CfP Risk Reconsidered: Risk, Uncertainty, and Democracy

On behalf of our research affiliate Audrey Borowski, we invite you to consider applying to the Workshop Risk Reconsidered: Risk, Uncertainty, and Democracy organised by the Calleva Centre Working Group at Magdalen College, University of Oxford, on 14-15 May 2024.

Call for contributions:

Just over a century ago Frank Knight’s seminal book, Risk, Uncertainty, and Profit, set out to carefully distinguish risk from uncertainty. As Knight wrote at the time, “it will appear that a measurable uncertainty, or 'risk' proper, as we shall use the term, is so far different from an unmeasurable one that it is not in effect an uncertainty at all.” In contrast to Knight’s attempt to define risk in terms of measurement and quantification, contemporary invocations of risk are remarkably ambiguous – from health risks and climate risks to those associated with artificial intelligence, crime, terrorism, and war. These shifts have reshaped not only our language and everyday behaviours, but states and societies more broadly. Indeed, alongside what Ulrich Beck termed the risk society, we have seen the emergence of the risk management society: the conceptual and material reconfiguration of both public and private institutions around risk management as their raison d’etre.

This two-day workshop invites proposals for short presentations (e.g. 10–15 minutes) from scholars and practitioners working across the humanistic, natural, and social sciences. We seek original contributions that eschew siloed and technocratic approaches to risk assessment and management to consider risk as a key organizing principle for social and political life in the twenty-first century. The organizers particularly welcome work that considers the relationship between risk’s historic, financial applications and those that proliferate today in social and political settings, ranging from education to policing and public health. Contributions should speak to one of the following broad areas of inquiry:

  • How did the careful distinction Knight made between risk and uncertainty become so muddled, and to what effect? Is this distinction still useful for understanding capitalism in the twenty-first century?
  • In what sense is it possible to differentiate between ‘objective’ and ‘subjective’ risk? How do such designations relate to issues of expert authority within democracies?
  • What sort of assumptions and values do risk models incorporate? Whose needs do they privilege and through what methods?
  • How does risk structure contemporary scientific inquiry – from the nature of funding and financial incentives to publishing and promotion?
  • What type of state is the risk management state, and how do the demands to manage risk intersect with those of a democratic society?

The workshop will consist of five sessions held over two days at Magdalen College. Lunches will be provided each day, as well as a dinner at Magdalen College on 14 May.

Accommodation is available for participants coming from outside the Oxford community. In general, one night will be made available to those coming from London and South East England, and two to three nights will be made available to those coming from elsewhere. Reimbursement is also available for reasonable travel expenses for scholars without access to travel funds from their home institutions.

Scholars working in any relevant discipline (including graduate students in the final stages of their degree programme) are encouraged to apply, as are policymakers and practitioners working in the fields of risk assessment and management. Original papers will be considered for inclusion in an edited volume to be issued by Oxford University Press on the subject of risk, uncertainty, and democracy.

Applicants should send their CV and a brief (i.e. 300–400 words) proposal by March 1, 2023 to calleva.centre@magd.ox.ac.uk with the subject line “Proposal: Risk Reconsidered.” Please also note in your proposal what your accommodation and travel reimbursement needs are. General inquiries may be sent to the workshop organizer, Dr Suzanne Schneider, at suzanne.schneider@kellogg.ox.ac.uk. Queries regarding workshop logistics may be directed to Hampton Gaddy at calleva.centre@magd.ox.ac.uk.

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