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The critical area concept

The mushrooming of local ethnic and armed conflicts, the deepening of world economic crisis, the growing mobility of productive forces, multiplication of local natural and man-made disasters and the new stage of re-division of the planet’s resources produce and multiply critical areas (zones) placing human living space between life and death. Local wars and terrorist attacks continued. The basic principle of the critical areas concept is that a risk production systematically exceeds the production of vital living conditions. The other principles of this concept are as follows. First, the world as a whole is gradually transforming into a system of all-embracing and all-penetrating risks embracing social institutes, urban areas, local communities, infrastructures, etc. The societies’ response is systematically lags behind of this process. Second, the carrying capacity of natural and man-made systems is exceeded and they turned from a risk-absorber (or a milieu of their mitigation) into the risk-producing forces. Third, today, there are no absolutely safe areas on the planet—there are only more or less safe. And what is of a no less importance is that nobody can predict which particular area will become risky tomorrow. All-embracing risk potentially means global uncertainty. A year before nobody could foresee how risky would be the mass influx of migrants from Africa and Middle East to Europe. Forth, within critical areas a social order becomes unstable and even chaotic. Besides, within them the areas of more or less safe existence remains but this safety can be destroyed at once. Under condition of hybrid war it is rather difficult to predict which particular area (city, airport, theatre, stadium) will be a target of attack. Fifth, the modern risk-society is featured by emanation of masses of energy of collapse (dangerous chemicals emanated from destroyed plants, undetectable processes of cities’ metabolism, flows of refugees, forces migrants, criminal groups, formation of private armed troops, etc.). The direction and space limits of the energy of collapse emanation are uncertain and hard to predict. In particular, terror war is one of the utmost forms of critical state of a society. Therefore, sixth, these processes tend to turn the critical areas from the state of governed chaos into ungoverned one. As recent events in Africa and Middle East shows, the long-term chaos may engender radical ideologies and no less radical political formations. Therefore, any large critical area is a potential nutrition milieu for the emergence of radical groups and troops. Seventh, in extreme critical situation (warfare, natural disaster or man-made accident) the western concept of way of life doesn’t work because of critical violation of regular habit of life. The daily mode of living of critical areas population is totally depends on the character of rescue or military operations. Besides, each ‘Other’ is perceived as a potential threat. Two extreme forms of a ‘critical’ way of life have been revealed: a routine one, i.e. without any changes despite any risks, and an active one, when an individual looks for a way out from critical area. In both cases the individual’s behavior depends on outer conditions. Eighth, as my researches showed, the majority of local residents both in Russia and Europe tend to maintain their habit of life, to reproduce their ‘primary eco-structure’ or their small Motherland [3; 4]. Therefore, the Z. Bauman’s image of a modern individual as a man in sport shoes with a cellphone in hand is partly true. Tenth, in the critical areas market economy exists in two opposite forms. On the one hand, it is a big business (illegal oil extraction and trade, the ‘market’ of seized historical and cultural arte-facts, the use of money from seized banks during the predatory wars). On the other hand, it is exists in the form of natural exchange and black market (more details see in: [5]).

Case-study: The first response to terrorist attack in the EU and Russia

It is going on the major events in the run of the first ten days after terrorist attack. There are at least five levels have been revealed. The first, global level is marked by the expression of regret, solidarity and the will to make common cause. But it has been mainly verbal response. The second level is the reactions of global institutions, i.e. the United Nations, the G20 and some other regional unions and coalitions. Its members and participants offered the project aimed at the building of international coalition against the ISIL. But to the end of the decade no practical decisions have been made, though intensive talks continued. The problem for the member-states of the EU is that the final decision should be adopted unanimously. Nevertheless, high-level talks have become more constructive aimed at the search of shared views and coordinated actions. The response on the third, nation-state level has been rather diverse. In France the highest level of terrorist threat has been announced, the regional election campaign has been suspended. Some other countries had begun to build protective walls against the migrant flow long before the terrorist attack in Paris. Others (Germany, Sweden), on the contrary, continue to accept this flow irrespectively the Paris case. Still others have been embraced by tension and protest actions against newcomers. In Greece and some other member-states of the EU who were overburdened by migrants’ flow the ruling political party risks to lose their majority in the parliaments. The reaction of French government was as follows: to introduce the state of emergency, to close the French borders, to give the emergence powers to French President, etc. A possibility of some changes in French constitution has been discussed as well. The struggle against web-terrorists has been continued. The forth (community) level is the destination of the migrant flow. It is quite natural that local residents have expressed their concern at least for two reasons. On the one hand, local residents were feared of the unknown risk, unintended and invisible. On the other hand, local communities were unprepared to accept this mass of newcomers. In some the EU countries the temporary camps for refugees has been attacked and even fired. The fifth (public level) response should be considered separately. Just after the strike the majority of ordinary people were shocked. The flowers, prays, memorial candles – all it well understandable. Besides, these ritual actions served as a mean for overcoming the fear, i.e. the mean of psychological defense. And in a manner, it has been the means of expression of political loyalty.  A bit later the people turned their concern at two directions: toward media information and toward their relatives and friends. Media translated the statements of officials and influential experts whereas the citizens themselves turned to their cell-phones and social networks. It is rather indicative that the response of social networks has been nearly immediate. For example, the Facebook offered the safety check tool which allows to anybody to find out whether he or she safe is in the emergency area. At the same time, ordinary people express their solidarity and the will to help to affected people. ‘Boston-help’, ‘nine-eleven help’, ‘I’m Paris’, ‘net-help aid’, ‘one-click action’, ‘web-solidarity’ and donations are the quite a few examples of these solidarity and will. Later on, the public concern has become nervous because nobody knows how deeply the terrorist networks are rooted (integrated) into the French Muslim community and the society at large. And how they can separate the terrorists from moderate Muslims and rank-and-file refugees? ‘My neighbor is a potential bomb?’ as one migrant said. In the end of decade it has become clear that a terrorist network is deeply rooted in some European countries. Besides, when the first shock has passed the ordinary people began to put questions of a more general character, say, why we don’t express our concern with terrorist attacks across the world? How to separate radicals from peaceful refugees? And what should be done with those who express sympathy with radically-minded migrants? As my personal experience shows, the resolution of these problems may be rather diverse, i.e. from total isolation of newcomers in the ghettos till attempts to integrate them into culture and social order of a particular European country.

