, such as Indochina, Central America, Afghanistan, Ethiopia, and Palestine, new trouble spots have emerged. For instance, "[the] number of people uprooted in the Middle East since the invasion of Kuwait by Iraq... may total between four and five million, one of the largest mass displacements in recent times, and possibly the most far-reaching in terms of the number of countries affected since the Second World War" (Van Hear 1993). Other trouble areas include several of the former Soviet Republics (Zayonchkosvkaya et al. 1993), the former Yugoslavia, Somalia, Sri Lanka, Sudan, and Haiti, not to mention the ever-increasing flow of "environmental" and "economic" refugees, escaping dramatically deteriorating living conditions (Martin 1993). [The term "environmental refugee," although commonly used, confuses the situation of many forced migrants. It involves a complex relationship among environment, economic conditions, policies, human intervention, and the creation of population flows (McGregor 1993, pp. 157–170).] Major cities elsewhere, even in North America, are already experiencing the influx of "urban refugees," resulting from internal displacements and deteriorating economic conditions in depressed regions.


The benefits of internal migration, however are less clear in the many overcrowded cities of the Third World, such as Mexico City, Sao Paulo, Bombay, Bangkok, Manila, Djakarta, Cairo, Nairobi, and Lagos. The creation of the megalopolis is the immediate result of such population movements, a pattem of life and social decay that started in the 1970s and has accelerated at a very sharp rate ever since. By 1991 over 61% of the world's urban population lived in less-developed regions (UNDIESA 1993), surpassing both the absolute numbers and the rate of urbanization of the OECD countries. Urbanization nowadays appears to be less the result of affluence, as was the case in 19th and early 20th century Europe and North America, as the outcome of poverty .

Studies carried out a decade ago indicate that the largest cities in the Third World often held between 10 and 25% of the total population, over half of the urban-dwelling population and more than four times the number of inhabitants of the next largeest cities (Dickerson et al. 1983). This trend has become even more pronounced, especially in the poorer countries. In the megalopolis of the future, there may be a strong association between physical expansion and poverty.

To understand hyperurbanization in its full extent, three interrelated proceses must be clarified. One is the tendency to urban primacy: the domination of the most populous city, which is operationally measured by dividing the population of such a city by that of the second most populous centre. Calculations made by Smith and London for 1960–70 indicate that primacy had already been reached in 74 cities in 1960, with the more extreme cases in Africa (8 cities with 1/5.45 ratio) and Latin America (13 cities, ratio 1/6.48). While ratios declined over the next decade, the number of prime cities worldwide increased to 89, with Latin America exhibiting the largest, and most rapidly expanding skewness:15 cities with a ratio of 1 to 7.32.

Another tendency is overurbanization: population increases in urban areas beyond the capacity of the existing structure to cope with them. In 1960, there were 120 overurbanized centres, with the largest number of cities in Africa, Europe and Latin America. By 1970, the number of overurbanized cities had climbed to 161 worldwide.

The third tendency, urban bias, is both a cause and an effect of hyperurbanization. It is the proclivity of political elites to channel resources toward cities at the expense of rural areas. The aforementioned study indicated that, although on the whole, urban biases have remained high throughout, there was an accentuation in peripheral countries (chiefly in Africa), contrasting with a significant decline in both core and semiperipheral areas (Smith and London 1990). Rapid migration brings about substandard housing, uncontrollable health hazards, increased pollution, alienation, addiction, and crime. Meanwhile the unfulfilled expectations of new dwellers become a potential factor for social unrest. Cities evolve into large, ungovernable and unmanageable nightmares where urban decay feeds upon rural decay and vice-versa.

But the latter is not always the case. The development of an underclass of the poor and the permanently unemployed may provide a pool of cheap labour able to countervail both lower class militancy and social mobilization against the existing order. Whether we talk about "slums of hope" or those of "despair," the existence of overcrowding and widespread urban poverty alone are not a direct contributor to social revolution. Crime, squalor, and alienation act, in fact, as pre-emptors of social change and political radicalism. Likely, the most persistent problem associated with massive migratory trends and physical mobility everywhere is not the disruption of the structure of privileges and inequalities but rather, as discussed above, the development of conditions of increased global epidemiological vulnerability. This vulnerability has been enhanced by the speed and permeability of transportation, which has facilitated displacements of populations across continents. Overcrowding and promiscuity, combined with deteriorating sanitary conditions create the objective circumstances for epidemics.

The Decline of Communities

A less visible, but equally important process connected to the globalization of society is the concomitant decline of communities: villages, neighbourhoods, and families. Far from the freedom and self-realization resulting from the creation of solidarity based on achievement, social policy, and market forces, urbanization, rapid communication, rural-to-urban migration, boom-and-bust cycles, the universalization of norms and standards, and the withering away of traditional forms of authority have negatively affected the life of primary organizations. Yet, no alternative space of support has been created in the process. Larger forms of association, as noted already by 19th century social analysts, bring with them a greater propensity for impersonalization and anomie which affect the very root of human identity. Institutional support and services, which, as in the advanced welfare states were supposed to provide better, more accessible and equitable care than traditional forms, have increasingly broken down, leaving instead an expanding vacuum. In the present situation of extreme uncertainty regarding any future social order, the loss of community compounds social insecurity and anguish. In this context, the search for primary-group identity moves to the surrogate communal life provided by fringe organizations: gangs, cults, sects, criminal societies, and other forms of modern and alienated tribalism.

