Brussels, 08 Jan 2004
Subject: Memorandum of Understanding for the implementation of a European concerted Research Action designated as COST Action A24 "The Evolving Social Construction of Threats"
Attached is the text of the abovementioned Memorandum of Understanding signed in Brussels on 20 November 2003 by Belgium, Denmark, Finland, Lithuania and the United Kingdom.
Threats are not givens that we all automatically recognise and identify as such. Even in situations where it would be reasonable to assume that "we know an elephant when we see one", we do not automatically know whether it is a threat to us. Events cannot constitute themselves as threats: they must be understood as such.
Such an understanding is, however, not something subjective. For the way in which events are understood as threats is influenced by past histories and the "lessons" drawn by the contending parties1, by their respective belief systems2, indeed by the "common sense" of the respective actors3 which might, or might not, coincide. In other words, the way events appear as threats to us is the result of a "social construction".
Usually there are competing threat constructions. The peace-movements spent much of the cold war trying to advance alternative bases for understanding the enemy. This was done both by producing alternative data about it and by telling us in so many words that "Russians love their children too", i.e. by countering the tendency to make the other appear as necessarily "irrational" or "non-human".