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Unit information: Understanding Risk in 2015/16

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Unit name Understanding Risk
Unit code SPAIM0024
Credit points 20
Level of study M/7
Teaching block(s) Teaching Block 2 (weeks 13 - 24)
Unit director Dr. Downer
Open unit status Not open




School/department School of Sociology, Politics and International Studies
Faculty Faculty of Social Sciences and Law

Description including Unit Aims

Risk is an increasingly vital concept in Western societies: framing notions of everything from individual identity to modern governance. ‘Risk assessment,’ ‘risk management,’ ‘risk analysis,’ ‘risk-based policymaking’ – all are now important institutional practices. It is fair to say that we are living in a ‘risk society.’ Yet the implications and significance of risk’s ascendance are complex and difficult to understand. This course will examine some of the questions it poses: What is risk? Why has it come to prominence? How is it measured? What function does it serve? What are its social, cultural and institutional ramifications? We will look critically at the notion of risk in a range of difference contexts: from security to finance, health, and the environment. And we will outline a range of perspectives through which academics have endeavored to understand it: outlining, among other things, work on the psychology of risk perception, the sociology of risk-based governance, and the epistemology of risk assessment.

Intended Learning Outcomes

In completing the unit, students will: 1. Demonstrate a nuanced understanding of risk as a notion, and of its relationship to western society. 2. Critically engage with different academic perspectives on the study of risk, and analyze their relationship to each other. 3. Make detailed and appropriate use of these insights to develop an informed perspective on risk and apply it to a case study with contemporary relevance.

Teaching Information

10 x 1 hour lecture + 10 x 1 hour seminar

Assessment Information

Over the course of the unit, students will: •prepare and deliver a group seminar presentation (formative assessment) (learning outcomes 1 and 2) ••plan and draft a 3,500 - 4,000-word assessed essay (100% summative assessment) (learning outcomes 1, 2, and 3).

Reading and References

Beck, Ulrich (1992) Risk Society: Towards a New Modernity. Sage; London. Bernstein, Peter L. (1996) Against the Gods: The remarkable story of risk John Wiley: New York. Chiles, James (2001) Inviting Disaster: Lessons From the Edge of Technology. Harper Collins; New York. Douglas, Mary. (1992) Risk and Blame: Essays in Cultural Theory. Routledge; New York. Lupton, Deborah (1999) Risk. Routledge; New York. Wilde, G. (1994) Target risk: dealing with the danger of death, disease and damage in everyday decisions. London: PDE Publications.