Risk, Intervention, Survival


Saving Humans is one of the inaugural themes of the University's new Institute of Advanced Studies, reports Professor Heather Widdows.

The intention to save and make secure human lives might seem to be a simple and obvious aim – and one which is wholly commendable – however it is not simple. How and what ‘saving humans' involves raises complex ethical, political, and practical questions. Questions such as who is responsible for doing and financing the ‘saving’ and what ‘basic saving’ involves are not simple to answer, nor are questions of responsibility about intervention and its consequences.

‘Saving humans’ considers these questions in many contexts and across a broad spectrum of threats to human survival and flourishing as, despite the great variety of threats, similar questions face those attempting to intervene and act to save and improve human lives.

The Saving Humans theme will bring together researchers from across the university and beyond to investigate these and other pertinent questions. It will consider a number of possible threats:

  • Health threats, for instance, from infectious disease and pandemics or from failure to protect current health public goods (such as antibiotic resistance) or from technological development.
  • Environmental threats, for instance, from climate change, from resource scarcity (such as food and clean water), from earthquakes and floods and from manmade environmental threats, such as industrial pollution and desertification.
  • Security threats, for instance, from war, conflict and terrorism of all forms, including weapons of mass destruction (from nuclear to chemical to biological) and from all scales of conflict, as well as the consequences of conflict, including increased numbers of refugees and displaced persons, migration and trafficking and the increased risks to individual security, which make rape, violence and other forms of exploitation more likely.

Saving Humans will consider such threats and how life can be protected and flourishing promoted by a variety of actors. In particular it will consider: Intervention by states; Intervention by the international community of states; Intervention by international organizations and/or non-governmental organisations; and Intervention by individuals as individuals.

Birmingham is exceptionally well placed to take this forward as it has international experts working across these themes and the success of the initial IAS workshop in June last year clearly showed University-wide and external interest in this theme.

Work on Saving Humans is due to begin in the autumn with a team led by Professor Paul Jackson, Professor of African Politics, International Development Department, Heather Widdows, Professor of Global Ethics, and Nick Wheeler, Professor of International Relations.