With bloodless technicality, risk can be defined as function of two terms: hazard – a damaging “event” of a given type and magnitude, with some probability of occurrence, that impacts people or assets (things of value to someone); and consequence – typically represented as some measure of people affected or assets damaged by a given hazard event.
My own research involving risk, particularly in coastal settings, is situated in bloodless technicality. Buildings and erosion rates are amenable to number-crunching. To illustrate: consider beach erosion. Unto itself, beach erosion is a natural consequence of sediment transport by water or wind, when more sand is carried away from a place than delivered to it. (And by the rule of “no free lunch,” if one place is eroding, then another place must be accreting.) Erosion becomes a hazard when it begins to impinge upon something that someone, or some institution, values as an asset: a road, a house, a pavilion of public toilets. Hazard is not inherent in a beach. But inherent in a piece of beachfront property – expressly because it is regarded as “property” – is the risk that erosion might carve it away.
People, by comparison, are mind-bogglingly complex. Thus, contemplating risk not just in terms of human life (population) but also lived experience in a risky context puts in sharp relief how blinkered the bloodless definition of risk really is.
Fundamentally, risk is a calculation – one in which time and space are intrinsic components.
But a calculation of what? And who is doing the calculating? Did a person choose to be in a risky context, or are they in that context by circumstances beyond their control? Are they even aware of how their situation is a risky one? How does awareness change their attitude toward that risk?
(These are important questions to ask.)
This podcast is an effort to explore the extraordinary diversity of risk and its manifestations – in environmental, social, financial, economic, cultural, and health contexts, and the liminal spaces in which those contexts blur.
In these episodes, I speak with people who are investigating risk in different ways – in different fields and topics and settings, through different research methods, and from different theoretical and conceptual and empirical perspectives.
Accompanying each episode are a few links to relevant supporting material.
Furthermore, this project is taking shape as the COVID-19 pandemic continues to play out. These interviews take place via Skype, warts and all – you can hear patchy Internet connections; you can hear the erms and uhms (mostly mine) of thinking aloud; you can hear sirens and trucks reversing and the household sounds that come with not recording in a studio.
If you’re wondering, I have no operating budget for this project – but I do have the collegial goodwill of Southampton’s School of Geography & Environmental Science. I am indebted to everyone who has agreed to talk with me about the ideas that keep them busy – and I thank them for their valuable time. These recordings have been exceptionally fun to make.
Finally, I encourage you to do something else while you listen to these episodes. Go for a walk, do the dishes, fold laundry, repot plants, polish shoes, peel potatoes, draw elaborate doodles on scrap paper. Listen in headphones or crank it from your floor speakers or play it at modest volume from the little radio in the kitchen.
I’d be glad to know your thoughts (on topics other than vocal fry or my ad hoc production quality), and to hear your suggestions for people to interview and subjects to discuss in future episodes. But troll me no trolls.
Thank you for listening.
GOR graphics by @luckydarren
Episodes (Season 1)
Episode 1 – Prof Andrew Tatem – tracking patterns of pathogens
How novel data sources and spatio-temporal analysis have delivered insights into the spread – and containment – of killer pathogens, from malaria to COVID-19.
Episode 3 – Dr Andrew Power – caringscapes
Provision of informal care for people with special needs is an intensive and often invisible labour. What happens when the resources upon which those previsions rely get disrupted?
Episode 4 – Dr Suzanne Reimer – risky employment in the “risk society”
Employers discovered the benefits of “flexible” working arrangements. Employees entered a new era of precarity.
- Dr Reimer’s profile page
- Article: Working in a risk society (Reimer, 1998)
- The Guardian – Almost 700,000 people in UK have zero-hours contract as main job (Inman, 2015)
- Twitter: @sm_reimer
Episode 5 – Courtnae Bailey – climate finance
Climate finance isn’t just carbon markets – it can be much more local. How do communities access the funds they need for projects to help them mitigate against & adapt to climate change?
Episode 6 – Dr Danielle Rivera – disaster colonialism
When disasters hit places that have deeply entrenched structural legacies of colonial occupation, the modern processes of disaster relief tend to reinscribe old patterns of inequity and coloniality.
- Dr Rivera’s profile page & the Just Environments research lab
- Article: Disaster colonialism: A commentary on disasters beyond singular events to structural violence (Rivera, 2020)
- Radio: Recent National Public Radio (NPR) story about Puerto Rico’s long road of recovery after Maria
- Twitter: @danielle_zoe
Episode 7 – Anna Weber – disasters are not natural
The “levee effect,” the “safe-development paradox,” and “disasters by design” – does the promise of protection make hazard-prone places riskier?
Episode 8 – Dr Rebecca Elliott – flood insurance & freighted maps of value
A deep-dive into the US National Flood Insurance Program, and how flood-insurance rate maps connote judgements of “value” far beyond the actuarial.