The Global Society:

Transnational Integration and National Disintegration

What seems to be taking place the world over is a process of transnationalization of elites, going on side-by-side with a process of growing disintegration of national societies and local communities. The internationalization of the "low-wage economy" has increased the social marginalization, polarization, and social disintegration of the wage and salaried sectors, while conversely facilitating the formation of a new global elite. Besides the manifold linkages provided by international networks, international integration is facilitated by communications technology, global fmance, trade, and transportation.

On the other side of the equation, there is the decimation of organized blue-collar labour. This tendency follows a generalized pattern to deindustrialize the centre and internationalize a new form of transnationally integrated manufacture. Meanwhile, as the pressures for restructuring the administrative state, the educational establishments and the workplace multiply, white-collar sectors also fall. To a large extent, the processes of globalization and structural adjustment have brought about the demise of the middle class and the mesocratic values associated with it: familism, nationalism, and "civic duty." Paraphrasing Antonio Gramsci, the crisis consists in that the old are dying and the new cannot be born. The implications and causes of social breakdown are global, although their manifestations are quite specific to each concrete society. Acute disintegration of existing structures and the weakening of solidarity, make smooth social adaptation to externally induced changes extremely difficult. The legacy of economic restructuring is an acute social decomposition with a myriad of morbid symptoms in the centre and the periphery: addiction, alienation, and crime. For those unable to acquire extraterritorialities, quality of life tends to decline considerably: poverty and personal insecurity become endemic.


The systems of care and support, where, to use Lasswell's categorization well-being, affection, respect, and rectitude are shaped and shared, are, in turn, conditioned by traditions and expectations. It is these traditions and expectations that have been drastically disarticulated. Communitarian mores, displaced over the post-war decades by the practices of bureaucratization, the welfare state, and mass society, have led to a vacuum where neither "traditional" nor "modern" behaviours and expectations exist. Chaos and turbulence become the operational context of contemporary society.


The basic values upon which solidarity and organization are constructed and the norms that define conduct and identity (the "software") are increasingly replaced by instrumentalities. As in the environmental regime, economic trends determine social trends, whether by quiescence or rejection. Equality as a social goal has been displaced by acquisition. Means become ends as process substitutes for substance. The new global culture is largely defined by commercialism, consumerism, and mass communications. Social belonging is defined in possessive terms: being is a function of having. Homogenization by means of instumental values tends to disarticulate the chains of signification of existing cultural expressions, leading to anguish and uncertainty. However, there is a noticeable flow in reverse: the re-emergence of fundamentalism, both religious and secular, as a counter discourse to instrumentalism and pragmatism.

Whether Christian, Islamic, New Age, punk, skinhead, or mystical, the search for an all-encompassing belief system on the surface seems to run against hedonism, the search for social engineering, or neoliberalism. But a closer analysis suggests that the new fundamentalism has a strong instrumental side: the pursuit of a rigid way of life or code of conduct. This attitude can, and does, coexist with the essentially alienating nature of modern and postmodern society.


Increasingly a bipolar configuration between "integrated" and "nonintegrated" sectors begins to take shape. The former constitute the new establishment. This emerging stratification cuts through both domestic and global groupings. In fact, transnational networks are mechanisms for elite integration and reenforcement, facilitated by cosmocorporations, international organizations, professional associations, and NGOs. Primary groups like the family, the village, friends, and neighbourhoods lose their function as reference groups and as vehicles for social support. Yet, in this postmodern enviromnent, so do inclusive "modern" forms of association such as nations, social classes, and state mechanisms, which were once thought of as substitutes for communitarian forms of association. The middle-class myth, so central to theories of social development, has been rendered irrelevant as social divisions become more rigid and separateness evolve into a prevalent form of social life. Stratification tends to follow ethnic, linguistic, functional, or religious lines; while gender, age, sexual orientation, and socially constructed categorizations (even "tastes") reenforce, or at least do not challenge, the existing bipolar configuration between global elites and national nonelites.


Contemporary social processes are essentially the fruit of conventions, rules, and norms, affected by technological and economic trends. Unlike environmental processes, they are not unchangeable physical and fatal occurrences. In the globalized social order, migration, urbanization, social demobilization, and the like are interconnected and continuous processes. As income concentrates, social mobility becomes impaired. Education as a vehicle for overcoming social barriers appears increasingly less relevant. Once again, it is important to stress that social processes operate differently among the incorporated and the nonelite sectors. While among the elite core, merit, productivity, and education still serve as criteria for mobility (in fact, one can talk about "international standards"), the gulf between those inside and outside the system is expanding. Access to global networks becomes a modern manifestation of ascription, segregating those who partake in the process of shaping and sharing of valuables and decision-making from the rest of society.


Inequity and fragmentation ensue and become entrenched in postmodern society. Since social processes are culture, region, class, or gender specific, the impact of exclusionary interactions will vary depending of the strata of society or specific role-set affected. A significant consequence across the board is a continuous redefinition of the spheres of the personal, the private, and the public. The current globalized social order reproduces on a planetary scale some of the most profound contradictions present in both the "developed" and "underdeveloped" societies. The emerging social order, far from Rousseau's fantasy, is closer to Hobbes' state of nature, where neither primary groups nor the Leviathan can generate either common or individual security.