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What's political about risk? New challenges in the study of risk

Professor Olivier Borraz
Sciences Po, Paris
Date: 15 May 2012
Time: 1:00pm – 2:30pm
Venue: KSW 3.01


Amidst the numerous social science studies of risk published over the last 40 years, few have actually addressed the political meaning of risk. Focusing on public perceptions, sociotechnical controversies or the instrumentation of risk, these studies rarely put the notion and its uses in perspective. In other words, they offered little insights on why and how the notion had emerged and gained widespread success, and what it actually meant for the different organisations and groups mobilising it. To take the political meaning of risk seriously, however, implies addressing two sets of difficulties. The first has to do with the lack of empirical data on the emergence and uses of the notion of risk in different political, cultural and institutional settings; not only a lack of comparative studies, but also of in-depth empirical studies and broad surveys linking the mobilisation and meaning of risk with distinct social contexts. The second set of difficulty arises from the fact that the emergence and success of risk discourses are embedded it two distinct, albeit interrelated, historical processes: transformations in the social fabric that involve greater vulnerability for individuals and groups; the shift from government to governance and the need to account for the limits of the latter. The notion of risk highlights, but more importantly has become a vector of change in, these two processes.

About the speaker

Olivier Borraz is CNRS research professor at the Center for the Sociology of Organizations (CSO) at Sciences Po in Paris. His research relates to risk in various fields of environmental health: he published his results in Les politiques du risque (2008, Presses de Sciences Po). More recently, he has taken an interest in non-emerging risks, crisis management and preparedness as sites of State transformation, and the contribution of social sciences to risk analysis. He heads the Risk governance program of the CSO, the Risk governance concentration in the Master of Public Affairs at Sciences Po, and teaches several courses on risk in the bachelor and masters programs in Sciences Po. He sits on the scientific council of the French health safety agency (Anses) as representative of the social sciences.