SOAS University of London

Department of Development Studies

Security (MSc RID)

Module Code:
Unit value:
Taught in:
Term 1

The module does not take a conventional approach to security; state formation and structure, military and political organisation and security sector interventions are covered in the core module of Violence, Conflict and Development and the optional module War to Peace Transitions. The module on Security is designed to complement these modules by examining aspects of security that are not associated with formal political and military functions. The module will also contribute to the teaching on Development Studies and Globalisation and Development by offering a security perspective on many of the subjects that are approached on these degrees from the angle of development.

The notion of security has been embedded in the state system since Westphalia. It has assumed various guises since, becoming a determining feature in the development launched in response to the disorder and unruly behaviour of the poor, and subsequently as the rationale behind the Marshall Plan. At the end of the Cold War, the collapse of the Soviet Union resulted in uni-polar politics and this established the frame for a global security agenda. Simultaneously, the tempering of national sovereignty bestowed a form of sovereignty on the individual—expressed through the terminology of human rights—thus conceiving the notion of human security. As security shifted from the national to the sub-national and international level, its diversity increased—different mechanisms protect and threaten humans and globes—and there has been a corresponding proliferation of actors working in the field of security.

The module on Security aims to examine the meanings and agents of security. Security is conceptualised as a pattern of relations designed to manage risk through collaboration, competition and compromise; its opposites are vulnerability, insecurity and terror. The module investigates processes and phenomena that pose direct threats to groups of people and, in doing so, potentially destabilise or aggravate situations. Famine, financial volatility and AIDS undermine people physically, politically and psychologically, and on occasions result in further forms of insecurity as people resist, retaliate or take advantage of the situation. The module also incorporates analysis of contingent—and differentiating—social factors such as age, gender, class and identity and the way that these shape and are shaped by experiences of security.

The collaborative nature of security has various manifestations, as treaties are formulated to combat a shared threat, posed for example by climate change. Global security demands collaboration, and the difficulties in ensuring it raise the question of whose security is being pursued. This introduces the elements of competition—reflecting the tensions inherent to the Westphalian system or the Cold War and insecurity in Africa. As the pursuit of security in one dimension or by one set of players competes with or compromises the security of others, there is an opportunity to examine not only security imposed but also the political space for defiance and reconfiguration that exists within the environment of uni-polar politics and radical intervention.

The module is divided into three parts: human security, international security and global security. There is overlap and interplay between the elements examined in each section, and the structure is designed to provide a framework for teaching and analysis rather than to categorise these aspects of security definitively. The module draws on literature from a range of sources. The academic literature derives predominantly from Development Studies, Political Science and International Relations. This provides varied analysis of the nature and function of global security and human security. In addition to this, there is a rapidly expanding academic literature linking specific threats to processes of vulnerability, insecurity, terror and globalisation. This is accompanied by literature by pressure groups working on the issues concerned: on AIDS, corporate responsibility, the environment and human rights. The UN, itself heavily involved in forging the meanings of security, has produced documents relating to health, climate change and other elements covered in the module.

Objectives and learning outcomes of the module

At the end of the module, a student should be able to:

  • Elaborate on and critique meanings of the term ‘security’, how these are constructed, interpreted and manipulated;
  • Identify and examine non-military processes and phenomena affecting security;
  • Demonstrate a sophisticated understanding of how various forms of security interact;
  • Explain the roles of a diverse set of actors operating in the field of security;
  • Analyse ways in which security is differently experienced between and within groups;
  • Assess risks and vulnerabilities within Global Security;
  • Deploy academic, UN and pressure group literature on security in constructing arguments.  


Teaching takes place through a weekly 2 hour lecture and 1 hour tutorial.

Scope and syllabus

This module will be delivered alongside the parallel module, 'Security', worth 22.5 CATS credits. Students will have the opportunity to attend all lectures and tutorials, but the examinable component will be approximately 75% of the 22.5 CATS credits syllabus. Material delivered in the lectures and tutorials which is NOT examinable will equate to two of the ten weeks of the module, and will be identified by the module convenor and communicated to students at the start the module.

Method of assessment

60% examination, 40% coursework. Each student will be expected to submit an essay of no more than 4000 words, worth 40%. Resubmission of coursework regulations apply.


Important notice regarding changes to programmes and modules