In Russia public opinion response to the above events has been rather diverse. One should take into account that Russians has long-term experience in the fight with the terrorist attacks and local wars. More than that, the events of the Great Patriotic War (1941-45) is not disappeared from the collective memory. The discussants remembered that tens of thousands innocent people had been killed in Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria, former Yugoslavia and some other countries. The events in Paris have stimulated public discussions about the origin and methods of terrorist war. Two extremes positions have been revealed: ‘action’ and ‘critical reflection.’ The overwhelming majority of public figures fully supported Russian airstrikes on terrorist camps and infrastructures in Syria but these experts are skeptical in relation of possibility in establishing true alliance of the US, the EU and Russia. The minority supporting the airstrikes is concerned with the price of possible back strike of terrorists. Some public figures said that the matter is not ‘strong ISIL’ but the ‘weak Europe.’ Others suppose that the case may change the political landscape in France. Still others underlined negative role of mass media which has permanently produced the atmosphere of catastrophe and all-embracing fear. In this respect, some of them consider the above case rather skeptically – in their opinion it was first of all the PR-company created by journalists. This media activity forces out from the mass consciousness the key issues of new modernity. There is threat to convert an individual consciousness into the kaleidoscope of contradictory world-views. There were radically-minded participants of public hearings whose main recipe was ‘to destroy terrorists’ nests in any form and place. But they were outnumbered. The majority of experts and public figures were concerned with the key issue: what is going with our world? And how we, Russians, should respond to these fast and sometimes unpredictable changes? More precisely Russian reflection-minded intellectuals were concerned with almost uncontrolled flow of migrants from the former Soviet Asian republics. These public figures draw attention to the growing tension engendered by economic crisis and politics of sanctions and counter-sanctions. Some discussants concentrated on the will of certain Arabic countries to force out their own radicals toward Europe. The reason is rather simple: to stabilize social order in these countries and to weaken it in Europe. Finally, the researchers-turned-politicians are faced with the double-sided task: how to struggle against world terrorism efficiently and how to defense ourselves?

