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European Journal of

Risk analysis – A field within International Relations

18(4) 693­–717

security studies? © The Author(s) 2011

Reprints and permissions: sagepub.
DOI: 10.1177/1354066111409770

Karen Lund Petersen

University of Copenhagen, Denmark

The academic environments of risk analysis and security studies had hardly ‘spoken’ to
one another until recently. The two fields of study were defined within different academic
disciplines: security studies a matter for International Relations (IR), and risk studies a
matter for sociology, economics and the natural sciences. Increased focus on catastrophic
events (terrorism, climate change, etc.) seems to have given the fields of security studies
and risk analysis a common empirical theme and highlighted the need for a common
research agenda. This article explores the intersection between these two fields of study,
as it investigates how the ‘old’ disciplinary debates on risk have been translated ‘into’
security studies — to predict, criticize or evaluate the current political practice of security.
Such analysis provides a much-needed overview of the risk debates within security studies
and brings out the limits of this debate in light of the broader and much more historically
settled risk debates within sociology, economics and anthropology.

conceptual history, risk analysis, securitization, security studies, typology

Since the emergence of the concept of risk in the 16th century, and especially with the
much later institutionalization and professionalization of the field of risk analysis in the
1970s, companies and governments have increasingly approached prudence and threats
in terms of risk. As a tool for calculation, risk analysis rendered the rationalization of
fears and dangers possible. Although terrorism and war have long been considered cor-
porate risks, the history of the concept of national security has developed largely inde-
pendently of the concept of risk and risk management. While the concept of risk helped

Corresponding author:
Karen Lund Petersen, Centre for Advanced Security Theory, Department of Political Science, University of
Copenhagen, Øster Farimagsgade 5, Building 4, office 4.1.46, DK-1353 Copenhagen K, Denmark.
Email: klp@cast.ku.dk

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694 European Journal of International Relations 18(4)

Citations of IR articles with risk in topic


Number of citations




100 73

0 2 8
2004 2005 2006 2007 2008 2009 2010

Figure 1.  Citations of IR articles within IR journals with ‘risk’ in topic

Source:  Web of Science, 3 January 2011.

describe the market of the economic firm, the concept of security has been closely tied to
the survival of the state and national politics.
The divergent histories of the two concepts are outlined in the respective academic
debates on risk and security, which have hardly ‘spoken’ to one another. Until recently,
the two fields of study were defined within different academic disciplines: security
studies a matter for International Relations (IR), risk studies a matter for sociology,
economics and the natural sciences. Nevertheless, an increased focus on terrorism,
climate change and other catastrophic transnational threats appears to have brought the
two fields of study closer together. The general argument is that these threats question
the possibility of calculation and the means–ends rationality considered central to the
concept of risk for centuries (Beck, 2003; Ericson and Doyle, 2004).1 Accordingly, the
focus on catastrophic events has given the fields of security studies and risk analysis a
common empirical theme and highlighted the need for a common research agenda.
The current debate in IR journals outlines this development. As Figures 1 and 2 illus-
trate, there has been an almost explosive increase in published articles in which risk is a
topic2 and in the citations of these ‘risk articles’ within IR journals.
Based on a systematic reading of these articles, it is possible to identify three schools.
One school of thought, which I have termed ‘critical risk studies’, builds on the observa-
tion that ‘Within the academic field of international relations, the concept of risk has
shifted security away from the register of war and violence generally associated with the
concept of security’ (Aradau et al., 2008: 2). The alternative posed is a much broader
study of risk governance and technologies that transcends the former categories of

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Petersen 695

IR articles with risk in topic

140 128
Number of articles

97 100



2004 2005 2006 2007 2008 2009 2010

Figure 2.  IR articles with risk in topic

Source:  Web of Science, 3 January 2011.

inside–outside, war–crime and military–police. A second group of scholars studies the

risk practices of military establishments, claiming that risk analysis and management
have come to dominate the international governance of war and catastrophes. Representing
this understanding, Christopher Coker and Mikkel Vedby Rasmussen analyse how the
risk management practices of calculation rule contemporary defence planning, moving it
away from older, traditional ways of conceiving threats and security. Lastly, a third group
of scholars studies the increasing relevance of political risk analysis, focusing on concep-
tualizing and mapping the risk of foreign operations, investments and markets; again
having a different methodological standpoint from the two previous groups of risk schol-
ars (cf. Jarvis and Griffiths, 2007).
What unites all of the approaches to risk within security studies is their attempt to
make their particular understanding of risk and risk analysis relevant to security stud-
ies. Yet while these studies each want to represent risk studies, each approach also
draws on only one small corner of the general risk literature: critical risk studies on the
sociological governmentality literature; global risk management on Ulrich Beck’s
interpretation of risk society; and political risk analysis on economic theory. The litera-
ture on risk in security studies does not discuss internal methodological differences
and what consequences these have for science and politics. The debate on risk can thus
hardly be described as a ‘debate’; to the extent that one could call it so, it is a debate
occupied by positions that each ‘reads’ the general social science literature on risk in a
very selective manner.3

