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Theory and Society

, Volume 39, Issue 5, pp 503–525 | Cite as

Of risk and pork: urban security and the politics of objectivity

  • Andrew Lakoff
  • Eric Klinenberg
Article

Abstract

This article focuses on the Urban Area Security Initiative (UASI) controversy as a case study in the politics of risk assessment. It examines struggles among diverse actors–think tank experts, journalists, politicians, and government officials–engaged in the contentious process of establishing a legitimate definition of risk. In the field of homeland security, the means of conducting rational risk assessment have not yet been settled, and entrepreneurial officials from urban and regional governments use different techniques to identify local risks and vulnerabilities. In this contentious process, federal bureaucrats are responsible for determining how to allocate resources fairly and rationally to different cities and metropolitan regions, given that local officials have clear incentives to request funds and little cause to refrain. Although “rationality” is supposed to replace “politics” in making bureaucratic decisions over the allocation of resources, what we find instead is a political struggle over how to define, measure, and manage risk. For political actors, victory in debates over urban security comes from codifying one’s interests within the technical practice of risk assessment.

Keywords

Homeland security Objectivity Rationality Risk assessment Risk 

Notes

Acknowledgments

The authors thank the New York University Center for Catastrophe Preparedness and the NYU International Center for Advanced Study for funding this research, and the Fritz Institute for additional support. Mark Treskon provided excellent research assistance. Stephen Collier, Steven Epstein, Gil Eyal, Ted Porter, Akos Rona-Tas, Mitchell Stevens, and Caitlin Zaloom offered helpful comments on early drafts of the article, as did members of the NYU Urban Studies Seminar, the UCSD Culture Workshop, and members of the audience at an American Sociology Association panel on Risk.

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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media B.V. 2010

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of SociologyUniversity of Southern CaliforniaLos AngelesUSA
  2. 2.Department of SociologyNew York UniversityNew YorkUSA

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