Conference Agenda

RN22_02: Theoretical Advancements in Risk and Uncertainty Studies
Wednesday, 21/Aug/2019:
2:00pm - 3:30pm

Session Chair: Jens Oliver Zinn, University of Melbourne
Session Chair: Patrick Brown, University of Amsterdam
Location: UP.4.212
University of Manchester Building: University Place, Fourth Floor Oxford Road


Analytical Perspectives in Risk Theory: Actor, Structure and Ambivalence

Anna Olofsson, Katarina Giritli Nygren, Susanna Öhman

Mid Sweden University, Sweden

Intersectional risk theory opens up for a critical discussion of whether risk itself is one of today’s colonial concepts, which obscure our understanding of the present rather than make it more comprehensible. To make this critical analysis, we must strive to demonstrate the ambivalence of dichotomies such as structure and agency, as well as of the use of risk, to make new understandings of the world possible. In this presentation, our aim is to explore how the interplay between risk and inequality can be understood from different angles: How the subject becomes possible through structure, for example through interpellation and normalization and how the subject as an actor negotiate and navigate among and between different discourses of risk. In this way, we want to highlight the importance of both the external constraints on human beings often conceived of as ‘social structures’, for example collective habits formalized as legal rules, policy, norms, moral obligations etc., and on the other hand the often contrasting/opposite concept of ‘action’ or ‘agency’, for the understanding risk and inequality. Social theorists have batted structure and agency to and fro for generations, and as such it is a known picture. However, by mixing pieces from different perspectives and making use of an intersectional approach of inequality and risk, we can find ways to understand and put our own time in perspectives.

On The Relationality Of Risk: Insights From Cross-Field Interactions Between Finance and Politics

Christian von Scheve, Markus Lange

Freie Universität Berlin, Germany

Recent relational accounts of risk explain variation in risk perception across groups not through individual psychological factors, but situated cognitions defining risk as a relationship between “risk objects” and “objects at risk” (Boholm). The present paper extends this relational approach to include not only the relational constitution of risk, but also of the different actors perceiving and assessing risk. Risk in this perspective is relational because it establishes a link between two different objects, i.e. risk objects and objects at risk, and because it establishes linkages between two (or more) actors or strategic action fields. We argue that this is the case when one actor or field becomes the risk object of another field and vice versa, whereby each field retains its distinct objects at risk. This leads to constellations of what we call “risk entanglement” across fields and actors. Typically, these constellations occur when there are substantial and prolonged cross-field interactions and dependencies, for example between investors and businesses or insurances and companies. To illustrate our theoretical arguments, we use data stemming from 53 qualitative interviews and extensive ethnographic fieldwork in the German financial sector, the federal parliament, and federal financial supervisory authorities. Our analyses show how risk entanglement affects and transforms the fundamental logics according to which both of these fields operate.

Responding To Violent Radicalization: Risk-Focused And/Or Context-Sensitive Prevention In Europe

Evelyne Baillergeau1, Gabe Mythen2

1University of Amsterdam, Netherlands, The; 2University of Liverpool, United Kingdom

Recent terrorist attacks in France, the UK, Belgium, Spain, Germany and Sweden have led to renewed attention being directed towards risk-focused responses to terrorism, such as those exemplified by the Prevent strategy in the UK. There are many equivalents to Prevent across mainland Europe which seek to reduce the threat of future attacks by deploying policies of pre-emption and intervention. Aside from well-documented problems with ascribing risk factors to specific ethnic and religious groups, risk-focused prevention measures have tended to lack appreciation of social, political and economic context. Are policies directed towards preventing violent extremism doomed to approach communities and individuals considered to be susceptible to radicalization in a non context-sensitive way?

Addressing the issues raised above, this paper examines policies geared toward responding to violent radicalization by enhancing dialogue through community mediation and improving social cohesion and discusses the ways in which and the extent to which they contrast with the Prevent strategy. In so doing, we confront critical questions that are crucial in developing appropriate policy responses to the threat of terrorism. In particular, drawing on empirical evidence developed during explorative area-based research in a few European cities recently affected by terrorist attacks (chiefly in Belgium), we question the underlying interpretations of life trajectories bending towards political violence that are at stake in prevention work as day-to-day practice. Along the way, we critically engage with the popular view that 'radicalisation' existed as a process.

Theorizing Inequalities and Emotion in the Sociology of Risk and Uncertainty: a Bourdieuan and Mannheimian Perspective

Judith Eckert

TU Darmstadt, Germany

The simple-sounding question “Who Fears What and Why?” (Wildavsky/Dake 1990) raises two issues: First, how can we move towards an integration of risk theory and social inequalities beyond Douglas’s group-grip scheme which has been criticized for being functionalist, lacking empirical support and neglecting multiple inequalities and their dynamics? Second, how can we conceptualize emotion in risk theory?

Scholars have begun to address these issues from different angles. I want to make the ideas of classics fruitful for these new questions by proposing a theoretical framework based on Pierre Bourdieu’s and Karl Mannheim’s sociologies. To show its empirical value, I provide illustrations from my own qualitative study.

Both authors reconcile the objective (social position and resources), collective (styles of thought) and seemingly subjective or individual (perception, thought, action). Thus, particular groups select specific “risk portfolios” they consider relevant out of the universe of risks. Following Mannheim, the individual is part of different groups, and it is to be determined empirically which social differences and inequalities are relevant and how they interact instead of reproducing theoretical assumptions.

Within these risk portfolios, I differentiate between the more abstract risk perception and the experience-bound fear. Even though both authors have barely addressed emotions, their distinction between theoretical knowledge and the often implicit practical knowledge is helpful for theorizing emotions. While risk perception is linked to theoretical knowledge, fear is related to practical knowledge, since emotions are “a kind of practice” (Scheer 2012).