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.
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)
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
Episode 10 – Dr Miranda Mockrin – fire at the urban–wild interface
Episode 11 – Dr Gemma Sou – intangible resources & how disasters hit home
Episode 12 – Dr Jazmin Scarlett – socio-volcanology & historical perspectives
Episode 13 – Dr Tomaso Ferrando – Barbuda
Episode 14 – Dr Junia Howell – On longitudinal studies
Episode 15 – Dr Nishat Awan – Visual counter-geographies
Episode 16 – Ben Weeks – Way-offshore lobstering in the Gulf of Maine
Episode 17 – Zoë Kitchel – Fish and fisheries in a changing climate
Episode 18 – Prof John Dearing – social–ecological systems & long timescales
Episode 19 – Dr Paul Rouse – Geoengineering the climate