- Dr Elliott’s profile page
- Forthcoming book: Underwater: Loss, flood insurance, and the moral economy of climate change in the United States (Columbia University Press – but support your local bookseller!)
- Article: ‘Scarier than another storm’: values at risk in the mapping and insuring of US floodplains (Elliott, 2019)
- Article: The sociology of climate change as a sociology of loss (Elliott, 2019)
- Article: Who pays for the next wave? The American welfare state and responsibility for flood risk (Elliott, 2017)
- Twitter: @RebsFE
Episode 9 – Dr Zac Taylor – turning risk into markets
Insurance turns risk into a tradable commodity. Real estate inscribes the dynamics of those markets into real landscapes.
- Column: How a billion-dollar insurance industry protects Florida’s risky real estate game – for now (Taylor, 2017)
- Article: The riskscapes of re/insurance (Taylor & Weinkle, 2020)
- Article: The real estate risk fix: Residential insurance-linked securitization in the Florida metropolis (Taylor, 2020)
- Twitter: @zacjtaylor
Episode 10 – Dr Miranda Mockrin – fire at the wildland–urban interface
When our built environment expands into fire-prone landscapes, that expansion changes the dynamics of wildfire risk in fundamental ways.
- Dr Mockrin’s US Forest Service profile page
- Article: Rapid growth of the US wildland-urban interface raises wildfire risk (Radeloff et al., 2018)
- Article: Recovery and adaptation after wildfire on the Colorado Front Range (2010–12) (Mockrin et al., 2016)
- Article: Does wildfire open a policy window? Local government and community adaptation after fire in the United States (Mockrin et al., 2018)
- Article: Rebuilding and new housing development after wildfire (Alexandre et al., 2015)
Episode 11 – Dr Gemma Sou – intangible resources & how disasters hit home
In the long wake of a disaster, losing those things that make a place home – from appliances and seemingly small conveniences to the familiar smells of cooking and the sounds of evening – are their own kind of dislocation.
- Dr Sou’s profile page
- “After Maria” graphic novella (in English & en Español)
- Article: Disruption and recovery of intangible resources during environmental crises: Longitudinal research on ‘home’ in post-disaster Puerto Rico (Sou & Webber, 2019) – note that the graphic novella “After Maria” closely follows the scholarship in this piece
- Column: Barbudans are resisting ‘disaster capitalism’, two years after Hurricane Irma (Sou, 2019)
- Twitter: @gemmasou
Episode 12 – Dr Tomaso Ferrando – disaster capitalism makes landfall
In the wake of Hurricane Irma, in September, 2017, a controversial piece of land-reform legislation was proposed for the island of Barbuda that, if enacted, would change the island in fundamental ways.
- Dr Ferrando’s profile page
- Column: ‘Land grab’ on hurricane-hit Barbuda could leave the island almost entirely owned by banks (Ferrando, 2018)
- Article: Looking beyond ‘land’ in ‘land grabbing’: Water, fiscal resources and police power (Ferrando, 2019 [preprint])
- Article: Land, territory, and commons: voices and visions from the struggles (Ferrando et al., 2020)
- Global Legal Action Network
- Twitter: @ferrandotom
Episode 13 – Dr Jazmin Scarlett – socio-volcanology & perspectives of “dark heritage”
How can historical accounts of eruptions on post/colonial volcanic islands help reduce future risk? Critical perspectives in heritage research complicate the ways disaster impacts are preserved or erased.
- Article: The dark geocultural heritage of volcanoes: combining cultural & geoheritage perspectives for mutual benefit (Scarlett & Riede, 2019)
- Article: The Third Wave of science studies: studies of expertise & experience (Collins & Evans, 2002 – my “sheep ecologists of Chernobyl” example)
- Interview: The dark geocultural heritage of La Soufrière (via Royal Geographical Society)
- Podcast: What on Earth?!
- INVITED TALK: Dr Scarlett’s contribution to the Geographies of Risk Special Seminar Series
- Twitter: @scarlett_jazmin
Episode 14 – Dr Junia Howell – disasters, aid & the widening gyre of racial wealth inequality
Longitudinal studies of disaster impacts take the long view. For many kinds of systemic patterns, that’s the only way to see them. Addressing them is something else entirely.
- Dr Howell’s profile page & website
- Article: Damages done: the longitudinal impacts of natural hazards on wealth inequality in the United States (Howell & Elliott, 2019)
- Column: Hurricane season not only brings destruction and death but rising inequality too (Howell, 2018)
- Column: Homes in Black and Latino neighborhoods still undervalued 50 years after US banned using race in real estate appraisals (Howell & Korver-Glenn, 2020)
- Related article: “The Dispossessed” (Presser, 2019 – writing about systemic Black land disenfranchisement in the US)
Episode 15 – Ben Weeks – way-offshore lobstering in the Gulf of Maine
Rare insights from the helm of a 50-foot commercial lobster boat working 100 miles offshore in the Gulf of Maine.
