The safety paradox: unknown knowns, ungrieved grief and collective agreements not to know

Karin Marie Fierke*, Nicola Mackay

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

1 Citation (Scopus)
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The discussion between the developing and developed world in Egypt during COP27 brought the history of colonialism and its impact on climate change to the table, as did the earlier floods in Pakistan. The purpose of this paper is to explore the impact of unacknowledged grief, shame and guilt, accruing over centuries, on our ability to move forward to a more sustainable future. At stake is not only a question of ‘loss and damage’ for those who have suffered disproportionately in the past and present, but also the need to acknowledge how past practice has set the stage for inequality and climate change in the global future. In this article we develop concepts of unknown knowns and ungrieved grief, and explore the mechanisms by which populations collectively turn away from uncomfortable or shameful truths. The failure to look at the past has transgenerational consequences, as present distractions contribute to an inability to ‘see’ the consequences of past and present action for future generations. The final section explores the safety paradox that arises from the fragmented safety of turning to conflict and war, and a holistic safety that requires grieving for the global whole.
Original languageEnglish
Number of pages24
JournalInternational Relations
Early online date22 Jul 2023
Publication statusE-pub ahead of print - 22 Jul 2023


  • Transgenerational entanglements
  • Security Dilemma
  • Traumatic memory
  • Grief
  • Colonialism and climate change


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