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date: 20 June 2018

Summary and Keywords

Conceptions of “risk” have permeated different forms of governance in both developed and developing countries. Many scholars have theorized how societies, states, organizations, and economic actors cope with uncertainty, giving rise to an international political sociology (IPS) of risk. A major concern of the IPS of risk is how uncertainty has become a central problem for governance. The ways in which risks are assessed and managed are taken as problematic spaces from which to question the roles of states, societies, economic actors, and individuals in coping with uncertainty. The origin of risk research as a disciplined field can be traced to Chauncey Starr’s article “Social Benefits versus Technological Risks” (1969), which offers a way of measuring the social acceptability of risks associated with technological development. Starr’s argument exemplifies what is known as the problem of “the ethical transformation of risk.” Risk as an ethical problem is central to modern debates on the distinction between “risk” and “uncertainty.” International Relations (IR) as a discipline has slowly begun to incorporate theoretical developments in risk theory arising from sociology, economics, and anthropology. Beyond rational choice theory implementations of threat-based conceptions of risk, IR scholars began to be influenced by three main currents of thinking risk: the risk society thesis, the governmentality of risk, and modern systems theory. A host of challenges remain with regard to the development of an IPS of risk, foremost of which is theorizing the ways in which power proceeds through practices of uncertainty.

Keywords: uncertainty, international political sociology, risk, governance, Chauncey Starr, ethical transformation of risk, International Relations, risk society thesis, governmentality of risk, modern systems theory

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