Ideologies of Risk and Regulation

Dr Charles Dannreuther
Institute for Politics and International Studies, University of Leeds

Date: 18 June 2002
Time: 1:00pm - 2:30pm
: CARR Seminar Room, H615


Risks, and the regulatory mechanisms required to manage them, have become defining characteristics of contemporary governance. Closely associated with these politics has been the rise of Third Way politics with its rejection of the traditional distinctions of left and right. But despite the significant electoral successes of Third Way politics over the last five years, it may be that the rejection of ideology as an organising principle has been premature. The consensus politics of Globalisation has been under the strain of international events, government has appeared aloof and ineffective and, while business enjoys good access to political decision making, labour looks better represented by the extreme right than the left.

This paper examines the relationship between risk, regulation and ideology in two parts. In the first part it examines how ideologies can be seen in the relationship between risk and regulation. The discussion of the relationship between risks and regulation investigates the interaction between governed and governors in regulatory politics and the role that risk plays in maintaining that relationship. Risks have always been present in political and economic governance and so have been informed by political ideologies as much as any other policy. Ideologies have therefore been important in legitimating power relationships between regulators and risk bearers. Once the nature of the relationship has been outlined, the link between the regulators and the subjects that they define through their regulations can be explored further. For example, what assumptions do regulators assume inform the behaviour of a bearer of risk, and to what degree does this impart a particular identity onto those being regulated? To what degree does the process of risk identification reflect and sustain the authority of the regulators? It is suggested that the relationship between risks and regulation is mutually constitutive, an assertion discussed in relation to a brief review of literature on regulatory regimes. These relationships can be understood as ideologies and seen in relation to a range of ideological positions (e.g. relating to nationalism, liberalism, science).

The second part of the paper asks when do the norms relating risks to regulation become ideological? Norms take on an ideological form when they place a premium on one way of looking at the world over another. This assertion is investigated through the representation of risk. The implication of representing a risk in a particular way is that it justifies particular forms of action and empowers new levels of governance over others. Thus the management of risks associated with globalisation has focused on an individualistic representation of agency which has led to a focus on regulation. Those who challenge notions of Globalisation, or the individualised reality that it supports, may argue for a regulatory response from a national level. The representation of risk is therefore a political decision before it becomes policy. Once regulatory decisions are made risks that are regulated at a regional or global level impose constraints on states and societies by disciplining political action and defining opportunities and alternatives. In a similar way, representing risks as either too complex or too sensitive for popular scrutiny leads to the "de-politicisation" of regulation and accusations of technocratic governance.

The paper concludes by discussing how other forms of representation may offer alternative ideologies to the politics of regulation.