The position of crises in human development processes and thinking - Using the human security perspective in an era of transitions. Background paper for UNDP Special Report on human security.

OA Gómez, Des Gasper

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This paper discusses how the treatments in development thinking of threats and consequent crises—sudden or sharp disruptions in development paths—have in various ways often been inhibited and inadequate. It outlines how human security thinking can help in counteracting these weaknesses, at various levels, from broad orientation through to some particular tools in research and planning. It sets the discussion in terms of required transitions within the era of the Anthropocene, during which threats and consequent crises can be expected to grow. Crises of various sorts appear inevitable and even necessary drivers for transition, and must be used as windows of opportunity for change.
Thinking on human security and on human development are very largely complementary. Each is focused on overlapping but partly different dimensions in people’s lives; both are relevant for new narratives about rescuing a sense of common human fate, such as underlie the SDGs and the notion of the Anthropocene, and in superseding predominant narratives of the era of the Liberal International Order. This paper identifies and addresses though some preconceptions and clichés in relation to crises and/or development that inhibit collaboration between the two perspectives. Our discussion of “development” is mostly about the dominant understanding in mainstream international development cooperation after the Second World War, which suggested a clear-cut division between “developed” and “developing” countries, the former seen as already “graduated” from the process.
We understand human security thinking as including at least the following: 1) human security as a normative concept and goal, 2) as an analytical framework to serve that objective, 3) as a corresponding policy philosophy linking peace, development and human rights, the pillars of the global community that has been established through the United Nations, and 4) as a policy planning approach to support operationalization. Each of these four has various specific versions.
The paper contains two main parts. Part One identifies ways through which understanding and addressing crises through development processes and thinking can be obstructed, namely by: a) the legacy of casual crisis talk; b) waiting for trickle-down (or: “the Kuznets curve of everything”); c) overriding preoccupation with root-causes; d) developmental hypermetropia; e) the politics and perceptions of crises; f) limits to attention, comprehension, and empathy; g) a too narrow view of admissible solutions to crises.
Part Two turns to the contributions from a human security perspective in addressing those obstacles and to suggesting ways forward, in the context of the Anthropocene. Section 2.2 considers how the 2020 Human Development Report provides new thinking, but also indicates some limitations in regard to possible tendencies in parts of the Report to i) mechanistic understandings (perhaps stemming from closed-system models) of social and policy processes; ii) one-sided emphasis on agency and freedoms and iii) lack of a notion of enough, related to iv) a limited understanding of needs theory and leading to v) an unbalanced rendition of drivers of change. Section 2.3 suggests how limitations can be responded to in part by human security ideas at various levels. Finally, Section 2.4 connects those ideas to a framework for thinking about transitions, as requiring changes in vision and values as well as in methodologies and tools for analysis and planning.
The concluding discussion reviews main points on how human security ideas contribute, encompassing both a broad vision and specific relevant practices, that can help understand and cope better with the normality of crises in a world in transition.
Original languageEnglish
Place of PublicationNew York
Number of pages51
Publication statusPublished - 1 Oct 2021

Bibliographical note

Background paper No. 3-2022 for UNDP Special Report on human security.

Copyright @ 2022 By the United Nations Development Programme


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