Conclusion and discussion

First, the U. Beck’s concept [1] of the global risk society has been confirmed. In particular, he had been absolutely right stating that risks of this society have their inner nature: the society produces not only ‘goods’ but ‘bads’ as well. He was right saying that these ‘bads’ have double character. On the one hand, they worsen local/global situation, but on the other, produces ‘windows of opportunities.’ Finally, I agree with Back’s statement that ‘history is back!’ [2, p. 77]. It doesn’t mean the full turn back but it means that macro and micro historical events beat back sooner or later. Second, today is clear that these all-embracing risks are not only of structural character. Social chaos, poverty and injustice generate ‘feedback’ first of all in the form of radical and extremist ideologies. And these ideologies have the backers and sympathizers across the world. And there is a network of these backers and sympathizers.  Third, in the world of capitalist ideology and consumer practice the waste areas of social chaos and devastation in the South have become precondition to global stakeholders for access to new resource areas and therefore capitalist accumulation. The ISIL and other extra-radical quasi-states and groups are sponsored by mighty stakeholders within the risk area and outside it. Fourth, some countries in such risky regions are in a rather difficult position. On the one hand, they are against terrorism, as least in words. On the other hand, they are full of refugees from the territories occupied by the ISIL.  Besides, some such countries are ‘transit’ ones for oil traffic to the third countries. Above all, all these risky regions are mainly Muslims and they cannot fight against their brothers in faith. Therefore, the situation in such ‘marginal’ societies is oscillating. It is a real problem, and they are not guilty in it. Fifth, an access to new sources of row resources is much easier if this resource is located in a critical area. According to some experts, there is an overt network of financial sponsors of various radical and terrorist organizations. One should keep in mind that a faith and ideology are mighty resources for getting access to these new sites of row resources. Sixth, besides ideological and financial reasons one should take into account that modern ‘network wars’ have neither fronts nor margins. Its cells and individual combatants are rather mobile and flexible. Therefore, they are easily adapted to any social environment and became invisible. Seventh, up to now the sociologists have tendered to study a behavior of ‘mass society.’ But there is much less studies of individual behavior because of the individual wearing a suicide west is a great danger. In more general terms, any individual may cause a critical threat. New maxima – ‘the strength of a weakness’ – should be introduced into political and sociological discourse. Thus, traditional forms of response should not only be strengthened and reconsidered but replaced by new ones. Anyhow, mighty armed response should be combined with ‘dotted’ state and civic defense networks. Solidarity marches ‘shoulder by shoulder’ and other mass expressions of national unity are well understandable and psychologically necessary. But they should be added by very disperse network of grassroots and (in emergency cases) by peaceful and armed citizens. In sum, the civic network should be set off to terrorist networks. How to do it – is an open question. As events in France showed, the civil (social) networks are the mighty antidote to terrorist attacks. Eighth, how these terrorist groups and networks are emerged and reproduced? The majority of researchers state that the main reason of their emergence is inequality and injustice as well as the absence of social lifts. But twenty years of the EU experience showed that migrants didn’t tend to integrate into European culture, they prefer to live in their national enclaves. And what is about the system of education, civil and religious? What is about a family tradition in Muslim countries? Do we, Europeans, are well acquainted with this habit of living? Do we enough tolerant to these traditions? And tenth, the politics of multiculturalism is failed. Ones again: network/dotted war needs more deep and multisided studies of individual and group consciousness. The only study of mass consciousness is insufficient.

In the final analysis, the focus of tragic events in Paris and other cities across the world should be shifted from empirical facts to more general issues. The following theoretical issues should be carefully investigated. Not all terrorist threats can be conquered by military force. The role of civil society should be reconsidered again. And first of all because of the terrorist strikes are targeted on peaceful people. This shift involves the question of asymmetrical response. The changes of political and social institutions are far behind from the swift changing in global state of affairs. It means at least two things: a necessity of revitalization of a future research and more attention to the problem of a social time flow. We must study the networks of any forms of overt activity as careful as we did it with its legal forms. It is hard and extremely dangerous form of research but it is absolutely necessary. The recent public discussion is still a fight of interpretations and not of facts. Sociologists should be more historically educated. As Russian historian V.O. Klyuchevskii stated, ‘a history teaches nothing – it punishes only.’ The widespread socio-structural analysis should be added by the analysis of variety of ideologies and their impact on current and future state of affairs. Finally, we can understand nothing if we not decisively turn to problem-oriented methodology of our studies both in situ and everywhere. In sum, using the well tried and tested means for fighting against terrorism we should think about new means and forms of it.


  1. Beck U. World Risk Society. Malden, MA: Polity Press. 1999.
  2. Beck U. Emancipatory Catastrophism: What does it mean to Climate Change and Risk Society. Current Sociology, 63 (1): 75-88. 2015.
  3. Yanitsky, O. A Primary Eco-Structure: The Concept and its Testing. Social Analysis, 2 (2): 7-24. 2012.
  4. Yanitsky, O. The 2010 Wildfires in Russia. An Ecosociological Analysis. Sociological Research, 51 (2): 57-75. 2012.
  5. Yanitsky O. N. Sociology of Critical Areas. Open Journal of Social Science Research. 2 (3): 112-118. 2014. Available at: http://manuscript.sciknow.org/ uploads/ojssr/pub/ojssr_140963345.pdf

This paper is a result of the research project «Sociology of critical conditions of urban ecosystems» supported by Russian Humanitarian Scientific Fund, grant No 15-03-000-27.

The mushrooming of local ethnic and armed conflicts, the deepening of economic crisis, the growing mobility of productive forces, natural and man-made disasters across the world, and the new stage of re-division of the planet’s space and its resources produce and multiply ‘critical areas’ placing human living space between life and death. The basic principle of the critical areas concept is that a risk production systematically exceeds the production of vital living conditions. The recent events – hybrid wars, terrorist attacks and mass migrants’ flow to Europe – conditioned the need of further development of the above concept. Drawing on data collected worldwide in 2011-15 (desk review of media and documents, news and investigation reports, and in-depth interviews with experts and insiders), the author attempts to comprehend in which ways the above concept should be developed focusing on the network nature of this all-penetrating risk. The response to it should be simultaneously both all-embracing and network-structured.
Written by: Yanitsky Oleg
Date Published: 01/21/2017
Edition: ЕВРАЗИЙСКИЙ СОЮЗ УЧЕНЫХ_28.11.15_11(20)
Available in: Ebook