Safety and Security

University of Helsinki: Searching for personal security

Finns are often accused of being too "engineer-driven": products and services are developed based on what is technically possible and necessary in the opinion of the developer, not based on what people really need and, most importantly, want.

This often true of matters related to safety and security, too. Much research has been conducted on matters related to safety and security, producing a vast amount of materials. However so far, the research has mostly concentrated on the viewpoint of risks, with an even greater emphasis on system-level risks. Far less attention has been paid to personal security. A focus on personal security completely transforms the perspective – geographic and cultural variation may be great, and there can be a significant difference between objective and subjective safety.

Timo Airaksinen, Professor of Practical Philosophy from the University of Helsinki, decided to approach the research from this particular angle. In the project, which was part of the Safety and Security programme by Tekes, he constructed a systematic set of concepts for the treatment of safety and security. This gave rise to the publication "Yksilöturvallisuutta etsimässä" (only in Finnish).

According to Airaksinen, the book is likely to be globally unique, and despite its theoretical take on the matter it may well prove a highly practical tool for persons developing products and services in the safety and security sector.

Central concepts in the work include damage/loss, risk and danger/threat. Traffic, for example is dangerous even if you were sitting on your couch at home, but becomes a concrete risk only after you leave the house. Damage is the harm caused by the threat once realised.  Based on these concepts, Airaksinen builds a conceptual model for safety and security. The second part of the book approaches the aspects of safety and security from different perspectives: the topics covered include rituals associated with safety and security, danger as entertainment and safety and security as goods to be purchased.


Product and service developers would do well to stop and think

When talking about safety and security and developing products for the sector in question, it is important to bear in mind cultural differences. Security means different things in different parts of the world.

"Take hand guns, for example. For an American, a pistol is a security factor, whereas a Finn would perceive it as a threat."

In Finland, the number one fear is the collapse of the welfare state, whereas in the United States it is terrorism. The number of universal fears occurring as identical in all parts of the world is surprisingly few, if not non-existent.



For companies aiming at the global market, it is worthwhile to stop and think about the essence of personal security and its cultural variation. Airaksinen takes the example of Finnish locks. From a technological viewpoint, the quality of locks made by Abloy and other Finnish lock designers is the best in the world. Yet, they have by no means fully conquered the global market, as the attitudes to locking vary from country to country.


The work of a philosopher takes place behind the scenes

The project in the Safety and Security programme is by no means Airaksinen’s first contact with Tekes. He has conducted several Tekes research projects, including a project on the philosophy of technology entitled Great Stories of Technology.

"In a way, the work of a philosopher takes places underground, behind the scenes of society. Direct impacts are very difficult, if not impossible, to point out, and public discussion and commenting on different phenomena are not a prominent feature of Finnish society. We just have to hope that the kind of thinking that we do will have an impact in the long term," Airaksinen says.



Further information

Timo Airaksinen

Professor of practical philosophy

University of Helsinki

Tel. +358 50 415 4913




Author: Tommi Niittymies