Governmentality and the analysis of risk

Authored by: Pat O’Malley

Routledge Handbook of Risk Studies

Print publication date:  April  2016
Online publication date:  March  2016

Print ISBN: 9781138022867
eBook ISBN: 9781315776835
Adobe ISBN: 9781317691662


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In Ulrich Beck’s (1992) now classic account of the risk society, two technologies of governing are central: risk and uncertainty. They appear as a binary of two monolithic technologies. Risk is constituted by the use of statistical techniques wedded to large databanks in order to produce probabilistic predictions making possible risk-minimisation or avoidance. Uncertainty appears as government based on qualitative and subjective projections regarded as an inferior resource – a fallback option necessitated by new conditions of modernity. The binary is significant, but not original to Beck. It has developed in economics since the early work of Frank Knight (1921) and developed by others such as John Maynard Keynes (1936) and more recently by Peter Bernstein (1998) who, in contrast to Beck, regards uncertainty as the touchstone of freedom. In Bernstein’s vision, a world that is statistically predictable is a world that is not free and that does not have an open future.

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