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696 European Journal of International Relations 18(4)

To show these differences and to discuss the consequences, the present article explores
the intersection between risk and security studies as it investigates how the disciplinary
concepts on risk have been translated ‘into’ security studies — to predict, criticize or
evaluate the current political practice of security. Not only does such analysis provide the
much-needed overview of the risk debates within security studies, it also discusses and
brings out the claims to knowledge and politics made by each position.4 This will be
done by directing attention to the concepts of risk and the practices of definition involved
in the different approaches to risk. Following British historian Quentin Skinner’s under-
standing of concepts as ‘mediums for shared understanding’ (Skinner, 1989), concepts
not only represent but also constitute meaning and politics. The concept of risk is contin-
gent on political action, and the practices of definition we turn to in our academic life
therefore matter. In terms of security studies, this means that the concept of risk cannot be
reduced to a mere description of a certain empirical political reality; rather, the concept
must also be understood as a medium for defining the possibility of politics.5
By examining the language of risk, I hope to show that the field of risk studies is
broad and that each of the three main approaches to risk within security studies repre-
sents a particular interpretation of particular sociological and economic theories.
Moreover, the article argues that risk studies within security studies cling to the very
generalized descriptions of current social developments and trends; description such as
‘risk society’, ‘culture of fear’ or ‘risk/security dispositifs’ which tends to conceal a pos-
sibly much greater variety of conceptual understandings in the daily practices of security
agents. It argues that we need a much more contextualized approach which is sensitive
to the different uses of the concepts in order to grasp both new developments and poten-
tial for security politics. The relevance of such an approach is not limited to studies on
risk, however, as it also extends to the Copenhagen School understanding of ‘securitiza-
tion’, which suffers from a similar formal understanding of the concept of security.
In terms of structure, the article follows two paths: first, it introduces the broader
academic field of risk studies within economic theory, cultural theory and sociology and
discusses their respective conceptualizations of risk. The second part of the article exam-
ines the current debates on risk and security within security studies; how the traditional
disciplinary debates on risk analysis have been translated and which conditions of knowl-
edge and politics such translation prescribes. In conclusion, the article discusses the
political and scientific limits of the different approaches to risk in security studies, arguing
that how the discipline is currently set up constrains more than it enables the possibili-
ties for recognizing political possibility.

Disciplines of risk — Economics, anthropology and

Like most political concepts, the rise of the modern concept of risk must be understood
in the light of its religious past. Where the concepts of ‘faith’, ‘sin’ and ‘destiny’ occu-
pied the future by describing the irreversibility of present actions (moral or immoral),
‘risk’ in modern times has come to designate the possibility for change (Bernstein, 1998;
Douglas, 1990: 4ff.; Giddens, 1990: 34; 2002). As American financial historian Peter L.
Bernstein writes, ‘The revolutionary idea that defines the boundary between modernity

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Petersen 697

and the past is the mastery of risk: the notion that the future is more than a whim of the
gods and that men and women are not passive before nature’ (Bernstein, 1998: 1). Risk
justifies decisions and political action; it is associated with abandoning old constraints and
entering new and better futures (Douglas and Wildavsky, 1982; Luhmann, 1993). The rise
of statistical methods and probabilistic thinking during the 17th century technified/
formalized the link between progress and risk; and with the rise of insurance, banking
and investment risk became a calculable, quantifiable, classifiable and individualizable
entity (Ewald, 1991; Hacking, 2003).
This understanding of risk as ‘measurable uncertainty’ was highly theorized in the 20th
century when leading economists such as Frank Knight and John Maynard Keynes con-
trasted risk with the uncertainty of an everyday life characterized by events with no statisti-
cal history (Bernstein, 1998; Knight, 1921). Risk management, which was first established
as normal corporate practice in the 1970s, took over the calculative scheme of insurance
and aimed to estimate the probability and present economic value of future events.
Today, many risk scholars agree that ‘risk’ has come to refer to a broader range of
everyday situations of uncertainty involving traffic, health, crimes, pollution and so on
and subject to the regulation by governments, citizens and private companies (Adams,
1995; Beck, 1999; Dean, 1998; Giddens, 2002; Luhmann, 1993).
Although a general consensus exists with regard to the history of ‘risk’, the concept has
been subject to much theorizing within a wide range of social science disciplines in cur-
rent times; all emphasizing different aspects of its function in society and politics. In the
following, I will concentrate on three of the core disciplines of risk. The first discipline of
risk is mainly informed by economic and actuarial theory and represents what we would
normally understand as the mainstream position within risk studies. In this approach, the
argument is that risk can be measured and consequently controlled. The second discipline
is the cultural theory represented by the British anthropologist Mary Douglas. For this
approach, risk is a matter of selections which largely depend on cultural perceptions and
worldviews. Finally, the radical constructivists within sociology argue that risk represents
a modern discursive construction which is ever-changing due to constant political struggle
and decision-making. It is obviously impossible to provide a complete picture of the dis-
ciplinary perspectives on risk.6 The following presentation will also only highlight the
central assumptions and claims about risk made in the literature. In the subsequent analy-
sis of how these disciplinary perspectives have been translated within security studies, the
single tenets and arguments will be thoroughly explained.

