Risk Perception and the Presentation of Self: Reflections from Fieldwork on Risk

Noel Smith, Andreas Cebulla, Lynne Cox, Abigail Davies


The growth of sociological interest in how people perceive and experience everyday risk needs to be matched with more empirical research. This paper reflects on such a study, and discusses one of the methodological challenges this involved. The study adopts a narrative biographical method (loosely defined) to examine participants' decision-making in relation to their careers. To avoid prejudicing participants' responses about the extent to which notions of risk impact on their worldviews, explicit reference to "risk" was withheld in the interviews. Participants were not preoccupied with risk and, ostensibly, tended to distance themselves from their roles as agents. However, their stories provided examples of decision-making and risk-awareness. The paper argues that participants' presentation of self—or, in the context of the interviews, their narrative construction of identity—obscures their roles as life-planners. Thus, a challenge for empirical research of everyday risk is to disentangle how people identify and present themselves, and how they perceive themselves as agents in risk society.
URN: urn:nbn:de:0114-fqs060191


risk; narrative biography; agency; careers; life-planning

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DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.17169/fqs-7.1.54

Copyright (c) 2006 Noel Smith, Andreas Cebulla, Lynne Cox, Abigail Davies

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