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Human security as ontological security: a post-colonial approach

Shani, Giorgio (2017) Human security as ontological security: a post-colonial approach. Postcolonial Studies, 20 (3). pp. 275-293. ISSN 1368-8790

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Identification Number: 10.1080/13688790.2017.1378062


This article will critically interrogate the relationship between Human Security and Ontological Security from a broadly postcolonial perspective. The dislocation engendered by successive waves of neo-liberal globalisation has resulted in the deracination of many of the world's inhabitants, resulting in a state of collective ‘existential anxiety’ [Anthony Giddens, Modernity and Self-Identity: Self and Society in the Late Modern Age, Cambridge: Polity Press, 1991]. Under such conditions, the search for ontological security becomes paramount. However, conventional understandings of Human Security as ‘freedom from fear and want’ are unable – from a post-colonial perspective – to provide ontological security since they operate within a culturally specific, Eurocentric understanding of the ‘human’ as ‘bare life’ [Giorgio Agamben, Homo Sacer: Sovereign Power and Bare Life, Daniel Heller-Roazen (trans), Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 1998]. It will then be argued that post-secular conceptions of Human Security [Giorgio Shani, Religion, Identity and Human Security, London and New York: Routledge, 2014] by acknowledging the role which culture and religion can play in providing answers to existential questions concerning the ‘basic parameters of human life’ are better able to ‘protect’ ontological security in times of rapid global transformation given the centrality of religion to post-colonial subjectivity. This will be illustrated by the case of the global Sikh community. It will be argued that ontological, and therefore, Human Security rests on reintegrating the ‘secular’ and ‘temporal’ dimensions of Sikhi, which had been severed as a result of the colonial encounter.

Item Type: Article
Official URL:
Additional Information: © 2017 Taylor & Francis
Divisions: International Relations
Subjects: H Social Sciences > HN Social history and conditions. Social problems. Social reform
Date Deposited: 01 Mar 2018 12:38
Last Modified: 20 Oct 2021 03:24

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