Economic approaches to risk analysis

The main concern in the economic approaches is how to anticipate and control future risks
by taking the necessary preventive action. The methods associated with these approaches
are statistical methods and economic models of risk (mostly cost–benefit analyses).
Accordingly, it is a given in such approaches that risks can be classified, quantified and to
some extent predicted, and that rational behaviour can help us manage — or perhaps even
eliminate — risk. Risk perception studies have more recently come to occupy a central
place in many of these economic risk analyses to better account for insecurities — to
contextualize and thereby attain a fuller understanding of the means–ends relationship by,

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698 European Journal of International Relations 18(4)

for example, including psychological explanations on human expectations or studies on

different perceptions of probability (Covello, 1983). Likewise, the precautionary principle
has been applied to describe a situation where the means–ends relationship is uncertain
and decision-making is based on the idea of a pervasive uncertain future rather than an
anticipated or known one (Fisher, 2001; Sand, 2000).
The economic approaches to risk assessment and management are far and away the
predominant approaches within the so-called ‘practical field’ of risk analysis — practised
by insurance companies, larger companies, consultancy firms and governments. Broadly
speaking, two logics in particular define the practice of economically defined risk analy-
sis; one represented in the actuarial literature and another relating to the practice of cor-
porate or governmental decision-making (Cohen, 1996; Kolluru, 1995).7
Insurance companies basically depend on statistics for settling the probability (fre-
quency and severity) of an event and thereby setting premiums. They base their risk
analysis on the many similar, past and ‘independent’ events8 — on statistical methods
and probability theory (Huber, 2002; Knight, 1921). In an insurance calculus, the crite-
rion of success is the ability to trade and transfer risk. The main analytical work lies in
representing the present and past as accurately as possible by registering the past devel-
opments for the purpose of future avoidance. Such statistical analysis tends to presup-
pose that the reality of the past will be reflected in the future (Knight, 1921: 225) and
assumes a rather linear interpretation of the relationship between past and future.
Risk analysis conducted by companies, organizations or governments in their every-
day decision-making, on the other hand, is often based on an investment logic aimed at
assessing whether a given project or action is sensible and beneficial (Adams, 1995;
Kolluru, 1995). Here, the concept of risk is positively related to the possibility of profit,
but the central criterion of success is a good estimate of utility. A comparison of utilities
is, as Ortwin Renn states, ‘the exchange rate’ enabling acompany or organization to com-
pare different options with different benefit potentials; and thereby provides the back-
ground for the common risk decision-making tool: ‘cost–benefit analysis’ (Renn, 2008;
Rowe, 1979, 1980). In these analyses, it is the unique events that possibly can happen
due to the corporate operations and investments which are accounted for by categoriza-
tions of events and their probability.9 Thus, similar to the insurance logic, the possibility
of measurement, management and control prevails.
The 2001 terrorism events have been perceived as a major challenge to the economic
logic of calculability, as it questioned the possibility of seeing future risk as a mirror of
past events. The insurance industry was met by the challenge of how to calculate the
premiums on terrorism insurance, not knowing what the future would bring (Huber,
2002; Knunreuther and Heal, 2003). In the same period, large companies became increas-
ingly concerned by ‘thinking the unthinkable’ — trying to grasp the economic impacts of
an uncertain business environment. In this context, Nassim Nicholas Taleb’s book The
Black Swan became extremely popular (2008). Together these debates on new threats did
challenge the calculus scheme of risk management, yet the aim remained one of organi-
zation, control and calculability — a question of how to preserve and develop the models
of risk analysis to fit the new threat environment. Thus, unlike Ulrich Beck, this debate
does not question the ontology and epistemology of risk in the economic discipline: risks
are still out there to be tamed.

