The New Subjectivities of Risk

Tuesday, 12 July 2016: 11:15
Location: Hörsaal 46 (Main Building)
Oral Presentation
Stephen LYNG, Carthage College, USA
Although Erving Goffman’s contributions to the sociological study of the self, emotions, deviance, and social interaction are widely recognized, his effort to provide a sociological account of voluntary risk taking—activities he classified as “action”—has not received the same attention as other parts of his scholarly corpus.  While Goffman’s study of action anticipated the expansion of volitional risk taking in Western societies in recent decades, his concept now competes with a newer conceptualization of risk taking—Stephen Lyng’s notion of “edgework.”  In this paper, the action and edgework perspectives are assessed in relation to the growing uncertainties and reflexivities that characterize the era of “late modernity.”  It is argued that the action and edgework concepts capture two distinct levels of reflexivity, “aesthetic” and “hermeneutic” respectively, and that both forms of reflexivity co-exist in volitional risk-taking activities.  By conceptualizing action as a form of aesthetic reflexivity, it is possible to view volitional risk-taking activities as reservoirs of performative, mimetic resources for dealing with the structurally-based risks and uncertainties of the late modern social world.  By contrast, the edgework concept calls attention to a deeper level hermeneutic reflexivity, in which individuals are able to separate themselves from the congealed subjectivities of their culturally constructed bodies.  Understanding volitional risk taking in terms of aesthetic and hermeneutic reflexivity allows us to fully appreciate the “heighten reflexivity” that characterizes the late modern era.