Risk Reconsidered: Histories, theories, applications

Suzanne Schneider's picture
June 6, 2023 to June 7, 2023
United Kingdom
Subject Fields: 
Economic History / Studies, History of Science, Medicine, and Technology, Psychology, Public Policy, Social Sciences

Call for Workshop Participants

Risk reconsidered: Histories, theories, applications

A workshop and public forum sponsored by the Calleva Research Centre for Evolution and Human Science (Magdalen College, Oxford) and the Oxford Martin School

6–7 June 2023

The language and logic of risk have become pervasive in the twenty-first century. They criss-cross the disparate realms of healthcare and global finance, war and national security, climate and personal safety. Risk operates at every scale: from online tools that calculate users’ propensity for heart disease to algorithms used to identify at-risk students in educational settings, from risk assessment matrices deployed by militaries to the booming industry of corporate risk management that help clients identify and navigate operational, political, environmental, and cyber risks. However commonplace risk frameworks and practices have become, they are also of relatively recent vintage, growing out of a complex web whose nodes include insurance, probability, statistics, decision analysis, and military operational practices developed during the Second World War. Even as recently as the 1980s, few universities offered programmes in risk management and only a handful of professional journals tackled the subject of risk outside of finance or insurance.

In this two-day workshop, participants are asked to step away from siloed and technocratic approaches to risk assessment and management to consider how and why risk has emerged as a key organizing principle for social and political life in the twenty-first century. Building on foundational insights about “risk society” forwarded in recent decades by scholars including Ulrich Beck, Mary Douglas, Lorraine Daston, Anthony Giddens, Gerd Gigerenzer, and Deborah Lupton among others, the workshop aims to historicize and de-naturalize risk as a mode of coping with uncertainty. It invites participants to consider the history, uses, and limitations of risk frameworks for generating broad-based human security.

The organizers invite proposals for short presentations (e.g. 10–15 minutes) from scholars and practitioners working across the humanistic, natural, and social sciences. We particularly seek proposals that are interdisciplinary in nature and that regard risk as a particular form of social and political rationality whose ‘scientific’ attributes must be understood in the context of power relations, not merely assumed. Proposals should relate in some way to at least one of the following broad areas of inquiry:

  • What sort of assumptions and values do risk frameworks incorporate? Who is the presumed subject of risk assessment and management practices? 
  • What is the relationship between risk’s commercial applications and its political and social ones?
  • In what sense is it possible to differentiate between ‘objective’ and ‘subjective’ risk? How do such designations relate to issues of expert authority and legitimacy? How should we contend with public innumeracy?
  • Who are the key actors in a world built around risk assessment and mitigation, and what benefits do they accrue?
  • How do individuals respond to systems that demand that they serve as the actuaries of their own lives?
  • How has the experience of risk evolved since the turn of the twenty-first century, against the backdrop of terrorism, financial crises and austerity, refugees and migration, climate catastrophe, and not least, a pandemic?
  • How might risk be managed in a democratic fashion, rather than—as has often been the case—merely offloaded to those with less power?

The workshop will consist of four sessions held over two days at Magdalen College, with each participant asked to offer and respond to a presentation in a discipline not their own. Participants are also asked to attend a public event on the afternoon of 7 June, organized in partnership with the Oxford Martin School. The event will reflect upon workshop questions with members of the public. Lunches will be provided each day, as well as a dinner at Magdalen College on 6 June.

Accommodation is available for participants coming from outside the Oxford community. Reimbursement is also available for reasonable travel expenses for scholars without access to travel funds from their home institutions.

Scholars working in any relevant discipline (including graduate students in the final stages of their degree programme) are encouraged to apply, as are policymakers and practitioners working in the fields of risk assessment and management.

Applicants should send their CV and a brief (i.e. 300–400 words) proposal by 1 April 2023 to calleva.centre@magd.ox.ac.uk with the subject line “Proposal: Risk Reconsidered.” Please also note in your proposal whether you require accommodation and travel reimbursement. General inquiries may be sent to the workshop organizer, Dr Suzanne Schneider, at suzanne.schneider@sant.ox.ac.uk. Queries regarding workshop logistics may be directed to Hampton Gaddy at hampton.gaddy@nuffield.ox.ac.uk.

Contact Info: 

Dr. Suzanne Schneider

Visiting Fellow, Magdalen College

Deputy Director and Core Facutly, Brooklyn Institute for Social Research