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Cultural approaches to risk analysis

Whatever objective dangers may exist in the world, social organizations will emphasize those
that reinforce the moral, political, or religious order that holds the group together. (Rayner,
1992: 87)

This quotation very precisely describes where the contribution of the cultural approach
to risk lies. The cultural approach to risk is first and foremost associated with the works
of British anthropologist Douglas, though Scott, Thomson, Lupton and Wildavsky have
also been authoritative in defining this approach. Building on her earlier work in Purity
and Danger, Douglas argues that risk presents itself as a neural decision-making instru-
ment but works as a moral classification in the modern society that ensures and creates
order and cultural identity. The approach is ‘cultural’ in the sense that how people select
risk is considered to be socially embedded — depending on the world perspectives of
social groupings, identity or institutions.
The object of analysis is culture and the shared meaning of risk and not, as argued in
the economic approaches, some measured high or low probability. The aim is to under-
stand how we select something as an irreversible risk, and the moral and political judge-
ment involved in such selection (Douglas, 1966, 1992; Douglas and Wildavsky, 1982).
According to Douglas, it is the institutional and social structures that shape risk percep-
tions, not any ‘actual’ amount of risk. As indicated by the subtitle of Douglas and
Wildavsky’s book (1982), it is ‘the selection of technological and environmental dangers’
that matters politically — not how probable technical experts assess them to be (Douglas,
1992: 44). Although the claims to knowledge are defined within the paradigm of construc-
tivism, many of the studies on cultural theory aim to explain patterns of risk behaviour. By
creating a typology (a group-grid structure) on how different cultures and social group-
ings act differently towards ‘the same’ risk, for example, nuclear energy, climate change
or GMOs, possibilities for political regulation and management are suggested (Gaskell
and Allum, 2001; Kahan et al., 2010; Wildavsky and Dake, 1990: 42). Thus, unlike the
sociological approaches treated below, cultural analysis explicitly aims to improve and
manage our socially and culturally defined risks. Risk is not primarily a general descrip-
tion of modern society but is rather a description of local political choices and identities.

Sociological/radical constructivist approaches to risk

The sociological and radical constructivist approaches to risk tend to see risk as the most
powerful contemporary concept in modern history, an essential part of the modern under-
standing of decision, progress and politics. As in cultural theory, risk is linked to the idea
of political steering, yet the sociologists I will mention here are not occupied with cul-
tural diversity and local practices, but focus on the risk practices of modern industrial
and capitalist societies.
Studies inspired by Michel Foucault’s idea of governmentality, Niklas Luhmann’s
study on risk, Ulrich Beck’s idea of risk society and Anthony Giddens’ analyses of
modernity are all examples of such radical constructivist approaches in sociology
(cf. Beck, 2002; Foucault, 1991; Giddens, 2002; Luhmann, 1993). The governmentality

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700 European Journal of International Relations 18(4)

literature on risk is greatly influenced by the school of thought mainly associated with
the writings of François Ewald, Richard Ericson, Mitchell Dean and Nikolas Rose.10
Here, risk is considered a technology or practice that disciplines behaviour through the
disciplinary means of calculation. Although Ewald’s studies of insurance and precaution
do show how the political rationality of risk analysis has changed in modern times, the
focus of most governmentality studies on risk is the increasing marketization and invidu-
alization of political life (Ewald, 2002). These analyses often critically aim at revealing
the more or less subtle neoliberal power structures at play in practices of risk analysis
and management (Dean, 1999; Ewald, 1991; Rose, 2002).
Although Luhmann is best known for his system theory, his contribution to the socio-
logical field of risk studies is primarily his historical analysis of the modern risk discourse,
which he argues is defined by an economy of control, individualism and progress (Luhmann,
1993). Beck and Giddens are admittedly inspired by Luhmann’s analysis of the modern
concept of risk, but argue that we have moved beyond such modernity and the strong belief
in the opportunity to control, thereby adding a historical dimension to the understanding of
risk. According to Beck, we have moved from a first to a second modernity; from a society
with a perception of risks as calculable and manageable to a society based on uncontrolla-
ble and incalculable dangers that are direct effects of human action and technology (Beck,
1999). Thus, the risk society ‘designates a developmental phase of modern society in which
social, political, economic and individual risks tend to escape the institutions for monitor-
ing and protection in society’ (Beck, 1992: 5). Similarly, Giddens describes the transition
from traditional to manufactured risks. Beck and Giddens argue that contemporary society
acknowledges the limits of knowledge and science and that we have become reflexive in
relation to our own risk production — something that is also envisioned in a precautionary
rather than preventive approach to risk management (Ewald, 2002).
These different academic understandings of risk testify to the fact that risk studies
are not a coherent discipline, but rather a pluralistic debate on the status of the concept
(analytical or descriptive/constituting); on what constitutes the core features of the
concepts of risk (measurable/non-measurable); and on the extent to which it is possible
to grasp new socio-political developments and critically engage with society and poli-
tics without going beyond the ‘traditional’ scheme of management provided by eco-
nomic theory. Within the economic literature, the concept has mainly been approached
as an analytical category as defined by a clear distinction between risk as calculable
events and other non-calculable dangers; risk is an academic or analytical tool for
capturing future threats. In the cultural and sociological literature, on the other hand,
the concept of risk is not an analytical category, but rather a political term used to cap-
ture socio-political developments.

