Jeremy Collins

Studio 17: Risk, uncertainty, choice

Studio Outline

We take risks every day; we make choices between different risks, based on our cultural understandings of the dangers and benefits involved.

But who is qualified to make decisions about risks, especially those that affect groups rather than individuals? What risks are acceptable, and how are they defined? This studio will allow students to explore any topic from their own discipline in terms of how the risks it generates can be understood.

In recent years a number of theorists have argued that risk has become a ‘key concept in western societies’ (e.g. Lupton, 1999), raising questions about consent, acceptability and power.

Issues of risk construction, mediation, perception and management can occur across different subject areas within The Cass school. Issues that might be addressed include:

  • How is terrorism constructed as a risk in the media?
  • Why are some foods represented as dangerous or healthy?
  • Are the risks of certain recreational drugs exaggerated in media reports?
  • What are the risks for film-makers economically, or legally, in producing a film?
  • How might art challenge certain conceptions of risk?
  • How have issues around health and safety impacted on architecture and design?
  • How are regulations in cultural production of all kinds interpreted, acted upon?

This studio will provide students with a range of theoretical tools with which to analyse questions of risk, uncertainty and decision-making which can then be applied to topics across the range of disciplines in the school.

In addition, students joining this studio can take part in a specific project in which the media presentation of sex, and the risks of unsafe sex, are analysed in conjunction with Cosmopolitan magazine. A content analysis of TV programmes aimed at young adults will identify the extent to which safe sex practices are presented, and how ‘risky’ sexual behaviour is represented in broadcast media.

First seven weeks of study

  • Week 1: A number of different theoretical perspectives have been identified around risk including the psychometric approach (e.g. Slovic 2000); Ulrich Beck’s Risk Society (Beck 1992); the anthropological approach of Mary Douglas (Douglas 1986); and the governmentality approach derived from Foucault (Dean 2000). These and others will be examined in the initial stages of the studio, and we will discuss how they might be applied to the specific concerns of each student. Throughout this initial period, students will be encouraged to investigate and explore risks they consider interesting or relevant, bringing in examples for discussion.
  • Week 2: The contexts of risk; an overview of the different approaches and discussion of how specific examples might be approached within the studio.
  • Week 3: ‘How safe is safe enough?’ – the psychometric approach to measuring risk. Can risks be quantified?
  • Week 4: Big Risks: the environment, pollution, and Beck’s Risk Society.
  • Week 5: Who is to blame? Culture, anthropology and social structure.
  • Week 6: Governmentality: individualism, responsibility, liberal government and social control through risk.
  • Week 7: Moral panic: risk and blame in media constructions.
    Followed by student presentations of risk topics.


Contact Tutor Jeremy Collins

Reading List

  • 1. Beck, U (1992) Risk Society: Towards a New Modernity. London; Newbury Park, Calif: Sage Publications
  • 2. Gardner, D (2008) Risk: The Science and Politics of Fear. London: Virgin Digital
  • 3. Gigerenzer, G (2003) Reckoning with Risk: Learning to Live with Uncertainty. New Ed edition. London: Penguin
  • 4. Hjort, M. (ed) (2012) Film and risk (Contemporary Approaches to Film and Media Series), Detroit: Wayne State University Press
  • 5. Lupton, D (1999) Risk (Key Ideas), London: Routledge
  • 6. Lupton, D and Tulloch, J (2003) Risk and Everyday Life. London; Thousand Oaks: Sage Publications