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Risk and Regulation: Research Student Conference 2002

September 2002

On 19/20 September, the ESRC Centre for Analysis of Risk and Regulation (CARR) held its first Research Student Conference on the theme of risk and regulation. The conference was part of CARR's outreach programme and was supported by funding from Deutsche Bank. Scholarly interest in this emerging interdisciplinary area was evidenced by a level of international involvement exceeding the expectations of the organisers, Dr Michael Huber (Aon Senior Research Fellow, CARR) and Professor George Gaskell. Some 50 participants from across the UK, Denmark, Germany, France, Italy, Austria, Estonia and the US attended the conference, to hear 24 presentations from students representing 14 different institutions.

CARR Co-Director Bridget Hutter opened the conference by mapping out the intellectual space researchers at the conference were aiming to develop. She considered the different origins of research on risk and regulation and their more recent integration. In the second lecture, Dr Henry Rothstein (ESRC Research Fellow, CARR) outlined contemporary work on risk regulation regimes, drawing together work from across the two fields of risk and regulation.

The substance of the conference comprised the research students' presentations of work in progress. Topics covered in the six sessions included audit regulation and financial markets; airline flight safety, Y2K and the regulation of risk at the Los Alamos National Lab; regulation of IT, telecoms, electricity supply and pharmaceutical, and risks and related issues around new technologies including genetically modified foods.

The research highlighted the complexity of the social scientific study of risk and regulation. A notable feature was the heterogeneity of disciplinary backgrounds including sociology, political science, law, psychology and socio-legal studies; of research designs including case studies, experiments and ethnographic approaches, and both qualitative and quantitative data sources including media coverage, documentary and archival sources, public opinion surveys and in-depth interviews. With these resources, the research students brought both conceptual and methodological sophistication to the study of their particular risk/regulation issue. Moreover, the group showed an enthusiasm for engaging in discussion with others working within differing disciplinary frameworks.

The presentations from this new generation of risk and regulation researchers show that the area offers many exciting opportunities for work at the intersection between social sciences and issues of contemporary relevance in the public domain. CARR will hold a Research Student Conference annually and the quality of the work presented at the conference suggests that the field will not only expand, but will do so in safe hands.