Risk in security studies

During the 1980s and 1990s, the so-called security debate appeared more or less settled
in the division between traditionalists and wideners (Buzan and Hansen, 2009; Buzan
et al., 1998). This debate focused on the number and quality of the issues possibly con-
stituting a security threat at a time where concerns about environmental degradation, the
effects of globalization, drug trafficking and so on found their way to the top of the

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Petersen 701

political agenda (Buzan et al., 1998: 2–5; Nye, 1988; Tickner, 1992; Ullman, 1983). As
argued in greater detail later, ‘risk studies’ can be understood as taking place within this
widening debate. However, one must recognize that these risk studies aspire to say some-
thing about social and political life in general — not international relations in particular.
The debate on risk aims to broaden the scope of security studies and to go beyond the
classical lines of division between political science, sociology and economics. Yet such
interdisciplinary aims make it of principal importance to understand how the wider field
of risk studies in the social sciences has been translated into security studies.
The following section will place and discuss how the field of risk studies places itself
within the disciplines of economics, cultural studies and sociology and discuss the claims
to knowledge and politics following from each such conceptual practice. The section is
structured around the three dominant schools of risk in contemporary security studies:
critical risk studies, global risk management and political risk studies.11

Critical risk studies

Using the events surrounding 9/11 as the main starting point, the so-called critical risk
studies seek to show how risk management decisions and security policies establish cer-
tain meanings of politics and political power. Unlike the two other approaches, which
will be treated in greater detail below, the aim of these studies is not problem-solving, but
rather to be critical. As the editors of a special issue of Security Dialogue on risk, Aradau,
Lobo-Guerrero and van Münster set out to define this school of thought. The editors pose
‘the risk perspective’ as an academic and analytical alternative to the well-known, ‘old-
fashioned’ studies on security — which are claimed to be stuck in ‘simple binary dichot-
omies of normality/exception and politics/security’ (Aradau et al., 2008). The alternative
posed is a much broader study of risk governance and technologies that transcends the
former categories of inside–outside, war–crime and military–police. Thus, these scholars
have an overall political aim to liberate security studies from its focus on states and
exceptional threats.
The empirical focus is on risk governance in the daily practices of governments and
companies (Amoore, 2004; Aradau and van Münster, 2007, 2008; Kessler and Werner,
2008; Lobo-Guerrero, 2006, 2008; Salter, 2008). Examples are trafficking in women,
terrorism insurance, migration, kidnapping and molecular biology. Highly inspired by
the governmentality literature on risk, the critical focus is often directed towards the
economic and neoliberal practices of risk analysis involved in contemporary security
policies (see Salter’s work on airport security, Aradau and van Münster’s article on
terrorism insurance and Amoore’s work on private security companies). By showing
how the management of security is governed by neoliberal practices in the insurance
market or private companies, these studies generally produce a number of insightful and
provocative claims about how technologies of risk have come to take up increasing space
in the struggle over how to define the field of security.
Seen from the perspective of the classical risk disciplines, the Foucauldian govern-
mentality approach is taken as a baseline for the analytical strategy, often pointing to the
disciplining power of the neoliberal logic ruling in the economic practice of risk assess-
ment (Amoore, 2004; Amoore and De Goede, 2005; Salter, 2008). While these scholars

