Conference Agenda

RN22_07: Risk, Uncertainty and Inequality
Thursday, 22/Aug/2019:
4:00pm - 5:30pm

Session Chair: Jeremy Dixon, University of Bath
Location: UP.3.212
University of Manchester Building: University Place, Third Floor Oxford Road


Risk Concepts and Inequalities: From Risk Class to Dangerous Class?

Maria Grazia Galantino

Sapienza University of Rome, Italy

Moving from and beyond the critical debate about the flaws of the ‘risk society’ approach in grasping the underlying structures of power which define risks and their objects, this contribution aims to discuss the relation between risk concepts and new/old patterns of vulnerability.

The paper starts with some conceptual distinctions among cases often subsumed under the same ‘risk’ label, showing how different definitions correspond to and/or create different ‘risk positioning’ or ‘risk-class’ (who/what is at risk). Then proceeds with a discussion on how mainstream approaches for the identification of vulnerable groups (i.e. resilience) treat all instances like external, negative events striking individuals and social systems from outside. By doing so, they do not only miss the endogenous character of most contemporary risks but also divert attention from the (root)causes of contemporary risk solely to their effects. Moreover, asserting from whom the potential harm might come, the process of risk construction/definition can also create new risky or ‘dangerous classes’. Such a process also breeds second-order consequences: it may elude responsibility within the social systems and construct an external enemy posing a security threat.

By looking at examples in different risk domains (i.e. crime, migration, …), we claim that this is not only a conceptual but also a performative shift that may have relevant implications in terms of doing, studying and addressing contemporary inequalities.

„It Was a Struggle, And I Didn’t Even Know To What End.“ Uncertainty In The Conduct Of Life Of Young Middle-class Members In Germany

Stefan Holubek

University of Bremen, Germany

The ongoing debate about the ‘crisis of the middle’ strengthened the sociological interest, in gaining a more elaborated picture of diverging practices of 'leading a middle class life'. This contribution focusses on the class-generational unit of young German middle-class members in transition to adulthood and emphasizes the role of cultural and economic uncertainties in the process of shaping their status-orientations and their biographical decisions.

Within our research project “Investing in Status as a Mode of Living. Practices, Conditions, Disturbances“, we conducted biographical-narrative interviews to arrive at an understanding of the variety of conducts of middle-class life (“Lebensführung”, in the sense of Max Weber) in Germany. In my dissertation project and my presentation I will focus on middle-class members in the transition to adulthood, who find themselves confronted with several irritations, facing the biographical task to find a position that enables them to lead a ‘middle-class life’. I will provide empirical findings and analytical thoughts on processes of “doing orientation” that can encompass a broad range of habitualized status-orientations – from seemingly unlimited pursuit of economic success to rather moderate status-orientations that seek recognition within local communities. I found that uncertainty is substantially shaping processes of orientation of young middle-class members during the unsettling phase of professional establishment. After elaborating the analytical and methodical framework, I will present sceneries of biographical uncertainty and how the research participants perceived them.

Investigating Precariat: Labour Market Uncertainty and Class Based Voting

Paula Ivanková

Comenius University in Bratislava/Institute for Sociology of SAS, Slovak Republic

Research on class-based political preferences used to belong to frequently examined topics within sociology. The ongoing global social change impacting class and class-based structures in many societies all around the world, however, seems to gradually weaken the well-established connections between class and political preferences. One of the reasons for this de-coupling could be the growth of a particular group of people experiencing uncertainty at the labour market – their precarious position is seen as a key determinant of a newly forming social class – the Precariat.

The paper asks if particular features in the voting behaviour of the precariat can be identified. Does the newly emerging social class, defined by uncertainty, behave in a particular way with regard to electoral participation and political preferences? Based on Standing’s definition focused on uncertainty, before engaging with this central question, we try to tackle the problem of empirical identification of the precariat.

Our analysis is based on ISSP data from the Work Orientations module, conducted in 2016. The core of our empirical analysis is the verification of the concept of precariat, and the identification of particular voting patterns among its members. We ask if members of the precariat can be characterised by a lower or a higher electoral participation and if they turn more frequently towards newly established political subjects than other classes. With respect to traditional class membership our analysis shows that middle-class members are particularly threatened by uncertainty. With regard to electoral participation and party preferences, there seems to be no clear pattern among people who experience uncertainty at the labour market.

Managing Precarity And Mastering Contingency In Academic Careers

Maria Keil

TU Darmstadt, Germany

Uncertainty is an inherent moment of careers in the German academic field. In the course of neoliberal dynamics and a restructuring of the academic labour market as consequence of short-term funding models, labour conditions for researcher are becoming even more precarious.

Based on a Grounded Theory study using semi-structured and narrative interviews with Postdocs and Professors in the social sciences, the phenomenon of uncertainty within academic careers and the management of precarity shall be discussed against the backdrop of social inequalities. Following an analytical field theory (Bourdieu) perspective, current developments of the German academic labour market and their impact on academic careers and biographies are outlined first. Secondly, different practical strategies of managing uncertainty and risk are presented from the data. Overall, it can be seen that an all-in strategy with a comprehensive focus on academia is necessary in order to stay in the field longterm and achieve academic success.

However, the actual management of uncertainty does not only vary with the employment situation, but also with the resources that arise from the actual living and partnership situation as well as from the social background. It can be shown that managing precarity and herewith mastering contingency is a specific skill within German academia that builds on cultural and economic capital and presents itself in a certain conduct of life and academic habitus that obscures the existential seriousness of the 'academic game'. In the interplay of the outlined field structures and the agents’ practical strategies that are bound to their resources, social closure is produced and the boundaries of the field are maintained. Consequently, German academia nowadays stays and becomes even more socially exclusive.