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


  • Noel Smith University Loughborough
  • Andreas Cebulla National Centre for Social Research London
  • Lynne Cox Loughborough University
  • Abigail Davies Loughborough University




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


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


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Author Biographies

Noel Smith, University Loughborough

Dr Noel SMITH is a Research Fellow at the Centre for Research in Social Policy (CRSP), Loughborough University. His research interests include social exclusion, poverty and disadvantage, and applied qualitative methodologies.

Andreas Cebulla, National Centre for Social Research London

Andreas CEBULLA is a Research Director at the National Centre for Social Research. His research interests include the analysis of risk, economic sociology and comparative analysis.

Lynne Cox, Loughborough University

Lynne COX is a Research Assistant at CRSP, Loughborough University. Her research interests are in life course events, transitions and disability.

Abigail Davies, Loughborough University

Abigail DAVIS is a Research Associate at CRSP. Her main research interests are qualitative methodology, children and families, and policy and initiative evaluation.




How to Cite

Smith, N., Cebulla, A., Cox, L., & Davies, A. (2006). Risk Perception and the Presentation of Self: Reflections from Fieldwork on Risk. Forum Qualitative Sozialforschung Forum: Qualitative Social Research, 7(1). https://doi.org/10.17169/fqs-7.1.54



Identity, Everyday Life and Social Inequality