Sociology of Risk

  • Rolf LidskogEmail author
  • Göran Sundqvist
Reference work entry


Risk is a relatively new object of sociological research, but this research field has grown rapidly over the last three decades. This chapter argues that the task of sociology is to contribute to risk research by emphasizing that risks are always situated in a social context and are necessarily connected to actors’ activities. Thus, sociology opposes the reification of risks, where risks are lifted out their social context and are dealt with as something uninfluenced by activities, technologies, and instruments that serve to map them. The chapter comprises four sections, the first being a general introduction. The next section presents a historical perspective on sociology and risk. It starts by briefly describing what sociology is, followed by a discussion of how the concept of risk becomes an object of sociological thought. The section ends by presenting and discussing three different sociological perspectives on risk, all providing different contributions. The third section focuses on current strands of sociological risk research. It starts by giving an overview of three different sociological approaches to risk: Mary Douglas’s cultural theory of social order, Ulrich Beck’s theory of reflexive modernization and the risk society, and Niklas Luhmann’s system theory. All three approaches conceptualize risk differently and make different contributions to the sociological study of risk. The review of these theories is followed by a presentation of five central discussions within the sociology of risk: risk governance, public trust, democracy and risk, the realism–constructivism debate, and governmentality and risk. Finally, the fourth section briefly presents some areas in need of further sociological research.


Risk Management Risk Perception Social Constructivism Risk Communication Industrial Society 
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© Springer Science+Business Media B.V. 2012

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Centre for Urban and Regional StudiesÖrebro UniversityÖrebroSweden
  2. 2.Centre for Technology, Innovation and CultureUniversity of OsloOsloNorway

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