CrimProf Blog

Editor: Kevin Cole
Univ. of San Diego School of Law

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

O'Malley on Risk

Pat O'Malley  (University of Sydney - Faculty of Law) has posted two manuscripts on SSRN: Governmentality and Risk (SOCIAL THEORIES OF RISK AND UNCERTAINTY, pp. 52-75, J. Zinn, ed., Oxford, 2008) and Experiments in Risk and Justice (Theoretical Criminology, Vol. 12, No. 4., pp. 451-470, 2008). Here is the abstract for the first piece:

Governmentality provides one of the most influential analyses of the nature and development of risk-based techniques in government over the past thirty years. In contrast to Beck's 'risk society' theory, which sees risk as a unity, governmentality emphasises the diversity of forms that risk takes as a governmental technique, and stresses their very different implications for those who are governed. In contrast to cultural analyses of risk, that concern themselves with the sociological ways risk is associated with particular congeries of social meanings and group processes, governmentality focuses overwhelmingly on governmental plans and programs. A governmental approach to risk is thus little interested in explaining the rise of risk in terms of some grand theory under which all risk is subordinated as an effect of epiphenomenon, nor in how widespread is the social acceptance of governmental plans. This chapter outlines the advantages and disadvantages of such an approach, what its impact has been, and examines how far governmentality can be integrated with risk society and cultural approaches to risk in contemporary life.

And here is the abstract for the second:

Risk has not been regarded positively in most social theory and critical criminology, especially in the light of Beck's 'risk society' thesis. This paper argues that such criticism is misplaced. Risk is an extremely variable governmental technology, and many of the targets of criticism are shaped by the contemporary political environment. The same environment has given a similar negative cast to other approaches to security. There are ways of deploying risk, such as drug harm minimization strategies, that offer considerable promise for linking risk and security, and more broadly to issues of social justice. However, abstract calls for harm minimizing security, suffer exactly the same problems that confront generalizing about risk-based security. This paper suggests that we could use a governmental analytic to construct a strategic knowledge of risk, both through the analysis of existing approaches (such as harm minimisation and restorative justice) and by using this to generate experiments in risk, security and justice.

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