Editorial Introduction: Risk, Culture and Social Theory in Comparative Perspective
This special issue brings together contributions from nine scholars who have been working at the frontiers of the comparative study of risk. Most of the papers that follow use a cross-national approach to investigate public attitudes to risk in a broad range of settings including Germany, Sweden, Denmark, England, and the United States. Two of the authors represented here adopt more creative interpretations for carrying out comparative studies that reach considerably beyond conventional methodologies of country-level contrasts. One contributor highlights the temporal dimensions of novel forms of environmental uncertainty and a second selection, grounded in the sociology of language, compares the different objectives that lay people seek to satisfy when they speak about risk. In this sense, this issue provides a farrago of perspectives on the most befitting way to exploit the utility of comparative methodologies. Political scientists interested in the effects of different regulatory regimes and systems of governance have been responsible for most comparative risk research conducted to date. The papers in this issue depart from this tradition and instead draw on insights derived from social theory. There has been over the past decade a dramatic upswelling of interest in risk among theoretically-inclined sociologists and several writers have suggested that a pervasive sense of anxiety is a central feature of the current phase of modernity (e.g., Giddens, 1990; Beck, 1992). This collection represents an initial attempt to situate these recondite impressions in distinct contexts and to scrutinise them from a variety of comparative perspectives.
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