The University of Kent, Canterbury, Kent, CT2 7NZ, T +44 (0)1227 764000
Dr Adam Burgess
Reader in Social Risk Research
School of Social Policy, Sociology and Social Research
- 01227 827540
School of Social Policy, Sociology and Social Research
Cornwallis North East
Canterbury , Kent, CT2 7NF
I am a Reader in Social Risk Research at the University of Kent’s School of Social Policy, Sociology and Social Research. See the rest of the Sociology team here.
I completed my PhD in Sociology at the University of Kent, a Certificate in Education at Canterbury Christ Church and my BA (Hons) in East European Politics and Society at the University of London. I joined SSPSSR in 2004 as a Lecturer in Sociology. I became a Senior Lecturer in 2008 and Reader in 2011. I've previously lectured at Brunel, Bath and Reading and Westminster universities.
I am associate editor of the European Journal of Risk and Regulation, co-editor of Sociology Compass and on the editorial board of Health, Risk and Society. I am vice president of the Risk and Uncertainty (CG04) stream of the International Sociological Association and a research associate of the Centre for the Analysis of Risk and Regulation at the London School of Economics.
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- Divided Europe. London: Pluto Press, 1997 (222 pp. ISBN 07543 1262 4) (also translated into Greek, and published in USA by University of Michigan Press).
- The Contemporary Emergence of Health Concerns Related to Mobile Phones (PhD Monograph published by VDM Verlag, Saarbrucken 2010)
- Cellular Phones, Public Fears and a Culture of Precaution. New York: Cambridge University Press, 2004. (301 pp. ISBN 0 521 81759 5)
Extensively and very favourably reviewed in academic journals and the media:
- The American Journal of Sociology (November 2004)
- Sociology (July 2005)
- New Media and Society (Dec 2004)
- Science and Public Policy (October 2004)
- Risk Analysis (August 2004)
- Contemporary Sociology (April 2005)
- Diogene (March 2006)
- Times Higher Education Supplement (5 November, 2004)
- Prospect (April 2004)
- The Lancet (24 April 2004)
- British Medical Journal (31 January 2004)
Cellular Phones, Public Fears and a Culture of Precaution reviews
- New Media and Society: ‘an endlessly fascinating case study in the social psychology and sociology of risk perception…unequivocally a masterful treatment of an important but very neglected subject.’
- Sociology: ‘avoid the temptation to skip any sections of the book…this work is not only meticulously researched but also written in an extremely captivating and approachable style that has the potential of attracting a substantial non-academic readership…a very important statement that moves risk theorization away from the claws of generalization, anecdotal accounts and uncritical aphorisms and simultaneously raises the stakes for what can be accepted as vigorous, evidence-based analysis in future research on the social forces affecting risk perception and subsequent policy responses in different social contexts.
- Science and Public Policy: ‘In sum, this book is highly informative, well researched, and dense with important details. Its strength lies in the international comparison and the look at historical developments. Interested researchers will find important insights about international dissemination of anxiety and national responses. The book is a starting point for all interested in the conception of risk and risk policy, as it gives an excellent overview of the present situation, actual problems and development of different policies in different countries.’
- Risk Analysis:‘…a salutary lesson in the social construction of fears that should be used to inform many similar episodes that will undoubtedly emerge in the years ahead.’
- Contemporary Sociology: ‘Burgess makes a convincing argument that those risks are social, not scientific in origin…extends the social constructionist project from its case study roots, and in so doing, demonstrates how constructionists could gain a better analytical purchase on the important but somewhat elusive notion of context…the book as a whole is interesting, thought provoking, and well worth reading.’
- The Times Higher: ‘Whether one’s interest is in mobile phones and radio masts, or an entirely different technological hazard, the author’s analysis of the factors behind public concerns and official responses is illuminating…His book offers a salutary lesson to anyone engaged in the management of technological risk. Its relevance goes well beyond the cellular phones of the title.’
- Prospect: ‘…an important book…a meticulous analysis of the origins of fears about microwaves, the reasons behind the creation of the enquiry, the evidence or lack of it and the very different reactions of different countries.’
