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Jakob Arnoldi

ISBN: 978-0-745-64098-3

Apr 2009, Polity

224 pages

In Stock



This book gives a comprehensive yet easily accessible introduction to risk and uncertainty as they have been analysed in sociology and related social sciences. The book draws extensively on the wide array of contemporary social theories of risk and relates these to the many and diverse areas in contemporary society where risk plays an important role. It will be an invaluable for both students and researchers interested in risk in relation to politics, the environment, health, media, science and technology and finance.

Written in a clear and accessible language, the book gives a balanced account of the many theoretical approaches taken to the diverse phenomenon of risk, using concrete examples to illustrate abstract points. The book highlights some key themes such as uncertainty and individual responsibility which emerge as common to different theories and fields of study. The book is perfectly suited as an introduction for new students in sociology, political science, anthropology, media studies and health studies.

Acknowledgements viii

1 Introduction 1

Risks are social 1

Risk in contemporary society 3

The (un)reality of risk 7

Two imagined scenarios involving risk 9

The sociological approach to risk 14

This book 16

2 The possibility of Hume: a brief genealogy of the concept of risk 20

Risk and modernity 20

A slow ‘modern’ breakthrough 26

Probability 28

Risk, statistics, government – the discovery of society 31

Risk in advanced modernity 33

Conclusion 35

3 Theories about risk 38

Mary Douglas 38

Cultural values and modes of organization 40

Ulrich Beck 46

Reflexive modernization, individualization and cosmopolitanism 50

Governmentality 53

Risks in current societies 55

Other theories 61

Summary 64

4 Risk, technology and nature 67

Technology and being green 67

Technology and complexity 70

Nature, environment, ecology 72

Risks as hybrids 75

Global risks, vulnerability and inequality 80

Summary 82

5 Risk, knowledge and uncertainty 84

Does science know? 84

Science in the risk society 86

Uncertainty and science 91

Post-normal science and precaution 94

The public understanding of science 96

‘Doing things’ with science and risk 99

Summary 101

6 Risk and culture 105

The role of culture 105

Ways of acting, talking and understanding: defining culture 106

Science and culture 111

Culture, risk and political interest 114

The social amplification of risk 117

Summary 121

7 Risk and the mass media 122

The media and perceptions of risk 122

Bad news is good news 126

Competition and commercialization 131

The media, health and lifestyle 133

Conclusion 136

8 Risky futures: pleasure and capitalism 138

Climbing mountains 138

Edgework, individualization and entrepreneurialism 140

A present future 144

Calculating the risks, not knowing the odds 148

Risk and the burden of responsibility 152

Summary 155

9 Risk, politics and government 158

The power of defining risk 158

Transnational risk regulation 161

Cosmopolitanism 163

Terror, war and risk 165

Crime and risks 168

Health and risk subjects 172

Summary 176

10 Conclusion 181

Categories of risk? 181

Risks as potentials 183

Risk, responsibility and individualization 185

Where to, risk? 187

References 190

Index 204

"An exciting introduction to the sociology of risk with interesting and challenging ideas about edgework, uncertainty and much else."
Health, Risk & Society

"This treatise is particularly successful for the way that it succeeds in bringing together discussion of how risk features in social and political lives with theoretical analyses and empirical studies of risk."

"This book, by one of the rising stars of sociology, demonstrates that without the sociology of risk it is impossible to understand the ambivalences and uncertainties of our time."
Ulrich Beck, University of Munich

"In the context of today's global financial meltdown Jakob Arnoldi's Risk is a must read. It is at the same time an introduction to risk and the most comprehensive account available. It addresses risk in war, global geo-politics, health, environment and general 'living on the edge'. It comprises an original theory of knowledge in today's risk societies. Arnoldi tells us knowledge is possible, but that this must remain uncertain knowledge."
Scott Lash, University of London

"A wide-ranging and thorough appraisal of the impacts and effects of risk in the social sciences and, more broadly, society at large. This timely and authoritative book melds together theoretical perspectives and contemporary risk issues in a progressive and enlightening way."
Gabe Mythen, University of Liverpool


  • An excellent introduction to a concept which has become increasingly central to debates in the social sciences.
  • Covers major theories of risk, including those of Mary Douglas and Ulrich Beck, and discusses key substantive areas including risk and environment, risk and health, and risk and the media.
  • Very clear and accessible – ideal for students.
  • Latest edition to Polity’s successful Key Concepts series.