Why Define Risk?

Monday, 16 July 2018: 10:30
Oral Presentation
Gulin KAYHAN, Waseda University, Graduate School of Asia Pacific Studies, Japan
Risk is defined in many ways and risk scholars react to this multiplicity of definitions in different ways. Some appreciate the fluidity of the notion and study the historicity of risk as “a category of experience” (Doron 2015) while others despise what they see as confusion and widespread misinterpretation of the risk concept, and attempt to clarify what risk refers to. Boholm (2015) argues that risk mainly refers to the negative manifestation of contingency and should not be confused with adventure, nor with luck or good fortune which address the positive outcomes. She stresses the need for a stable definition of risk. Only then, she argues, an interdisciplinary communication on risk will be fruitful. Aven, on the contrary, argues that risk definitions that are based on probability “restrict risk to a measurement tool” (2016:59). There are many other representations of uncertainty, which co-exist alongside one another with regards to a given issue, that a risk scholar needs to take into account. In this article, I attempt to understand the potential reasons behind the definitional policing in risk studies, by drawing from Bruno Latour’s (2005) discussion on “sociologists of the social”. Reading Asa Boholm’s work from a Latourian perspective, I argue that risk as a stable theoretical construct is incompatible with a relational methodology once we agree with Latour’s work on actor-networks and ‘the end of the social’ as Boholm does. I advocate instead a broader perspective that treats risk as a collector-concept that conjures up, in a given context, many different co-existing notions, many possible definitions and ways of thinking. We should treat risk as a ‘collector’ and not insist on our own ‘collection’, that is a stable scholarly definition, is the position I take in this paper.