It’s been a couple of months since I’ve written on here, but I’ve been busy! Midway through my first quarter at UCSD, my classes have opened my eyes to a diversity of ideas, histories, and ways of making sense of social life.
An interesting thread that seems to have emerged for me is this question: what makes you safe and secure?
For some time now, notions of safety and security have been at the forefront of my mind masked in questions about belonging and community, albeit in a scattered, disarticulated way. But even if scattered in my subconscious, one can look at the things I’ve done to locate this trail: coming out, volunteering, my pandemic music album Apollo’s Refuge, researching migration stories in my family, community organizing, etc.
This time, I am drawing my attention to this question of safety and security more explicitly. And perhaps, this might be where my doctoral dissertation research goes in the future.
I have recently posed this question to a few different people and one of the few common ideas that come up is this idea of home, a place to sleep, rest, a shelter. This image is of an art installation at UCSD, titled “Fallen Star.” Designed by artist Do Ho Suh in 2012, Fallen Star symbolizes the turbulent, vertigo experience immigrant newcomers often feel when navigating a new country. Remnant of The Wizard of Oz, this art installation conjures feelings of home, cultural displacement, memory, and space: where did I come from, where have I landed, where do I go from here, how do I return, do I return? Interestingly, this week I learned that the French language has a word that speaks to this feeling of “not being at home,” which is dépaysement.
What felt striking in these conversations was this fear, anxiety, and/or personalness that was entangled in responses about what makes someone feel safe or secure. There is a great irony here.
As a Communication scholar, I am largely driven by epistemic questions. It is a rather large field, but to simplify, it is more or less a “fancy” way of signaling to complex questions about knowledge. For example, what is knowledge, how do we know what we know, why do we think we know what we know is knowledge?
When one takes an epistemic turn in their line of thinking, it might make sense to return to a word’s etymological origins, as you have perhaps seen me do quite a lot in previous posts. So, let’s take this detour with the two words of the day: safe and secure.
According to the Online Etymology Dictionary, safe originated sometime in the 1300s, from Old French sauf meaning protected, watched-over, assured of salvation, and Latin salvus meaning uninjured, in good health. Into the late 1400s, safe took a turn into meaning rescued, delivered, protected, left alive, unkilled. At the end of the 1400s and into the 1500s, safe came to mean not being exposed to danger or free from risk. Thus, the word safe carries a religious lineage, which connotes a possible assumption that undergirds the notion of safety: a need to be saved, to be assured of, and delivered to salvation.
While often perceived as synonymous today, the etymology of secure has noticeable differences. Originating sometime in the 1530s, secure stemmed from Latin securus, meaning, of persons, without care, dreading no evil, free from care, quiet, and ease, careless, perhaps even reckless. In the last couple of decades of the 1500s, secure became understood as this notion of being free from danger, unexposed, and throughout the 1600s-1800s, secure has become associated with the seizing possession, holding, ensuring, and firmly fixing something in place. In contrast to this desire for salvation that safety connotes, security builds on freedom from care.
If the feeling of home is something we associate with safety and security, then we need to ask two questions. In terms of safety, who are we saving? In terms of security, what is a home that is free from care?
This is perhaps a call to think about the way in which we experience dépaysement and a way for me to set the groundwork for a project about the importance and value of care because, for me, a home without care is not a home at all.
The astute reader might be thinking, however, what if you don’t have a home? What is safety and security to the homeless, the couch-surfers, the refugee, and the mother with a child who can’t afford rent?
If you were to agree with my sentiments, then the next question would be about how to reinsert the responsibility of care into social life beyond the household. Who’s job is it to provide and sustain care? After all, care is labor, care is work, and care takes time. That’s all I have time for at the moment, so I’ll leave us here to ponder on these questions of reimagining safety and security. Thanks for reading, take care. :)