374.2 Material-semiotics and the sociology of risk: A tale of two cities or an entanglement of sorts?

Thursday, August 2, 2012: 3:00 PM
Faculty of Economics, TBA
Oral Presentation
Nicholas B. DE WEYDENTHAL , University of Melbourne, Australia
Dean PIERIDES , University of Melbourne, Australia
Conventional approaches to risk tend to set Ulrich Beck’s sociological account in opposition to Bruno Latour’s material-semiotic one. The chasm this produces is representative of a broader distinction commonly drawn between the sociology of risk and actor-network theory. In this paper, however, we argue that it can be generative to consider these different conceptions of risk together given that three significant, conceptual tensions are evaluated. We highlight these three tensions to support any attempt that aims to work with both a material-semiotic sensibility and with the literature on the sociology of risk. Firstly, an epochalist reading of risk that distinguishes different orders of modernity with periodicity contrasts with an understanding based on situated and detailed, empirical accounts. Secondly, this leads to a metaphysical dilemma of whether an a priori distinction can be made between the social and the material, between nature and culture. Thirdly, humanist approaches identify risk as a problem of language, discourse and representation while explaining the material away. More-than-human or post-humanist accounts suggest that risk is an entanglement constituted multiply in sociomaterial pluriverses. For each of these tensions we show how the work of Beck and Latour can be located by drawing attention to the different scales at which they operate. Our position is that instead of conceiving risk as abstract, quantifiable, socially constructed or understood in terms of something else, its irreducibility can be made clear by paying greater attention to its enactment in processes and practices. In concluding we propose that a material-semiotic notion of risk complements traditional sociological approaches to the study of risk by showing how and when risk is negotiated, traded and aggregated as an entity.