- Profile, from 2006, published in The New Yorker, of Ted Ames – an inshore lobsterman out of Stonington, Maine, and recipient of a MacArthur Foundation “genius grant”. I got the chance to meet Ted about ten years ago. I’ve long thought that he & Ben share similar sensibilities.
- Related article: Lobster trap video: in situ video surveillance of the behaviour of Homarus americanus in and around traps (Jury et al., 2001)
- Popular article: “The Last Lobster Supper?” – piece in Boston Magazine that Ben sent me in August, 2020, about environmental lawsuits currently in the works.
- Press release: “Two critically endangered right whales discovered entangled in gear” – a piece of not-good news, via the International Fund for Animal Welfare, that Ben sent me in late October, 2020.
- Map of the Lobster Management Areas in & south of the Gulf of Maine – Ben works at the northern end of Area 3.
Episode 16 – Zoë Kitchel – Fish and fisheries in a changing climate
Marine species can adjust where they live in ways that terrestrial species can’t. But the fisheries that depend on those species are not necessarily as mobile.
- Ms Kitchel’s profile page
- Pinsky Lab pages @ Rutgers
- Article: Climate-driven shifts in marine species ranges: scaling from organisms to communities (Pinsky et al., 2020)
- Related article: Shifting habitats expose fishing communities to risk under climate change (Rogers et al., 2019)
- Related article: Globalization, roving bandits, and marine resources (Berkes et al., 2006)
Episode 17 – Dr Nishat Awan – visual counter-geographies
Visually representing perceptions and experiences of contested physical terrains and spaces with maps that stretch and twist (in a way).
- Dr Awan’s profile page
- Wikipedia entry for “topology”
- Topological Atlas project
- Article: Introduction to Border Topologies (GeoHumanities special issue; Awan, 2016)
- Collaboration: “Humanitarian Sediments” (with Lindsay Bremner)
- Column: The real issue with the barmy design ideas for Trump’s border wall (Awan, 2017)
- Caribbean Cyclone Cartography project
- Twitter: @nish_aat
Episode 18 – Dr Olalekan Adekola – shipbreaking & in/formal institutions
A glimpse into the dangerous, not-not-legal world of shipbreaking – a kind of resource-use institution with its own rules and norms that exists in a liminal space between the formal and informal.
- Dr Adekola’s profile page
- Photos: Edward Burtynsky’s “shipbreaking” series
- Column: How to recycle a huge ship – safely and sustainably (Adekola & Rizvi, 2020)
- Article: A sustainable shipbreaking approach for cleaner environment and better wellbeing (Rizvi et al., 2020)
- Related article: A general framework for analyzing sustainability of social–ecological systems (Ostrom, 2009) – this is a brief summary of a much larger body of work by the late Prof Elinor Ostrom (& colleagues), to which this episode refers…
- Twitter: @drlekad
Episode 19 – Prof John Dearing – social–ecological systems, tipping points & safe operating spaces for humanity
“Thinking in systems” is crucial for a holistic sense of how environments function, and how humans use them – for worse and better.
- Prof Dearing’s profile page
- Column: Huge ecosystems could collapse in less than 50 years – new study (Dearing et al., 2020)
- Article: Regime shifts occur disproportionately faster in larger ecosystems (Cooper et al., 2020)
- Article: Using multiple archives to understand past and present climate–human–environment interactions: the Lake Erhai catchment, Yunnan Province, China (Dearing et al., 2008)
- Article: Safe and just operating spaces for regional social-ecological systems (Dearing et al., 2014)
- Related article: Used planet: a global history (Ellis et al., 2013)
- Related article: Coping with asymmetries in the commons: self-governing irrigation systems can work (Ostrom & Gardner, 1993)
- INVITED TALK: Prof Dearing’s contribution to the Geographies of Risk Special Seminar Series
Episode 20 – Dr Paul Rouse – Geoengineering the climate
Geoengineering – or “climate-altering approaches” – sounds like science fiction, but it is very, very real. And if you’ve never heard of it before, then you should hear this.
Episode 21 (season finale) – Prof Imogen Tyler – austerity
Austerity is not like storminess or sea-level rise – it’s not an ambient, external environmental force of change that exacerbates pre-existing socio-economic disparities. Austerity policy is a tool. And socio-economic inequality is what it delivers.
- Prof Tyler’s profile page
- Book: Stigma: The Machinery of Inequality (2020) – available via the publisher (Zed Books) or for free download as PDF – and you can also find Revolting Subjects: Social Abjection and Resistance in Neoliberal Britain (2013) at both sites
- Poverty Truth Commissions (UK) network
- Twitter: @ProfImogenTyler
S2E02 – Mark Buchanan – exploring the dynamics of economic markets
A behind-the-scenes look at how science writer (and physicist) Mark Buchanan came to write about the feedbacks, crashes, and wild nonlinear dynamics typical of economic systems – but missing from neoclassical economics.