Recent Developments in Sociological Risk Theory

  • Jens O. Zinn University of Melbourne
Keywords: risk, uncertainty, risk society, reflexive modernity, governmentality, culture, systems theory, sociology


This article gives a brief overview of the main streams and recent developments of sociological research and theorising on risk. It outlines shifts in cultural theory on risk, from risk society to reflexive modernisation, from governmentality on risk to governmentality on uncertainty and adds the often neglected systems theory approach. Some important insights result from these developments: Risk and uncertainty should be interpreted as systematically linked to each other because there are different ways beyond instrumental rationality how risk can be managed. Furthermore, risk understood as rational calculation is an uncertain business, too. Risks are at the same time both real and socially constructed. Risks and uncertainties have to be managed case by case. When ignorance or uncertainty is too big there are no general rationalities available to make reasonable decisions. Finally, it is argued for more theoretical integration of the outlined approaches. The article finishes with some considerations regarding the contribution of sociology to risk research. URN: urn:nbn:de:0114-fqs0601301


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Author Biography

Jens O. Zinn, University of Melbourne
Jens O. ZINN, Dr. phil., Dipl.-Soz. is Network Fellow of the ESRC "Social Contexts and Responses to Risk" network. Special interests are on risk theorising, social change, biographical/life course risks and research methodology, recent publication on risk: TAYLOR-GOOBY, P. and ZINN, J. O. (Eds.) 2006: Risk in social sciences. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
How to Cite
Zinn, J. O. (2006). Recent Developments in Sociological Risk Theory. Forum Qualitative Sozialforschung / Forum: Qualitative Social Research, 7(1).
Theorising Risk