Journal of Human Security | 2013 | Volume 9 | Issue 1 | Pages 29–31
DOI: 10.12924/johs2013.09010029
ISSN: 1835-3800
Book Review
Doing Justice to Human Security: A Textbook in Tune with
its Time
Published: 4 September 2013
Keywords: an appropriate human security textbook; learning outcomes and big ideas
Human Security in World Affairs: Problems
and Opportunities
Alexander K. Lautensach, Sabina W. Lautensach
Caesarpress: 2013
504 pp.; ISBN: 978-3-902890-00-9
I begin this brief review of this important volume with
the confession that I have not personally pursued a
teaching style that has employed a self-acclaimed
textbook for many, many years, preferring to
construct courses around monographs, articles and
other visual materials. However, were I provided the
opportunity to teach a course at the upper division
undergraduate level or early gradate level in the
subject of human security, this would certainly be the
book I would choose (with the caveat introduced
below). Alex and Sabina Lautensach have given
careful and thoughtful consideration to every aspect
of the text: the preface and introduction, written by
the editors, lay out both the logic of the text and
frame the subject matter that will locate the reader
firmly in the midst of the vast challenges that consti-
tute the issue of human security. They do so by em-
phasizing both the multiple dimensions along which
the issue of human security can be located and the
inseparable nature of these as they interact with each
other in complex ways. In many respects this strikes
me as one of the most important contributions to the
text—its steady insistence that human security as a
construct is in a discursive state of constant emer-
gence, such that in some important ways all its varied
dimensions insistently co-vary. To make such a claim
is in itself daunting—to demonstrate its validity and
mutual engagements through the complex subject
matters of its 20 chapters, is a tour de force. Their
conclusion is sufficiently rich to stand alone as an
illustrative text in other course materials.
As a text the book is thoughtfully constructed. As
indicated, the subject matter chapters are preceded
by a preface and introduction that are written in a sty-
le that is welcoming to the reader and leave one with
a sense of confidence that the overall work promises
both purpose and content that will be rewarding. For
the student this promise is realized in the structure of
the 19 content chapters. Each consists of a summary
that appears at the beginning of the chapter followed
by a statement of "Learning Outcomes and Big
Ideas". This framing device gives on to the overall
subject matter of the chapter, conveniently identified
by specific enumerated sections. Each chapter con-
cludes with four teaching-oriented subsets: summary
points that ably delineate the major issues touched on
within the chapter; a listing of extension activities and
further research ideas that stimulate the reader/
learner to additional activities; a list of terms and
definitions that cumulatively build the conceptual
vocabulary that is a major "take away" of the volume;
and a section on further reading which often contains
useful URLs to direct the reader to sites that in their
nature will continuously update concepts and ma-
terials found within the chapter.
One can only be impressed by the reach of this
volume and the impressive credentials of its many
© 2013 by the authors; licensee Librello, Switzerland. This open access article was published
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authors. The conventional listing of contributors at the
volume’s end provides an additional incentive for
readers to extend their investigation beyond the
volume in hand by putting these authors high on their
list of future reading. They include an impressive mix
of academic credentials as well as ample "real world"
postings in both governmental and NGO sites
throughout the world. Perusing this listing one can not
help but carry away from it not only the sense of well-
earned credentialization of the contributors, but also
their commitments to the numerous and varied issues
and causes that necessarily make up the "culture" of
human security endeavors throughout the world.
Given the inevitable "reality" that to address human
security is to "take on" virtually every aspect of
human activity on the globe in all time periods, the
volume does a remarkable job of selecting areas of
concentration that will provide a rapid learning ex-
perience for the novice reader (let alone the additional
benefits of reach and edification that come to the
more experienced reader). This benefit is, I think,
best exemplified by the constant iteration of the
interactions that exist between human and non-
human environmental factors. The direct and indirect
interfaces between human settlement activity of all
sorts—but especially those of human societies over
the past two hundred years—and the natural
environment are touched on in nearly every chapter
with the result that the reader’s previous under-
standing of key concepts is simultaneously reinforced
and expended upon. Phrased another way, the
framing with which the volume leads—namely,
providing effective understanding of both the reach
and limitations of various environments and ecologies
throughout the globe—is constantly overlain with rich
and complex descriptions and analyses of complex
human structures that have grown out of such en-
gagements both as efforts to organize and regulate
them, e.g. state structures, extra-state structures,
laws, conventions, regulatory processes, as well as
those that exist outside the reach of effective human
regulation and continue as the sources of human
misery and constant threats to human security, e.g.
