Risk in social science

A new book by Professor Peter Taylor-Gooby and Dr Jens Zinn explains how the break-neck speed of technological innovation, coupled with a collapse of confidence in public authorities, "experts" and corporations has pushed 'risk' to the top of the research agenda.

Risk in Social Science, which is intended primarily as a text-book for students of sociology, psychology and social psychology, brings together the work of major researchers in the Economic and Social Research Council Social Context and Responses to Risk Network (SCARR) at the University of Kent. It is designed as an introduction to the field of risk research and includes contributions from a wide range of academic disciplines, drawing on international research literature as well as UK material from the leading authorities in the field.

Academic research is increasingly inter-disciplinary, and there has been a shift in focus to trying to understand how ordinary people perceive and respond to risk and including these aspects when modelling risk scenarios. 'Research shows that extreme responses may lead to a "culture of fear" in which anything new is suspect, or "edgework", where people deliberately take risks in extreme sports, sexual behaviour and relationships,' they say.

The recognition of the complex nature of risk, as well as its high profile in public debate and in the media has led to richer approaches and more hybrid methods of social science research and analysis, as well as more interaction between government, academia and business. 'Risk reduction is now a policy objective in a number of areas, but risk is also recognised as an important ingredient within policy, as the management of continuing risks replaces risk elimination as the major important policy concern,' say Peter Taylor-Gooby and Jens Zinn.

In their introduction, Peter Taylor-Gooby and Jens Zinn explain how failures of technology and innovation, such as the Thalidomide tragedy, the BSE outbrea

Contact: Professor Peter Taylor-Gooby
Economic & Social Research Council

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