Sociology, risk and the environment: a material-semiotic approach

Wong, Catherine Mei Ling, and Lockie, Stewart (2018) Sociology, risk and the environment: a material-semiotic approach. Journal of Risk Research, 21 (9). pp. 1077-1092.

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Sociology has made significant contributions to the conceptualisation of risk and critique of technical risk analysis. It has, however, unintentionally reinforced the division of labour between the natural/technical and social sciences in risk analysis. This paper argues that the problem with conceptualisations of risk is not a misplaced emphasis on calculation. Rather, it is that we have not adequately dealt with ontological distinctions implicit in both sociological and technical work on risk between material or objective risks and our socially-mediated understandings and interpretations of those risks. While acknowledging that risks are simultaneously social and technical, sociologists have not, in practice, provided the conceptual and methodological tools to apprehend risk in a less dualistic manner. This limits our ability both to analyse actors and processes outside the social domain and to explore the recursive relationships between risk calculus, social action and the material outcomes of risk. In response, this paper develops a material-semiotic conceptualisation of risk and provides an assessment of its relevance to more sociologically-informed risk governance. It introduces the ideas of co-constitution, emergent entities and enactment as instruments for reconciling the material and social worlds in a sociological study of risk. It further illustrates the application of a material-semiotic approach using these concepts in the nuclear industry. In deconstructing social-material dualisms in the sociology of risk, this paper argues that a material-semiotic conceptualisation of risk enables both technical and social perspectives on risk not only to co-exist but to collaborate, widening the scope for interdisciplinary research.

Item ID: 51930
Item Type: Article (Research - C1)
ISSN: 1466-4461
Keywords: risk theory, risk governance, risk analysis, actor-network theory, environmental sociology, interdisciplinary research
Date Deposited: 22 Mar 2018 01:01
FoR Codes: 44 HUMAN SOCIETY > 4410 Sociology > 441007 Sociology and social studies of science and technology @ 40%
44 HUMAN SOCIETY > 4407 Policy and administration > 440710 Research, science and technology policy @ 20%
44 HUMAN SOCIETY > 4410 Sociology > 441002 Environmental sociology @ 40%
SEO Codes: 97 EXPANDING KNOWLEDGE > 970116 Expanding Knowledge through Studies of Human Society @ 40%
94 LAW, POLITICS AND COMMUNITY SERVICES > 9405 Work and Institutional Development > 940505 Workplace Safety @ 40%
94 LAW, POLITICS AND COMMUNITY SERVICES > 9402 Government and Politics > 940204 Public Services Policy Advice and Analysis @ 20%
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