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The Uncertain Promise of Risk

Professor Pat O'Malley
Canada Research Chair in Criminology and Criminal Justice
Carleton University, Ottawa

: 16 June 2004
: 5:00pm - 7:00pm
: CARR Seminar Room, H615


Conventional debates over risk in criminal justice (and more generally) tend to fall into several traps. These include the assumption that diverse configurations of risk can be collapsed into a single category, to be contrasted en bloc with other approaches to government. However, by attending to the diversity of forms of risk we can begin to develop certain principles that could be put forward as tools for thinking about the promise and limitations of ways of governing by risk. Through contrasting actuarial justice with a number of other configurations of risk-centred government, such relevant issues emerge as whether specific techniques or risk are inclusive or exclusionary, whether they set up a zero-sum game between victims and offenders, and whether they polarize risk and uncertainty. While this is promising, the paper also concludes that a democratic politics of security may provide more promise than a politics of risk per se.


Pat O'Malley is Canada Research Chair in Criminology and Criminal Justice, and Professor in the Departments of Sociology and Anthropology and of Law, at Carleton University. Until recently Professor of Law and Deputy Dean of the Faculty of Law and Management, and Director of the National Centre for Socio-Legal Studies at La Trobe University, Australia. He is the author and editor of many publications in the field of risk and security, and has been a member of various government bodies working in related areas of criminal justice, drug policy and crime prevention. He is an editor of the Cambridge University Press 'Law and Society' series, and serves on the editorial and advisory boards of many major international journals in the field. Much of his recent work has focused on the role of risk-based models in the government of social problems, including two edited collections: Crime and the Risk Society and Crime Prevention in Australia. Other recent published work has included field studies of drug dealing, analysis of the globalisation of legal sanctions, and theoretical examination of contemporary governance. In 2000 he was awarded the Sellin-Gleuck Award by the American Society of Criminology for outstanding contributions to the discipline. His new monograph on 'Risk, Uncertainty and Government' will be published by Cavendish Press in 2004.