Edited by John B. Davis and Wilfred Dolfsma
Chapter 3: Insecurity
John Vail The question of insecurity lies at the heart of social science enquiry. There is hardly an academic discipline – in economics, environmental sciences, geography, international relations, political science, social policy, sociology – that is left untouched by a concern for this subject. In recent decades, however, insecurity has ceased to be merely a matter of academic interest to become one of the most urgent issues in our everyday lives (Vail et al., 1999). The incidence, scope and distribution of risks have shifted dramatically over the past four decades as a consequence of epochal transformations in cultural, economic, political and social life. Economic insecurity, which had always been the fate of working-class lives, has emerged as the lived experience of the middle classes in the advanced nations as a consequence of mass unemployment, job insecurity, increased work intensity and income volatility. Nearly one quarter of the world’s population still lives below the World Bank’s one dollar-a-day poverty line and their lives are irrevocably blighted by the persistent scourges of ill health, food insecurity, collective violence, gender inequality and authoritarianism. Family life has become deeply vulnerable and insecure: the past 40 years have witnessed extraordinary upheavals in the social patterns of work, gender relations and sexuality that have ruptured traditional expectations and behaviour and led to unparalleled changes in family arrangements. Environmental risks, encompassing global climate change, water shortages and air pollution, have mushroomed exponentially and are now central to our understanding of the modern world. Despite the hegemony of liberal democracy,...
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