A new book by Professor Peter Taylor-Gooby and Dr Jens Zinn explains how the break-neck speed of technological innovation, coupled with a collapse of confidence in public authorities, "experts" and corporations has pushed 'risk' to the top of the research agenda.
Risk in Social Science, which is intended primarily as a text-book for students of sociology, psychology and social psychology, brings together the work of major researchers in the Economic and Social Research Council Social Context and Responses to Risk Network (SCARR) at the University of Kent. It is designed as an introduction to the field of risk research and includes contributions from a wide range of academic disciplines, drawing on international research literature as well as UK material from the leading authorities in the field.
Academic research is increasingly inter-disciplinary, and there has been a shift in focus to trying to understand how ordinary people perceive and respond to risk and including these aspects when modelling risk scenarios. 'Research shows that extreme responses may lead to a "culture of fear" in which anything new is suspect, or "edgework", where people deliberately take risks in extreme sports, sexual behaviour and relationships,' they say.
The recognition of the complex nature of risk, as well as its high profile in public debate and in the media has led to richer approaches and more hybrid methods of social science research and analysis, as well as more interaction between government, academia and business. 'Risk reduction is now a policy objective in a number of areas, but risk is also recognised as an important ingredient within policy, as the management of continuing risks replaces risk elimination as the major important policy concern,' say Peter Taylor-Gooby and Jens Zinn.
In their introduction, Peter Taylor-Gooby and Jens Zinn explain how failures of technology and innovation, such as the Thalidomide tragedy, the BSE outbreak and Chernobyl, increased public distrust of institutions. 'When risk issues become politicised they are difficult to resolve by technical means alone,' the authors state.
'A whole range of innovations, including nuclear power, GM food, motorway building and the Ilisu, Namarda and Yangtse dam projects all provoke vigorous and determined political protest and we know that political pressures can prevent the diffusion of new technologies, despite a lack of scientific evidence,' they say.
The book looks at the topic of risk from many different angles, with chapters on Crime, the Environment and Technical Development, Everyday Life and Leisure Time, Family and Partnerships, Health and Illness, Lifecourse, Youth and Old Age, Media, Social and Public Policy, Risk Regulation and Social Inequality (Gender, Ethnicity, Disability and Class).
FOR FURTHER INFORMATION CONTACT:
Dr Jens Zinn on 01227-824165 or email: J.Zinn@kent.ac.uk Alexandra Saxon or Annika Howard at ESRC, on 01793 413032/413119
NOTES FOR EDITORS:
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