Social Policy, Sociology and Social Research

Making sense of the social world



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.

Contact Information


Room CNE 115
Cornwallis North East
University of Kent
Kent CT2 7NF

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Also view these in the Kent Academic Repository

Burgess, A. (2017). Individualization revisited: Global family developments, uncertainty and risk. Journal of Risk Research [Online] 21:83-95. Available at:
Burgess, A. (2017). The Development of Risk Politics in the UK: Thatcher's 'Remarkable' but Forgotten 'Don't Die of Ignorance' AIDS Campaign. Health, Risk and Society [Online] 19:227-245. Available at:
Burgess, A. (2013). Manufacturing Uncertainty out of Manufactured Sweeteners: The Curious Case of Aspartame . European Journal of Risk Regulation 3:377-381.
Burgess, A. (2013). Missing the Wood for the Trees? European Journal of Risk Regulation 2:287-291.
Burgess, A. (2012). Nudging' Healthy Lifestyles: The UK Experiments with the Behavioural Alternative to Regulation and the Market. European Journal of Risk Regulation 1:3-16.
Burgess, A. (2012). An Experimental Offensive against the Mishandling of Risk in Society': Reflecting on the Pioneering Work of the Risk Regulation Advisory Council in the UK. European Journal of Risk Regulation 3:343-351.
Burgess, A. (2012). Media, Risk, and Absence of Blame for "Acts of God": Attenuation of the European Volcanic Ash Cloud of 2010. Risk Analysis [Online] 32:1693-1702. Available at:
Burgess, A. and Horii, M. (2012). Risk, ritual and health responsibilisation: Japan's 'safety blanket' of surgical face mask-wearing. Sociology of Health & Illness [Online] 34:1184-1198. Available at:
Horii, M. and Burgess, A. (2012). Constructing sexual risk: 'Chikan',collapsing male authority and the emergence of women-only train carriages in Japan. Health, Risk & Society [Online] 14:41-55. Available at:
Moore, S. and Burgess, A. (2011). Risk rituals? Journal of Risk Research [Online] 14:111-124. Available at:
Burgess, A. (2011). Fukushima Fixation – The Media Focus on Radiation Risk in Tsunami-Stricken Japan. European Journal of Risk Regulation 2:209-212.
Burgess, A. (2011). The changing character of public inquiries in the (risk) regulatory state. British Politics [Online] 6:3-29. Available at:
Burgess, A. (2011). Thinking culturally about risk. International Journal of Law in Context [Online] 7:249-256. Available at:
Burgess, A. (2010). Media risk campaigning in the UK: From mobile phones to 'Baby P'. Journal of Risk Research [Online] 13:59-72. Available at:
Burgess, A., Donovan, P. and Moore, S. (2009). Embodying Uncertainty? Understanding Heightened Risk Perception of Drink 'Spiking'. British Journal of Criminology [Online] 49:848-862. Available at: .
Burgess, A. (2009). The politics of health risk promotion: 'Passive drinking': A 'good lie' too far? Health, Risk & Society [Online] 11:527-540. Available at:
Burgess, A. (2008). Revisiting the BSE experience: Hindsight and the politicization of food. Health, Risk & Society [Online] 10:195-200. Available at:
Alaszewski, A. and Burgess, A. (2007). Risk, Time & Reason. Health, Risk & Society [Online] 9:349-358. Available at:
Burgess, A. (2007). Real and phantom risks at the petrol station: The curious case of mobile phones, fires and body static. Health, Risk & Society [Online] 9:53-66. Available at:
Burgess, A. (2007). Mobile phones and service stations: Rumour, risk and precaution. Diogenes [Online] 54:125-139. Available at:
Burgess, A. (2006). The Shock of a Social Disaster in an Age of (Nonsocial) Risk. Space and Culture [Online] 9:74-76. Available at:
Burgess, A. (2006). The making of the risk-centred society and the limits of social risk research. Health, Risk & Society [Online] 8:329-342. Available at:
Derbyshire, S. and Burgess, A. (2006). Use of mobile phones in hospitals. British Medical Journal [Online] 333:767-768. Available at:
Burgess, A. (2003). A precautionary tale: the British response to cell phone EMF. Technology and Society Magazine, IEEE [Online] 21:14-16. Available at:
Burgess, A. (2002). Comparing National Responses to Perceived Health Risks from Mobile Phone Masts MacLachlan, I. and Syrontinsky, M. eds. Health, Risk & Society [Online] 4:175-188. Available at:
Burgess, A. (2001). Flattering Consumption: The Growth of Consumer Rights and Product Safety Concerns in Europe MacLachlan, I. and Syrontinsky, M. eds. Journal of Consumer Culture [Online] 1:93-117. Available at: .
