Researching Risk: Narrative, Biography, Subjectivity


  • Karen Henwood Cardiff University
  • Nick Pidgeon Cardiff University
  • Karen Parkhill Cardiff University
  • Peter Simmons University of East Anglia



risk, reflexivity, epistemic practices, biography, narrative method, subjectivity, interpretive, qualitative, methodology


This article contributes to the development of methodological practices promoting greater epistemic reflexivity in risk research and in social science generally. Knowledge of the specific practices researchers will find useful cannot exist separately from any particular empirical project. Accordingly, we report on, and provide a reflective account of, the "nuclear risk" project that was part of the Social Contexts and Responses to Risk (SCARR) network in the UK (2003-2008). A key focus is exploring the value of narrative methods—especially narrative elicitation methods—for understanding people's perceptions of, and ways of living with, risk. We credit our deployment of a narrative method with producing a rich form of data on risk-biography intersections, which have carried great significance in our analytical work on the way biographical experiences, dynamically unfolding through space and time, can be interrupted by risk events. Arguments from the literature on reflexive modernity are deployed to make the case for: researching risk in everyday life as a problematic in and of itself; placing concepts of risk-biography, risk-reflexivity and risk-subjectivity at centre stage; and finding ways to inquire into the social and psychic complexities involved in the dynamic construction and reconstruction of risk phenomena. URN: urn:nbn:de:0114-fqs1001201


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Author Biographies

Karen Henwood, Cardiff University

Karen HENWOOD is a Professor in the School of Social Sciences, Cardiff University. Her research interests include: identity and subjectivity (how they are forged in relation to biography, relationships, social context and cultural issues); troubled and troubling identities; lived experiences and social constructions of gender, risk, embodiment, and well-being. She has a range of methodological interests: the use of interpretive thematic approaches (such as grounded theory), discursive and narrative methods; the development of qualitative longitudinal methodology; innovative, collaborative approaches to data sharing, archiving and secondary analysis; and combining different qualitative and qualitative and quantitative methods. With Nick PIDGEON and Peter SIMMONS, she was a Principal Investigator on the "living with nuclear risk project" as part of the Social Contexts and Responses to Risk (SCARR) network. She is currently a co-Principal Investigator (2007-2012) of the Timescapes ESRC network, leading the project "Masculinities, Identities and Risk: Transition in the Lives of Men as Fathers".

Nick Pidgeon, Cardiff University

Nick PIDGEON is Professor of Applied Psychology at Cardiff University and ESRC Professorial Fellow in Climate Change. He researches public attitudes, trust, institutional response and public engagement in relation to risk controversy, including the cases of GM agriculture, nuclear power, climate change and nanotechnologies. Co-author of the books: Man-Made Disasters, 2nd Ed 1997; The Social Amplification of Risk, 2003; and The GM Debate: Risk, Politics and Public Deliberation, 2007.

Karen Parkhill, Cardiff University

Dr Karen PARKHILL is a human geographer working as part of an interdisciplinary team based in the School of Psychology, Cardiff University. Her research interests include: social constructions of place, space, nature and rurality; public perceptions of socio-technical and environmental risks; energy geographies and, public perceptions of/engagement with climate change. As a qualitative researcher, she is keen to use and develop novel qualitative research methods including the use of visual methodologies.

Peter Simmons, University of East Anglia

Peter SIMMONS is a lecturer in the School of Environmental Sciences, University of East Anglia. In addition to a specific interest in situated experience of environmental hazards, his current research interests focus on lay and expert understandings of and modes of engagement with a variety of risk issues. Current research focuses on the nuclear sector and addresses stakeholder and community engagement with the development of nuclear waste repository monitoring and safety (MoDeRn, EU FP7), and equity issues associated with nuclear power (IncLuESEV, ESRC Research Cluster).




How to Cite

Henwood, K., Pidgeon, N., Parkhill, K., & Simmons, P. (2010). Researching Risk: Narrative, Biography, Subjectivity. Forum Qualitative Sozialforschung Forum: Qualitative Social Research, 11(1).