The Social Determination of Risk (SORISK)

Led by J. Peter Burgess

Jan 2008 – May 2011


Risk is implicitly related to human values. It reflects a certain understanding of human life, of individual and collective hopes and fears, of expectations about what might be lost and what is worth keeping, about what one is willing to sacrifice, and indeed about what one is willing to fight or even die for. Thus, risk is a concept with social, cultural, even ethical dimensions. Risk research should therefore not concern the physical aspects of life alone. Rather it should also focus on the social dimensions of life, health, welfare, and security. Risk has traditionally been associated with material and technical aspects of life alone because these tend, more and more in our age, to protect and embody the values of individuals and society. They should however not be confused with life itself. Understanding risk presumes that one understands the socially determined values and motivations of those who would do harm. Sound, meaningful, effective, and cost-efficient security research therefore requires attention to and a thorough understanding of the social forces that shape the values determining what is understood to be at risk as well as guidance in determining effective, appropriate and just response to threat. It must focus on the development, analysis and adoption of practical procedures for democratic management of risks in society and seek to find means of linking the scientific generation of knowledge and human values. The proposed project therefore aims to support and strengthen the field of risk research by clarifying approaches to research in which social dimensions can be integrated into the security research agenda.

Principal Objectives

The principal objective of the project is to formulate a socially based theory of risk and apply it to the concrete case of aviation security in the Norwegian setting. As sub-goals, the project aims:

  1. to contribute to the conceptualization of risk as a socially determined phenomenon, viewed in relation to a physical one;

  2. to empirically chart and catalogue key dimensions of the Norwegian social setting relevant to the analysis of risk; and

  3. to carry out a detailed case study of security risk management in the Norwegian civil aviation sector.

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