Burgess, A. (2001). Universal Democracy, Diminished Expectation MacLachlan, I. and Syrontinsky, M. eds. Democratization 8:51-74.
Burgess, A. (1997). Writing off Slovakia to "the east"? Examining charges of bias in British press reporting of Slovakia, 1993–1994. Nationalities Papers: The Journal of Nationalism and Ethnicity [Online] 25:659-682. Available at:
Burgess, A. (1996). National Minority Rights and "Civilizing" Eastern Europe. Contention 5:17-37.
Burgess, A. (2010). The Contemporary Emergence of Health Concerns Related to Mobile Phones. [Online]. VDM Verlag. Available at:
Burgess, A. (2003). Cellular Phones, Public Fears and a Culture of Precaution. MacLachlan, I. and Syrontinsky, M. eds. New York: Cambridge University Press.
Burgess, A. (1997). Divided Europe: The New Domination of the East. [Online]. Pluto Press. Available at:
Book section
Burgess, A. (2015). The Social Construction of Risk. in: Cho, H., Reimer, T. and McComas, K. A. eds. The SAGE Handbook of Risk Communication. SAGE Publications, Inc, pp. 121-139. Available at:
Burgess, A. (2011). Representing emergency risks: Media, Risk and 'Acts of God' in the Volcanic Ash Cloud. in: Allemano, A. ed. The Challenge of Emergency Regulation - Beyond the European Volcanic Ash Crisis. London: Edward Elgar, pp. 65-80.
Burgess, A. (2008). Health Scares and Risk Awareness. in: Wainwright, D. ed. A Sociology of Health. London: SAGE Publications Ltd, pp. 56-75.
Burgess, A. (2007). Risk Perception of Mobile EMF,. in: Nishizawa, M. ed. Mobile EMF and Communication – International Perspectives. Tokyo/Tsukuba: National Research Institute for Earth Science and Disaster Prevention.
Burgess, A. (2006). Risk, Precaution and the Media. in: Richter, I. K., Berking, S. and Muller-Schmid, R. eds. Risk Society and the Culture of Precaution. London: Routledge.
Burgess, A. (2006). The Impact of the Wider Social and Institutional Environment on Risk Perception. in: del Pozo, C. ed. Risk Perception and Risk Communication: Tools, Experiences and Strategies. European Commission Directorate General Joint Research Centre.
Burgess, A. (1998). European Identity and the Challenge from South and East. in: Hedetoft, U. ed. Political Symbols, Symbolic Politics: Between European Unity and Fragmentation. Aldershot: Avebury, pp. 209-226.
Burgess, A. (1998). Historical Reflections on the International Enforcement of Minority Rights in Europe. in: Cordell, K. ed. Ethnicity and Democracy in the New Europe. London: Routledge, pp. 49-61.
Burgess, A., Miller, V. and Moore, S. (2017). Prestige, Performance and Social Pressure in Viral Challenge Memes: Neknomination, the Ice-Bucket Challenge and SmearForSmear as Imitative Encounters. Sociology [Online]. Available at:
Total publications in KAR: 41 [See all in KAR]



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Research Interests

I am Director of the Critical Studies in Risk and Uncertainty research cluster. My research interests can be found on the risk cluster web page and on Kent Academia

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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.

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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) and there will then be an ESA full conference in Athens before the next major ISA event in Toronto in 2018.

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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 , Daily Telegraph and Daily Mail . 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.

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Why did there seem to be more concern about nuclear radiation from Fukushima that killed nobody in Japan than about the thousands actually killed by the tsunami?

Why is it mainly the Japanese who wear flu masks – and apparently to protect themselves from all manner of threats?

The volcanic ash cloud: a frightening spectre that the media didn’t exaggerate (with one exception)?

Is it right for us to be ‘nudged’ into making the right, healthy decisions?

Does it make sense to ‘always be on your guard’ against the ‘drink spiker’?


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Telephone: +44(0)1227 823072 Fax: +44(0)1227 827005 or email us

SSPSSR, Faculty of Social Sciences, Cornwallis North East, University of Kent, Canterbury, Kent CT2 7NF

Last Updated: 31/10/2016