- The Lancet: ‘Adam Burgess’ fascinating and frequently polemical book highlights the perils of precautionary thinking.’
- IEE Review: ‘I found it thought provoking and can strongly recommend it as a fascinating study of the interaction between science and society.’
- Diogenes: ‘a remarkable work’
Articles and chapters (selection)
- Risk, Ritual and Health Responsibilisation: Japan’s ‘Safety Blanket’ of Surgical Face Mask Wearing (with Mitsu Horii), Sociology of Health and Illness 34(8) 2012.
- Media, Risk and Absence of Blame for ‘Acts of God’: Attenuation of the European Volcanic Ash Cloud of 2010, Risk Analysis, forthcoming.
- Constructing Sexual Risk: ‘Chikan’, Collapsing Male Authority and the Emergence of Women-Only Train Carriages in Japan (with Mitsu Horii), Health, Risk and Society 14(1) 2011.
- Fukushima Fixation: The Media Focus on Radiation Risk in Tsunami-Stricken Japan, European Journal of Risk and Regulation 2 2011, 209-12.
- ‘Nudging’ Healthy Lifestyles: The UK Experiments with the Behavioural Alternative to Regulation and the Market, European Journal of Risk and Regulation (forthcoming 2012).
- Thinking Culturally About Risk, International Journal of Law in Context 7(2) 2011, 1-8.
- Risk Rituals (with Sarah Moore), Journal of Risk Research (2011) 14 (1-2), 1-14.
- Public Inquiries in the (Risk) Regulatory State, British Politics6(1) 2011, 3-29.
- Media Risk Campaigning: From Mobiles Phones to Baby P, Journal of Risk Research 13(1) 2010: 59-72.
- Embodying Uncertainty? Understanding Heightened Risk Perception of Drink ‘Spiking’, British Journal of Criminology 49(6) 2009 (with Sarah Moore and Pamela Donovan).
- The Politics of Health Risk Promotion. ‘Passive Drinking’: A ‘Good Lie’ Too Far? Health Risk and Society 11(6) 2009.
- ‘The Making of the Risk-Centred Society and the Limits of Social Risk Research’ Health, Risk and Society 8(4) 2006: 329-342. ISSN: 1369-8575.
- ‘Mobile Phones and Service Stations: Rumour, Risk and Precaution,’ Diogenes 213 54: 1 (in French: March 2006; English: February 2007; and subsequently in Arabic and Chinese): 125-139. ISSN: 0392-1921.
- ‘Comparing National Responses to Perceived Health Risks from Mobile Phone Masts,’ Health, Risk and Society, 4 (2), 2002: 175-189. ISSN: 1369-8575.
- ‘Flattering Consumption: The Growth of Consumer Rights and Product Safety Concerns in Europe,’ Journal of Consumer Culture, 1 (1), 2001: 93-119. ISSN: 1469-5405.
- ‘Health Concerns and Risk Awareness’ in Wainwright, D. (ed.), A Sociology of Health (Sage: 2008).
- ‘Mobile Phone Use in Hospitals’ British Medical Journal October 14 2006, 333 (7572): 767-768. (with Stuart Derbyshire).
- (2010) An Economic Impact of Heightened Public Risk? London: Department of Business, Enterprise and Regulatory Reform.
- (2008) Report on ‘Public Inquiries and the Management of Public Risk’ for the Risk, Regulation Advisory Council, Department for Business, Enterprise and Regulatory Reform (Strategic Policy Analysis).
- (2007) Report on ‘Public Risk’ for the Risk, Regulation Advisory Council, Department for Business, Enterprise and Regulatory Reform (Strategic Policy Analysis).
- (2007) Contributor to Royal Society of Arts Risk Commission report on Risk and Childhood.
Conference presentations (selection)
- International Sociological Association conference, Buenos Aires (forthcoming).
- ECPR Conference on Regulation and Governance, Exeter, UK (forthcoming).
- First HEC/European Journal of Risk and Regulation Conference: Emergency Regulation under the Threat of a Catastrophe: The Volcanic Ash Crisis.
