Which way now for risky alternative theories?

November 12, 1999

There are so many books on risk that my first question about a new one is always, what does it add to the field?

In Deborah Lupton's case, the answer is a lot but not enough. The author presents interesting examples - many of them from Australia- and useful theoretical analysis, but she spends too much time reviewing the work of Ulrich Beck, Mary Douglas and Anthony Giddens.

Risk research in this country and elsewhere, particularly Australia, seems to be going in two directions. One group of researchers continues to discuss risk society using to a large extent abstract ideas and little empirical data. The second group - spearheaded by Douglas, Michael Thompson and John Adams - discusses cultural theory, which is fascinating (particularly its prospects for prediction) but not universally accepted. It is based on empirical research in France, Sweden, Norway and the UK.

I would like to see more discussion of alternative theories that have not been adequately brought into the field. These include theorists such as Foucault, whom Lupton discusses in some detail, but also ideas from political science (such as social capital) and from anthropology (the importance of identity in understanding public perception of risk).

The book goes some way to adding a new dimension to risk research but does not go far enough. However Lupton does use worthwhile examples, such as the scale of water supply in Sydney and the role of carnival in her description of risk and pleasure, that make her book an interesting read.

Ragnar Lofstedt is lecturer in social geography, University of Surrey.


Author - Deborah Lupton
ISBN - 0 415 18333 2
Publisher - Routledge
Price - £35.00
Pages - 180

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