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'Producing Risk: Assessing, Materialising and Performing Disaster From Nuclear War to All Hazards'

Dr Joe Devile, Goldsmiths University
Dr Michael Guggenheim, Goldsmiths University
Date: 29 January 2013
Time: 1pm - 2.30pm
Venue: KSW 3.01  


Recent discourses on risk have focused on the question of the relationship between preparedness and knowledge, with a particular focus on the role and feasibility of calculation in relation to seemingly incalculable threats (e.g. Beck 1992, Collier 2008, Ericson and Doyle 2004). In their talk, Joe Deville and Michael Guggenheim focus on one such threat: nuclear war. However, rather than taking a particular threat as given, and proceeding to analyse responses to that threat, they look at how risks are produced. Risk production, in their terms, refers to a generic process of transforming uncertainty and danger into an object of thought, analysis and management, as well as quite simply, into things. Crucially, drawing on Luhmann, Deville and Guggenheim argue that this needs to be understood in relation to how risk production becomes entangled with the attribution of decisions. They compare how two countries—the UK and Switzerland—produced risk across a period ranging from 1970 to the present. By distinguishing between different ways of producing risk, they show that during the cold war, both Switzerland and the UK did not calculate between risks. Rather, they both produced a singular risk, namely nuclear war, but in different ways. Deville and Guggenheim then show how these different kinds of nuclear risk production have a direct impact on the forms risk later takes and how all hazards approaches to dealing with risk must be understood not as generic practices, but rather as contingent answers to different kinds of risk production. 

About the speakers

Joe Deville is a post-doctoral researcher at the Centre for the Study of Invention and Social Process (CSISP). In 2011 he completed his PhD titled 'The Landscape of Consumer Credit Default: Tracing Technologies of Market Attachment'. He was also a visiting scholar at the Centre on Organizational Innovation at Columbia University from January to March 2009. Further, at Goldsmiths, he has worked as a researcher at the Centre for Urban and Community Research and has taught in both the sociology department and the department of Professional and Community Education (PACE). Joe Deville’s research interests cluster around the sociology of expertise, economic sociology, science and technology studies, and non-representational theory.

Michael Guggenheim is Project Lead for the ERC Starting Grant ‘Organising Disaster: Civil Protection and the Population.’ A sociologist, his work has focused on the relationship between experts and lay people, the role of objects for this relationship and on methodical and theoretical innovation derived from the combination of science studies with sociological theory. Previously, he has worked on change of use of buildings and how materiality and use interrelate. Before that he studied environmental experts. He also works with colleagues Bernd Kräftner and Judith Kröll on an approach they call ‘incubation’ that combines sociology, STS and art. Currently they are working on a project ‘In the Event of... Anticipatory and Participatory Politics of Emergency Provision.’ Previously, he was a co-curator of ‘die wahr/falsch inc.’, an exhibition on science and the public in Vienna.