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702 European Journal of International Relations 18(4)

engage critically in the risk society debate, they also share Beck’s critical perspective on
the practice of ‘economizing’ risk in their critique of security studies and their attempts
to envision new forms of political power.12 Characteristic for most of this literature is that
it constructs a concept of risk dispositif that works as a yardstick for comparing current
risk practices and discourses. This ‘risk dispositif’ designates certain practices and dis-
cursive elements as fundamental to the modern understanding of risk (see e.g. Salter,
Lobo-Guerrero, Muller, 2008), for example, calculability and present control of future
uncertainties (Foucault, 2007 [1977]). In the descriptions of this dispositif, the authors
draw heavily on Foucault’s (1977) work on security and Ewald’s work on risk (Ewald,
1991, 2002; Foucault, 2007 [1977]).
Such a conception of risk creates some methodological problems. First of all, the
understanding of risk as counter-concept to security renders many of these studies non-
responsive to shifting conceptions of either security or risk in the discourses of practi-
tioners. The aim is not one of studying change in the current perceptions of security, but
rather to explore the expansion of certain kinds of risk thinking (namely, modern risk
thinking or precautionary logics). These predefined concepts of risk become like ‘frame-
works for analysis’ or categories that are prescriptive for any possible envisioning of
politics and change. The price is, however, an analytical blindness towards current politi-
cal struggles, paradoxes and political alternatives. Political potential and alternatives
remain instead an object of philosophical-theoretical judgement and not part of an active
political engagement with current political struggles.13 In the final part of this article, I
argue that we must recognize that the governmentality of risk is not necessarily linked to
neoliberalism as many critical risk studies tend to assume when taking on Foucault’s
notion of security dispositif. By recognizing diversity in conceptual understandings, we
can avoid privileging one discourse on risk and instead recognize the ‘imbrications of
resistance and rule’ and thereby the contradictions and tensions present in any official
neoliberal discourse (O’Malley, 1996: 311). Thus, an alternative way forward for critical
risk studies would be to search for potential and possibility; to go beyond philosophical
criticism and enlarge our horizons to the existence of different concepts, different cul-
tures and different histories of risk (see Skinner, 2002).
A second and related critique of the so-called critical risk approach relates to the
understanding of politics. At a superficial level, these scholars take the not-very-
controversial, well-known standpoint that science is also politics and therefore that noth-
ing is apolitical. Yet the normative aim is not only the post-structuralist aim of opening
up what has already been closed — by, for example, confronting the naturalized distinc-
tions of inside–outside, security–politics (Cochran, 1999). These scholars relate explic-
itly to the political strategy implied in any critical approach to security and point to the
political performativity and responsibility of the security scientist. However, they do
not have the same anti-foundational stance either, as they tend to define a priori the
main political stakes in today’s world (Aradau, Münster, Lobo-Guerrero and Salter in
particular). To declare that we must do away with the dividing line between inside and
outside and the idea of the exceptional is to position oneself as having the authority to
decide where the political stakes lie in today’s world (for a similar critique of Beck, see
Douglas, 1992). By taking such a position, the role of science becomes one of prior
political/philosophical judgement and not one of showing where the political stakes lie.

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Petersen 703

Global risk management

‘Global risk management’ is particularly inspired by Ulrich Beck’s Risk Society thesis
and is represented in security studies by, for example, Christopher Coker, Yee Heng,
Mikkel Vedby Rasmussen and Michael J. Williams. Despite their differences, these
scholars agree that the concept of risk has taken over how we think about security; par-
ticularly our thinking on war and strategy. Coming from the perspective of strategic
studies, they show how risk management practices have become a new means for dealing
with a constantly changing security environment. Thus, also for these scholars, risk is
defined through its relation to its counter-concept: security.
The understanding of risk expressed in this approach is greatly inspired by the works
of sociologists Ulrich Beck and Anthony Giddens. Similar to the arguments of Beck and
Giddens, history and transformation plays a major role in the argumentation of these
scholars. Temporality appears in two ways: first, the past and future are articulated as a
macro-historic transition from modernity to the second modernity — a move from secu-
rity and nation state to risk and globalization. This development is inherently given by
the modern form of organization (Beck, 1999).14 Second, today’s risks are understood as
self-generated. They are an intentional or unintentional effect of our own decisions
(Beck, 1996: 11). This latter understanding of temporality closely relates to a particular
understanding of history, as risk is understood as the driving force behind the transition
from first to second modernity — the latter being characterized by the unintended effects
of previous decisions. Like Beck, Rasmussen and Coker argue how reflexivity (a con-
cept taken from Beck) has come to describe the post-9/11 world; a world in which ‘there
is no one to give authoritative answers’; a world that ‘ceases to be modern and becomes
reflexive about its own modernity’ (Rasmussen, 2004: 386). Altogether, the analytical
aim of this approach is to describe the transition from one form of governance to another
in order to understand the conditions of risk management as opposed to (as in critical risk
studies) revealing the power structures implied in the everyday practices of risk
Similar to the position of critical risk studies, however, the concept of risk is argued
to be becoming increasingly important to security studies — overtaking ‘security’ and
‘threats’ as the ruling concepts. Analysing NATO, Christopher Coker writes: ‘when we
conceptualize security we do so in terms of risk itself. The language of danger has now
turned into the language of risk’ (Coker, 2002: 60). And Williams writes, ‘The problem
is that unlike a threat-based system, where obvious capabilities and intent make it easier
for policy-makers to determine where threats lie, a risk-based mindset means that policy-
makers must act with far less information’ (Williams, 2008: 66). Hence, a distinction
between threat and risk is the baseline for understanding this approach; threats being
quantifiable, specific and about intentions and means–ends rationality, while risk is
about the unforeseen and not related to a specific incident (Heng, 2006: 12; Rasmussen,
2006: 1; Williams, 2008: 65–68). Thus, these scholars claim that we are now faced with
risks that are less tangible than former ‘threats’; threats that are dealt with by taking pre-
emptive or precautionary action This is the context in which Coker, Heng and Williams
study how risk practices and techniques are increasingly pursued when dealing with new
security issues (Coker, 2002; Heng, 2006; Williams, 2008).

