Saturday, May 19, 2012

On "risk thinking": risk as rationalization

To understand the relationship between technology, finitude and uncertainty, we need to appreciate how far the futures our use of technology creates are increasingly viewed through the lens of risk. The use of risk as a frame for representing the future to ourselves has become central to a wide range of areas of public life, including government and regulation, business, and health care. This has been largely a post-World War II phenomenon, becoming particularly evident during the decades since the 1970s, alongside the transition within industrialised societies from a consensual, essentially Keynesian socio-economic settlement (the age of centralised technocracies and welfarism, including the French régime général, the German Soziale Marktwirtschaft, the British Welfare State and later Lyndon Johnson’s “Great Society”) towards more fragmented, neo-liberal and initially monetarist social forms.

Risk Thinking
What Nikolas Rose has referred to as "risk thinking" is a loose collection of social practices and habits of mind which centre on the idea that social action can best be legitimated through the evaluation of probably consequences of actions. A substantial body of scholarship rooted in Science and Technology Studies has documented how a probabilistic and purportedly systematic view of potential future outcomes of action, drawing essentially on methods of failure management within engineering, became part of a wider social movement towards quantitative measurement and assessment of the outcomes of policy during the 1970s (Wynne 1992; Wynne 1996), drawing on a variety of developments in neo-classical economics, game theory, public choice theory and so on in a “search for new forms of legitimate order and authority” in a new neoliberal age (Wynne 1996, p. 78).