Risk practices in politics and the financial sector
Freie Universität Berlin and Martin-Luther-Universität Halle-Wittenberg
A comparative analysis of their characteristics and of translational dynamics across social fields
The handling of complex risk has become one of the key challenges of contemporary societies. Economic, political, and civil actors converge on the assumption that risks can in principle be managed and controlled. However, at the same time, following the conjecture that risks are inherently socially constructed, there are concurrent understandings of what risks are, how they should be evaluated and dealt with in different social fields. This is particularly evident in the financial sector and in politics, where risk often carries very different meanings. Whereas in the financial sector, risk and accompanying chances are positively associated, political actors, at least in many western democracies, try to avoid or minimize risk wherever possible. These differences in construals of the very meaning of risk can become societal challenges, for example regarding the interactions between and the coordination of different social fields, the hegemonic understandings of risk, and adequate strategies of managing and controlling risk. Until now, only very little is known about these different understandings and their consequences for interaction and coordination between social fields. Taking the financial- and Euro- crises as a starting point, the objectives of the project are (a) to analyze specific meanings and understandings of risk in the financial sector and the field of professional politics, (b) to investigate how the meanings of risk shift as a consequence of interactions between fields. In particular, we aim at reconstructing the diverse and multi- facetted translation processes underlying these shifts. The project is based on the thesis of increasing interactions and interweavings between the two fields, which are consequential regarding the very meaning of risk as a point of reference in political and economic action, at least requiring some effort at dialogue over different understandings of risk. Hence, we seek to understand the social consequences of the specific understandings of risk in the financial sector becoming a reference point of political action, and of political decisions becoming a datum of the decisions of financial market actors. Overall, we seek to develop an empirically substantiated theoretical conception of the different meanings and understandings of risk and their consequences for action in the financial sector and the field of professional politics.