Security culture

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This is a page providing background in a specific field of expertise

Security culture is a concept that

  • Looks into how groups of people perceive things and how this perception can be explained/predicted/modified;
  • Depends on culturally embedded meanings of risk/security.

Security culture can be applied at two levels of analysis:

Cultural factors have no intrinsic normative value: They can have positive or negative effects on societal security and urban resilience.

For the purpose of Securipedia, aspects known as "security culture" from the technological point of view are safety aspects.

Description and backgrounds

Cultural factors

Behaviour has cultural roots that need to be understood. Cultural conceptions of risk, security and solutions to security problems vary according to the organisation of political and social relations, common values or worldviews of a system/culture.

Criminological research has typically identified cultural (and socialisation-related) factors in relation with crime occurrence and risk of crime (actual threat): cultural norms, political culture, ideological constructions.[1]. Examples include the following:

  • Cultural norms that define masculinity and act as enablers for the practice of violence by marginalised young men, who excluded from normal paths of enacting gender-specific norms of virility.
  • Cultural norms that define masculinity and dehumanise those who derive from the dominant social conceptions of normalcy (e.g. violence against homosexual males).
  • Political culture providing a breeding ground for hate crimes against people representing otherness.
  • Ideological constructions of social systems such as the family that involves a sense of right of – even violent – control, for example of men over women.
  • Cultural norms of acceptable violence such as in sport, schools and entertainment that can however trigger excesses of violence.

Personal vs. social fear of crime

Among the important results from security culture analysis on the citizen level is the distinction between “personal” and social fear of crime and its interrelation[2]:

  • Personal fear of crime (crime perceived as an individual or an individualised problem).

Actual insecurity particularly increases social fear of crime (perception of crime as a problem “out there”), but decreases personal fear of crime (perception of crime as an individual concern):

  • Social fear of crime (crime perceived as a problem “out there” in the society, irrespective of personal impact).

Social fear of crime reduces personal fear of crime: Strong knowledge and interpretative contexts present on the national level are a cultural factor that decreases citizens’ individual perception of insecurity.

Approaches how to address security culture in urban planning

  • Consider public perceptions and conceptions of risk and security (from studies, surveys etc.);
  • Involve citizens (see: citizen participation) in the planning process to find out:
- Would they use and accept the planned structures/objects/security installations?
- Do the planned issues correspond to their ideas?
- What would they need to feel safer?
- Do they realise the risk/security problem and the need of the measure?
- Do they need additional information and education?
  • Provide information on backgrounds: planning principles and standards, national security concerns and problems, ways and options to counteract, handling of new installations, etc;
  • Identify and analyse the social context to which the tool/measure is applied;
  • Use a comprehensive concept to identify vulnerability in order to reflect the multidimensionality of threats;
  • Identify and address future factors of vulnerability and resilience;
  • Identify citizens’ self-perceptions of vulnerability and resilience;
  • Identify citizens’ self-perception of their coping capabilities;
  • Analyse the distribution of gaps between felt and factual security across society;
  • Analyse the relevant public security cultures on both the level of government and the level of citizens.


Security culture typically lacks empirical substantiation. Other concepts strongly argue that differences between actual and perceived security are mainly media constructs, especially the salience media assign to crime incidents so to grasp public fear and catch attention for their product.

Referring to studies in the UK, readers of boulevard newspapers (“tabloids”) have twice the probability to exhibit specific fear of crime (violence, burglary, and car crime) than readers of quality press (“broadsheets”).[3] In fact, readers of tabloids arguably belong to different social strata by trend than readers of higher quality press, and may be confronted with more difficult realities. Therefore, empirical results of this kind should be complemented by a empirical social research.

Footnotes and references

  1. White R.D, Habibis D.:Crime and Society. Oxford et al.: Oxford University Press, 2005, 67-68.
  2. Jerković A./Siedschlag A.: Primary Interpretation of Survey Findings to Identify National Citizen Security Cultures. WWEDU Center for European Security Studies, Analytical Standpoint, no. 12, 2008. Retrieved from [last access: 2012-04-03].
  3. United Nations Human Settlements Programme (UN-HABITAT):Enhancing Urban Safety and Security: Global Report on Human Settlements. London: Earthscan, 2007. Retrieved from <>