- Society for Risk Analysis (Europe) Kings College, London.
- Convenor of Panel on Comparative Risk at International Sociological Association conference, Gothenburg, Sweden.
- Managing the Social Aspects of Change from a Risk Perspective, Beijing Normal University, China.
- International Sociological Association (Risk and Uncertainty stream), Barcelona.
- Risk and Rationalities, Queen’s College, Cambridge.
- Second International Conference on Interdisciplinary Social Sciences, Granada, Spain.
- Society for Risk Analysis conference on Risk Perception, University of Nottingham.
- BSA Risk Group/Health, Risk and Society conference, University of Kent.
- Society for Risk Analysis-Europe, Paris.
- Humboldt University/WZB/Coninx Stiftung Conference on Transnational Risk, Potsdam/Berlin.
- Panel Convenor on Problems of Precautionary Governance, Society for Risk Analysis, First World Congress, Brussels.
- Society for the Study of Social Problems Annual Conference, Atlanta.
- ISA Environmental Research Network, University of Cambridge.
- European Sociological Association Network Conference, Univ. of Tel Aviv.
- Institute on Western Europe at Columbia University, New York.
- Keynote on ‘risk and uncertainty in changing society’, University of Antwerp.
- Understanding risk in the regulatory process, International Centre for Parliamentary Studies, London.
- Government Economic Service conference on risk and regulation, Department for Business, Innovation and Skills.
- Kings College Centre for Risk Research Departmental seminar.
- Department of Sociology, Queens University Belfast.
- University of Maastricht School of Governance, Netherlands.
- International Workshop on Conformity Assessment, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.
- Presentation on risk perception to House of Lords Science and Technology Committee.
- International Expert Workshop on Risk (French) National Research Agency (ANR) and CNRS Sciences Po, Paris.
- Lead discussant at international seminar hosted by Munich Re on communicating controversial risk, Munich.
- ‘Media and Risk: Towards a New Research Agenda’ University of Plymouth.
- Wilton Park Conference: Managing Risk: Sensible Precaution or Fear of Trying?.
- Centre for the Analysis of Risk and Regulation, London School of Economics.
- Invited expert at Risk and Regulation Roundtable seminar of government officials, regulators and industry representatives, Houses of Parliament.
- Department of Engineering, Lancaster University.
- Invited speaker at ESRC seminar on ‘Compensation Culture’, Dept of Sociology, Environment and Technology, University of Stuttgart.
- Department of Defence Management and Security Analysis, Cranfield. University, Royal Military College of Science.
- Risk Design Network, Health and Safety Laboratory, Buxton.
- Human and Environmental Risk Assessment of Chemicals Conference, Brussels.
- LSE/UCL seminars on the Public Understanding of Science.
- European Commission Working party on Electromagnetic Fields, Ispra, Italy.
- European Mobile Phone Industry/EC Conference on Mobile Risk, Brussels.
- Lecture to Chinese Civil servants on risk, Oxford University.
- Goodenough-Chevening Conference on Risk, London.
Why are some hazards with devastating consequences - such as the Japanese tsunami – relatively uninteresting to society, whilst hypothetical risks such as from nuclear radiation fascinate and perplex us? Why are so many contemporary concerns and issues understood as risks; often indeterminate, threatening and projected into the future? When did this trend first begin, and where? Why has the language of (avoiding) risk and harm and precaution become so attractive to policy makers? Why are basic choices recast as lifestyle risks – such as what we choose to eat and drink, whether through scaremongering or, more recently, being “nudged” into “better” choices?
These are the kinds of questions that shape my interdisciplinary research on contemporary risk in society. Rarely, I have found, is evidence ever compelling for them to be understood simply in their own terms; instead there is a mixture of competing actors, agendas, and social and cultural forces that cast some issues as threatening risks and leave others to be ignored. All this against a backdrop of greater uncertainty that, again, cannot be understood simply as an objective feature of the more complex world in which we live.
My work has developed through a range of different examples and a number of different directions. One strand of my work has been concerned with better understanding risk behaviours and rituals: from British and American women guarding alcoholic drinks from possible “spiking”, to the Japanese routinely wearing masks to protect themselves from flu.
Another strand of my work concerns the representation of risks, from how and why media coverage of the volcanic ash cloud remained largely blame-free and self contained, to how, on the other hand media risk campaigning developed so uniquely in the UK. I’m also interested in the politics, regulation and institutions of risk, from public inquiries to nuclear radiation regulation.
I aim to carry out rigorous research, but make no claim to being entirely objective or neutral. In historical terms, the rise of probabilistic reasoning marks humanity’s progress over thinking of the world around us in terms of fate, taboo and sin. It is central and essential to modernity. The more recent expansion of risk reasoning to inappropriate areas of life is more problematic, however, as is the unrealistic sense that risk can somehow be eliminated from our lives.
My early research was into how fears related to mobile phones and masts were created, and how they developed in different societies – particularly in relation to the emergence of precautionary governance.
I am currently supervising two phds in the field of risk and crime. I am willing to supervise PhDs related to the theme of risk, and also in health, family and crime. If you have a proposal in these areas and wish to study at the University of Kent, please email me to discuss further.
I currently teach courses on Risk and Society, Introductory Sociology, The Family, Health and Illness, and Research Methods. I enjoy teaching around a range of risk related areas such as:
- Basic concepts of risk, probability and precaution
- History of the emergence of risk and the shift to precaution, and its globalisation
- Key ‘domains; of risk: terrorism, security, child protection, media, law, interpersonal relations and the world of work
- Risk perception, assessment, management and communication
- Comparative national risk and the politics of risk.
- Vice President, Risk and Uncertainty (CG04) stream of International Sociological Association, 2010-
- Research associate – Centre for the Analysis of Risk and Regulation, London School of Economics, 2010-
- Associate editor of European Journal of Risk and Regulation
- Co-editor of Sociology Compass
- Member of the editorial board for Health Risk and Society
- I peer review articles for many journals including: Sociology, Risk Analysis, Journal of Risk Research, Technology and Society; Science, Technology and Human Values; Sociological Research Online; Environmental Politics; Public Understanding of Science; Environment and Planning: Government and Policy; Landscape and Urban Planning and the International Journal of Global Environmental Issues.
Media appearances (selection)
My research has been discussed in the media; I was interviewed on drink spiking research by various radio stations such as Radio 4’s The World Tonight and many other BBC stations. It was also covered by print media:
The study was identified by the British Academy as an example of how ‘rigorous, evidence-based research projects can inform social policy’ in their 2010 report on The Public Value of the Humanities and Social Sciences.
In January 2009 my work was cited in articles on technological risk in the Guardian and the Times. In June 2005 I appeared on Radio 4’s Today programme speaking about scientific uncertainty and on Radio 5 Live about public restrictions on mobile usage. Other appearances include:
- October 2006 - my article on mobile phone use in hospitals was covered by The Times, Guardian, BBC Online, Daily Mail and Radio 4’s PM.
- June 2005 - I appeared on Radio 4’s Today programme speaking about scientific uncertainty and on Radio 5 Live about public restrictions on mobile usage.
- March 2005 - My research on rumours was covered by the national and international media including the Economist, BBC Online, the Observer, Independent on Sunday, as well as the tabloids and many local, regional and international newspapers and websites.
- January 2005 - I appeared on BBC News 24, BBC Online, BBC Asian Network; BBC Radio Kent, Talk Sport; BBC Radio 5 Live; BBC Radio London; Invicta etc. International media such as Australian and South African radio, and Dutch newspapers also interviewed me.
- Between 2004-5 - The Economist, Sunday Telegraph, and the Times among others have referred to my work.
- Previously I have discussed my work on Radio 4’s Analysis, You and Yours, Law in Action and Thinking Allowed among others.
- London School of Economics, MSc in Management and Regulation of Risk, Centre for Risk and Regulation 2009-
- London School of Economics, Undergraduate programmes, Dept of Sociology 2008
- ESRC research proposals
- Nuffield foundation research proposals
- Irish Research Council for Humanities and Social Sciences