Living With Risk

Module code: SY3082

Module co-ordinator: Dr Ipek Demir

It has been argued that there is an ever-growing intensification of risk in late-modern societies. In this module we will explore debates regarding how late-modern societies perceive and deal with risks, including the more 'traditional' forms, such as financial risks, risks associated with crime, and health risks, and 'new' forms, including risks associated with climate change, genetically modified foods, and terrorism.

The module will cover five main themes.

Risk Society

We will examine the thesis that we are living in a risk society. 

Social Scientific Research on Risk

We will analyse the qualitative and quantitative research on risk. Such research will enable us to assess the theoretical insights of the 'risk society' thesis and consider whether or not it stands up to empirical scrutiny.

Risk and the 'Socio-Political'

We will cover research that focuses on:

  • Voluntary risk taking
  • The relationship between gender, race, class, and risk
  • Risk and the climate change debate
  • The relationship between genetics, risk, and criminal culpability
  • Risk and power

We will attempt to expose the close link between sociopolitical attitudes and risk perception.

Risk and Democracy

We will examine citizens' attitudes to risk, considering questions such as:

  • How can late-modern societies collectively resolve disagreements about risk?
  • Can 'citizen juries' solve the so-called 'drift' between risk experts and citizens? 
  • Can they reconcile the egalitarian claims of citizenship and democracy with the inherently hierarchical nature of risk expertise?

Risk and Crime

Here we will look at the idea that late-modern societies are increasingly 'managing' the risk of crime rather than solving it or rehabilitating offenders. We will also look at the way in which responsibility for crime prevention is increasingly devolved from the state to citizens and discuss the consequences of this. We will examine topics such as:

  • The 'responsibilisation' of women for their safety
  • The construction of Muslims as a 'risky, suspect population' and Muslims' subsequent 'responsibilisation'
  • Risk-based crime prevention methods and their shortcomings

Topics covered

  • Why do some groups in society perceive risks to be higher than others? What part do gender, race, and class play in this?
  • How can we make sense of voluntary risk taking?
  • Why are the risks involved in drug-taking communally negotiated and inter-subjective?
  • How are 'risky brains' screened and governed in late-modernity?
  • Is 'responsibilisation' a useful strategy when dealing with risks associated with crime?
  • What is risk-based crime prevention?
  • How is the terrorist risk being communicated?
  • Why is defining risk an exercise in power? Should we encourage public participation in risk decision making in an effort to make it more democratic? If so, what kind of a participatory model would work?

Learning

  • Eighteen one-hour lectures
  • Four one-hour seminars

Assessment

  • Exam, two hours (100%)