232.1 Towards an interdisciplinary understanding of voluntary risk taking

Thursday, August 2, 2012: 9:00 AM
Faculty of Economics, TBA
Oral Presentation
Jens O. ZINN , University of Melbourne, Australia
The importance of risk-taking for present day societies might be uncontested; however, explaining the sources or the reasons for risk-taking activities is complex. This presentation will review contributions from a number of disciplines, in particular, psychology, economics, biology and sociology. These understand (voluntary) risk-taking as rooted in the nature of the human being (e.g. as a drive), in individual personality characteristics, genetic dispositions or as influenced by developmental stages while they indicate at the same time that such explanations are limited to understand common risk-taking phenomena. Attempts to explain risk-taking on the basis of instrumental rationality has also proven its limited power to understand (voluntary) risk-taking in everyday life and professional practice. Each approach remains incomplete if not considering socio-cultural and socio-structural factors.

Following a sociological perspective, this article will argue that risk-taking is a historically developed way of framing the social world linked to Western modernisation which has been particularly emphasised in the decades after WWII. However, the focus on new risks, institutional individualism and individualist values in sociological theorizing has supported that underlying socio-structural, psychological or developmental factors had been neglected. The edgework approach on voluntary risk taking follows this tendency though highlighting the emotional attraction of high risk-taking activities themself.

This presentation will argue towards an interdisciplinary understanding of voluntary risk taking which might be better prepared to understand a broad range of risk-taking activities.