Using Corpus Linguistics for Sociological Research: Discourse-Semantic Changes of “Risk” in the New York Times, 1987-2014
The presentation will present a study on the discourse semantic shift towards risk utilising a corpus-based investigation of risk words in a number of US newspapers from 1987 to 2014. The study supports Mary Douglas’s claim that the meaning of risk is shifting towards the negative end. There is also good evidence that risk is an increasingly common experience but characterised by decreasing individual control. Decreasing agency in risk processes supports assumptions that the individualisation of risk in the news is accompanied by the scandal of not being in control. Generalised worries about risk are more common. There is a tendency of average people (e.g. men, women or children) being reported as vulnerable while powerful people are presented as risk takers. In contrast to Beck’s theorizing, the study shows the importance of risk in the health area. The risk society might be much more characterised by concerns about health issues such as civilisation illnesses rather than new mega risks.
The research shows how corpus based approaches can be used to test and develop sociological hypothesis on historical change in the realm of risk.