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Risk environment and society

Contact Sciences Po for this project

Olivier Borraz
Sciences Po / CNRS
Centre de Sociologie des Organisations
19, rue Amélie
75007 Paris
Phone: +33 1 40 62 65 70
Fax: +33 1 47 05 35 55

Sciences Po

Risk is a central feature of our societies: it is a recurrent theme in protest movements and controversies regarding new technologies; a variety of problems are framed and regulated as risks by public authorities; the recent financial crisis, the present economic and social crisis, and the coming environ-mental crisis are interpreted as governance failures and justify reforms in risk governance; risk is a central component in public and private management schemes; it is a key dimension in the regulation of international trade movements; many international organizations now use the language of risk to address traditional issues such as poverty, development, or State building; urban and local governments are required to manage a host of health, environmental and security risks.

All these issues need to be addressed with a critical and reflexive outlook. In order to manage risks, public and private organizations rely on international standards that promote a depoliticized and protocolised approach to risks. Many disciplines (including some social sciences) are engaged in an effort to formalize their production in order to gain wider acceptance for their analyses. And a growing number of international organizations, with the help of consultants and academics, promote frameworks and methods destined to help national or local authorities prepare for risks or disasters.

Yet, risk governance should not to simply rely on expert knowledge and standard protocols. On the contrary, it is important to provide policymakers with a capacity to understand and evaluate the risks they are confronted with from a more general perspective. Such a perspective should rely on robust empirical studies. As the risk discourse tends to de-politicize the issues it covers, there is a need for a more critical analysis of present trends, one that stresses the inherent political nature of risks and puts them in perspective with major transformations in state and society.
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