Call for papers – International Conference Cultural perceptions of safety

On Thursday 21st and Friday 22nd of January 2021, the Humanities Department of the Open University of the Netherlands organizes the international conference ‘Cultural perceptions of safety. Reflecting on modern and pre-modern feelings of safety in literature, philosophy, art and history’. We cordially invite scholars from various disciplines to send in their proposal for paper presentations.

Theme description

Questions of safety are at the foreground of many societal and spatial issues. Nowadays as well as in the past, the longing for safety is an important driving force for people and political and religious regimes. Therefore, it is important to reflect on how we define, experience and represent safety. In our modern day and age, according to statistics on crime, hunger, illness or death most parts of the world appear to be safer than ever before. However, the information age we live in brings us daily news of ecological catastrophes, drug crimes, epidemics, terrorism and trade wars, which influences our sense of safety significantly. Feelings of safety are thus connected to much more than measurable numbers, such as our emotional experience. Consequently, changing experiences of safety are influenced by social, political, environmental and personal factors and need to be seen in a broader context to fully grasp its impact.

During this conference, cultural perceptions of safety will be placed at the foreground. As feelings of safety, and also unsafety, are subjective indications it is interesting to look into the cultural expressions of these emotions and see how and when these have been portrayed in literary works, philosophical lines of though, artworks, architecture, various media and historical sources. The aim of this two-day conference is to bring together scholars from various humanities disciplines to pursue fluctuations in feelings of safety over time as well as in the cultures of surveillance and safety practices. This in order to answer questions such as; When do feelings of safety and unsafety emerge? Where, in which physical space, is safety located in cultural expressions? Do modern expressions of safety and unsafety differ from that in earlier times, and how are these feelings expressed, explained, generated, used and portrayed? Looking at these and related questions from a urban and rural, western and non-western, national, global and geo-political perspective will help us comprehend the impact of cultural perceptions and discourses of safety and analyse how they have been implemented in policy making.

Paper submissions

We welcome abstracts for papers (20 minutes max. excluding discussion) focusing on modern and pre-modern cultural perceptions of safety. Contributions can address, but are by no means limited to the following themes:

  • Spatial dimensions of safety; How does the representation and expression of safety differ between cities and rural areas? How was and is the ideal safe space portrayed? How does the architecture or the city planning of spaces influence our feeling of safety?
  • Emotional dimensions of safety; How has the emotion of safety been perceived and portrayed over time? How are feelings of safety influenced by processes of in- and exclusion of specific social groups? How are feelings of safety and unsafety imagined and linked? How do different literary genres discuss (un)safety in relation to emotions? and How do art works perform (un)safety and how is this linked to affectivity?
  • Theoretical and ethical reflections on safety; What is safety? How has safety been defined? What is the role of safety in society? Which philosophical and religious roots have influenced our perceptions of safety?
  • Eco-anxiety and safety; How is the feeling of safety affected by the existential challenge of climate change? How does the phenomenon of eco-anxiety prevail in cultural expressions of safety? Is this form of anxiety a typical current societal discourse of safety or does it have its own history?
  • Politics of safety; What is the meaning and value of safety in politics? How have feelings of safety and unsafety been used in policy making? What are the differences in cultural perspectives on safety in western and non-western countries and on national, global and geo-political level?

Note: all papers’ conclusions should include a statement on how safety discourses, representations and practices function in societies.

Abstracts of papers consist of approx. 250 words and should contain the title and the summary of the paper. In addition provide a short bio of max. 100 words including the name of the speaker, affiliation, full contact address and email.

Practical information

Deadline for abstracts is 1st of June, 2020.

A notification of acceptance was sent before the 1st of August, 2020.

Abstracts can be sent to Martje aan de Kerk via

The conference takes place at the Academiegebouw in Utrecht, the Netherlands.

Some of the papers will be selected for publishing in the conference proceedings. Please indicate in your abstract submission if you would be interested in being a part of this proceeding.

If you have any questions, please contact Martje aan de Kerk via


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