human trafficking, arms dealing, global crime, refugee
displacement, health threats, etc. Overall, as a reader
I was impressed by the extraordinary range of the
conceptual structures provided by the volume as well
as the wealth of information provided.
As a university classroom teacher of many decades,
I was constantly challenged in reading this volume to
think of how it could be effectively used by my
students. I am struck by three accommodations one
must make to it. First, despite the very original and
diligent structural considerations built into each
chapter intended to assist the student in grasping the
extraordinary range of materials included in the
volume, I find the task viewed from the student's
perspective daunting. This flows both from the range
of the subject matter and the extraordinary detail that
is provided differentially in virtually every chapter. In
many respects I would conceive of the book more as
a resource volume than a text, certainly at the
undergraduate level. Second, I write from a distinctly
American university perspective wherein most uni-
versity undergraduate curricula would not have
provided a ready administrative space for a multi-
disciplinary subject such as human security: it would
most likely be taught either from a social science,
biological science or health science perspective. As
such the teaching task is considerable to assure that
students have the grasp of the theoretical and
conceptual materials necessary to ensure full use of
the book. To which one needs to add that both the
semester and quarter structure of many (most?)
courses make this a heavy burden for most under-
graduate classes. I hasten to admit that this reflects
more negatively on the nature of US undergraduate
educational structures than on the inherent value of
the book, but as I indicate, it is a significant accom-
modation one must make were this the context of its
use. Thirdly, and following directly from my previous
point, in my own teaching this would be an invaluable
book at the graduate level, in any number of courses.
Within my own frame of reference its use in courses
in policy, conflict, globalization, planning and health
would be more than welcome.
Given my obvious appreciation of the book and its
many virtues, it seems almost gratuitous to focus on
what I find as shortcomings. But for my purposes
both as a university teacher and researcher, I find
several areas in which I would have appreciated either
inclusion of an added dimension or greater attention
within chapters that occupy these subject frames. One
is with the issue of population. Whereas the
extraordinary challenges presented by our current
population trajectory are touched on in various places
(most particularly chapter two), as an overall driver of
the human security complex of causes and effects, it
seems to be under-emphasized and valued. This is
especially true given the precise point we occupy on
the population explosion curve. Our students in
particular are facing a world of potential transition
that is almost without recent precedent. Combining
this awareness with a more extended consideration of
the dynamics of the global economy into which our
students will be entering seems especially relevant.
This leads to a second and related concern, which
again is touched on in various places, especially those
that deal with issues of the state and extra-state
status, namely the explosive growth throughout the
world of conurbations, sometimes viewed as mega
cities. A growing amount of recent scholarship,
especially from urbanists and students of globalization
suggests that the structural nature of such human
aggregations poses new issues and dilemmas for
governance and survival. My suggestion is that they
need to be included within this admirable catalogue of
human security concerns in and of themselves. A third
issue concerns the ubiquitous nature of technological
change and its transformations throughout the
complete range of knowledge environments. The
dominant view of technology throughout the volume
tends to be its threats to issues of sustainability
between human and non-human ecologies. My view is
that the world as we know it is poised at a particular
conjuncture between population, human settlement
patterns, governance and belief and the ever more
rapidly changing knowledge environment—all part of
the collective phenomenon we choose to label
globalization despite our ready admission that by this
term we mean many, many different things.
But in the overall context of this admirable volume,
these can be viewed as perhaps desirable additions to a
second edition, rather than as shortcomings that detract
from its value. Overall, the volume is an extraordinary
achievement and I applaud its publication.
Deane E. Neubauer
Department of Political Science, University of Hawaii,
Manoa, HI, USA; E-Mail: