I’m Professor of Risk Research, specialising in sociological studies of risk behaviours and anxieties, and the role of media, and social and political institutions in the making of risk perceptions and controversies. My work concerns how we think about the future – what may happen – and what this tells us about ourselves and our society. I follow developments in a whole range of areas from food risk, to terrorism, to fears for child safety, lifestyle risks and harm reduction, and others. I do this from an interdisciplinary perspective, drawing particularly on insights from the ‘risk society’ and cultural approaches.
I became interested in risk in the 1980s when – though issues such as AIDS, food poisoning and ‘dangerous dogs’ - it began to become a part of public discourse and policy, and impact upon social behaviour. This new risk aversion was particularly striking in a nation that identifies itself through resilience; to ‘keep calm and carry on’. I was also intrigued as it appeared to follow a pattern set by the US a decade or more earlier, when environmental risk became so prominent. I sought insight into these developments through case studies such as into the concern with mobile phone radiation that began in the late 1990s, locating reactions in an institutionalised defensiveness that followed the ‘mad cow disease’ experience. I also became engaged more practically, working closely with the previous UK government’s Risk Regulation Advisory Council, which sought ways of challenging what it saw as a damaging cycle of public and political risk aversion.
Room CNE 115
Cornwallis North East
University of Kent
Kent CT2 7NF
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My next major project will retrace the ‘making’ of a ‘risk society’ in the UK, in a book co-written with my colleague, Professor Gabe Mythen, at the University of Liverpool. It will examine what we regard as the key experiences, from the management of the AIDS crisis in the 1980s, to the Soham murders of 2002 which reshaped child protection. This will also involve thinking through the role of historical events and experiences more generally in shaping risk consciousness.
As well as my current project looking historically at the language of risk I enjoy carrying out small-scale collaborative case studies into ‘public risks’ that – at least temporarily - catch the media and public imagination, such as concerns with ‘drink spiking’, mobile phones exploding at gas stations and volcanic ash clouds. I recently carried out a study of internet meme with my colleagues Vince Miller and Sarah Moore, inspired by the ‘deviant’ ‘neknominate’ drinking craze of 2013.
I’m editing a special issue of the Journal of Risk Research reappraising the contribution of Ulrich Beck, focusing myself on his ideas about individualization. I’m also examining the use of the notion of ‘the next tobacco’; how the framing of other health issues is being determined by anti-tobacco campaigning.
I teach undergraduate and postgraduate modules on risk. I also convene a module on the sociology of the family, and teach on the sociology of health undergraduate course.
Doctoral supervision: I’m currently supervising doctoral research on:
- Risk and youth justice
- Online boundaries of public and private
- European food regulation
I’m prepared to consider any risk-related project and also anything related to health, and to the family.back to top
I’ve just finished editing the first Handbook of Risk Studies (Routledge 2015) whilst a visiting fellow at Princeton during the first half of 2015, which tries to draw together the many different strands of risk research from both sides of the Atlantic.
I coordinate the European and International sociological associations’ research groups on risk, and am a research associate at the Centre for the Analysis of Risk and Regulation at the LSE. I’m also interested in regulatory responses to risk, co-editing the European Journal of Risk Regulation. I’ve published many articles and books on risk-related topics, including Cellular Phones, Public Fears and a Culture of Precaution (Cambridge UP, 2004), and addressed some 60 international conferences.
I would encourage colleagues to participate in the regular conferences we hold in the European and International Sociological Associations risk specialist groups. The next ISA conference will be in Vienna (2017), the next ESA mid-term conference in Eydin, Turkey (2016), and there will then be an ESA full conference in Athens before the next major ISA event in Toronto in 2018.
My research is regularly covered by various media. For example I was interviewed about my work on Japanese flu mask wearing for BBC World Service, Radio 4 and Radio New Zealand in April 2013. In June 2013
I was interviewed about risk and electronic cigarettes for BBC Radio.
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 covered by print media such as the New York Times (http://freakonomics.blogs.nytimes.com/2009/11/24/the-spiked-drink-myth/),
Daily Telegraph (http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/uknews/crime/6440589/Date-rape-drink-spiking-an-urban-legend.html)
and Daily Mail (http://www.dailymail.co.uk/femail/article-1225854/Are-date-rape-spiked-drinks-urban-myth.html).
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.
My research on rumours in March 2005 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. I also appeared on BBC Radio Scotland and BBC Radio 5 Live. In January 2005 I appeared on BBC News 24, BBC Online, BBC Asian Network; BBC Radio Kent,
BBC Radio 5 Live; BBC Radio London etc. International media such as Australian and South African radio, and Dutch newspapers also interviewed me.
On other occasions in 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, Thinking Allowed among others. In 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.