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704 European Journal of International Relations 18(4)

The argument that the concept of risk has taken over security is somewhat similar to
the concept advanced in ‘critical risk studies’ (treated above). Yet the claims to knowl-
edge are very different. Coker and Rasmussen argue that the concept of security has
become obsolete: that the new reality of global fears has rendered the concept of risk
increasingly relevant to security/strategic studies. It has pushed the concepts of security
and threat into the background (Coker, 2009; Rasmussen, 2006). Such claims rest upon
empirical observations. For the global risk management scholars, research is aimed at
contributing to a better understanding of contemporary threats and thereby assisting
practitioners in their daily risk decisions. Although the main inspiration is undoubtedly
Beck’s thesis on risk society, there are also aspects of the writings that are influenced by
the claims to knowledge made in the economic literature, as the aim of these global man-
agement studies is often to optimize the decision-making process in the military estab-
lishment (see Heng, 2006). Risk studies should aim to ease the management of the risks
that are less quantifiable and identifiable than before. As Rasmussen argues, reflexive
security studies must focus on the management of new and constructed risks that do not
respect state borders and cannot be dealt with by applying the means–ends rationality
normally associated with security policies (Rasmussen, 2004, 2006).
Transformation is the ruling concept designating the concept of risk; the transforma-
tion from known to unknown futures, from measurable to non-measurable threats and
from security to risk. The epistemology expressed in this approach may seem somewhat
paradoxical, as it claims to be social-constructivist while sharing the problem-solving
aim found in the economic approaches. Yet this position may reflect one particular read-
ing of social constructivism — a reading which is also present in the writings of Beck.15
Both Beck and Rasmussen defend a historical interpretation of constructivism, arguing
that ‘we are living in an age of constructivism’ (Beck, 1999: 133). Constructivism not
only represents a philosophy of science, but is also a historical phenomenon that can be
dated (Rasmussen, 2001). Hence, constructivism (and reflexivity) is viewed as a cultural
phenomenon characterizing the late-modern society — a society with a specific rational-
ity differing from earlier and modern society. By applying this interpretation of construc-
tivism, they expose themselves to the same criticism as has been directed at Jean-Francois
Lyotards’ interpretation of post-modernity in particular,16 as they ultimately argue that
the social world is intersubjectively constituted but that they can view this ‘intersubjec-
tive constitution’ from a point outside history. By holding on to such a macro-historical
interpretation of constructivism, however, these scholars are able to observe ‘risk’ as a
social construction that must be solved by participating (politically) in its construction;
for example, by pointing out new tools for management. Reflectivism becomes a matter
of constructing a better security order; the aim of problem-solving can therefore be main-
tained. Thus, constructivism is more than an analytical strategy; it is a political strategy
of engaging in the world of risk.
But there is also a more profound critique to be raised in relation to such a macro-
historical and transformative approach to risk — a critique related to the political conse-
quences of accepting the argument. Such a transformative approach raises the fundamental
question about what (political and critical) role academia plays in this debate on shifting
conceptions of risk and security. To quote Beck: ‘The decision whether to take a realist
or a constructivist approach is for me a rather pragmatic one, a matter of choosing the

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Petersen 705

appropriate means for a desired goal’ (Beck, 1999: 134). This can obviously be read as
the ultimate consequence of recognizing that the selection of risks is a political affair as
opposed to something to be carried out scientifically or objectively (Douglas and
Wildavsky, 1982). Accordingly, the selection of risk is always an ongoing matter involv-
ing political and moral choices; choices that academics also make.
When adopting such a pragmatic approach to risk, however, we must remind our-
selves that a study on risk and security is hardly ‘innocent business’. As Buzan et al.
warned when considering the methodology behind an analysis of security: ‘Transformation
is one but not always the most reasonable strategy for improving security’ (Buzan et al.,
1998: 204). The transformative element at the core of the claims made by Beck,
Rasmussen, Coker and Heng may (unintentionally) be politically problematic. These
global risk management studies clearly argue that we are living in a risk society in which
the character of the threat (or catastrophe) leaves us with no choice but to dramatically
change how we conceive of security. In making this argument, however, they leave the
normative questions of democracy and authority unanswered and unproblematized.17
The ‘practice of constructivism’, which science ultimately also represents, is not fol-
lowed by reflections on what we are doing in talking risk; or what use it has.

Political risk studies

Unlike the two other approaches, ‘political risk studies’ is not solely an International
Relations approach, but is also commonly associated with business studies and theo-
ries. Moreover, contrary to the two other approaches, this approach openly aims at
problem-solving and therefore does not attempt to critically read the practices of risk
‘Political risks’ (also sometimes referred to as ‘country risks’) refers to a special kind
of risk that companies or governments run when making a direct investment in a foreign
country. A political risk is often defined as ‘changes in the operating conditions of for-
eign enterprises that arise out of a political process, either directly through war, insurrec-
tion or political violence, or through changes in government policies that affect the
ownership and behavior of the firm’ (Haufler, 1999: 204).18 The political stability and
situation in the host country are subject to scrutiny and are exactly what renders the risk
political. Expropriation, import restrictions, rigid bureaucratic systems and corruption
are examples of so-called political risks.
Political risk has been a topic of business enquiry for a very long time, but has only
recently shown up as a topic in the security debates. The end of the Cold War and the
ensuing academic and political focus on general political violence, including interstate
wars and terrorism, is often mentioned as that which spurred this intellectual develop-
ment; leaving place for political risk studies in IR. Yet as Jarvis and Griffith point out,
‘Political risk is normally understood as a function of IR and as a product that grows out
of border activities. Indeed, political risk is intimately connected to the state-system and
its organizing principle of sovereignty’ (Jarvis, 2007: 7). It therefore also seems ironic
that this school of thought is taking form in an age of globalization. This development is
not justified as an intellectual choice, however, but rather as reflecting increased corpo-
rate capital flows to developing economies after the Cold War as well as an increasing

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706 European Journal of International Relations 18(4)

corporate focus on financial crisis and terrorism.19 Yet compared to the global risk
management and critical risk studies, political risk studies are generally occupied with
the spatiality and territorial dimensions of risk and do not — as do the two other
approaches — rest their main argument on temporality and historical change.
Although most political risk scholars acknowledge the difficulty of measuring and
quantifying political risk (Jarvis, 2004, 2007), they do try to fulfil the aim of measure-
ment by suggesting a variety of methods available for assessing these risks: some list all
of the political events which may create imperfect competition or limit the ability of
companies to act as they otherwise would (Hashmin and Guvenli, 1992; Weston and
Sorge, 1972); others regard political risk as directly correlating with the type of regime
in a host country and the level of modernization (Green, 1972); while yet others evaluate
the risk situation in a host country by interviewing experts and subsequently create sce-
narios on the basis of those interviews (Coyle, 2003). As Jarvis and Griffiths argue, there
are two traces of political risk literature in IR: one concerned mostly with corporate strat-
egies, investment and insurance, the other concerned with conflict avoidance and state
failure (intra-state issues).
Yet that which unites these positions is their aim to improve how these risks are
measured and categorized in the risk and scenario models. Due to the problem-solving
aim of the theoretical work, the debate within these deliberations has predominantly
focused on the empirical or theoretical gains of adapting one or the other — more or less
inclusive — concept of political risk. Similar to the economic approaches to risk analy-
sis, these scholars aim to keep the analysis as objective as possible by developing meth-
ods to define the criteria for observation and the classification of risk. These methods are
based on the assumption that observations and reality mirror each other perfectly; and,
consequently, that the reality is unaffected by these analyses (Renn, 1992: 61). Moreover,
the relationship between past and future is generally formulated as a question of reality
versus possibility (Renn, 1992: 56), as political risk management is conceptualized as a
matter of controlling the future by mapping or analysing past political developments.
Hence, although these studies rarely make claims regarding history, the power of such
risk analysis lies in its claims on temporality; in that of ‘making the future present’. The
present insecurity about a future political situation is that which is expressed in the for-
mulation of political risk. It sets out to define the concept of the political in order to
improve practice, earn money or save lives and thereby make progress.
Critics of such an understanding of risk have pointed out the inherent instability of
such a calculable approach to risk. As reasoned by the sociologists (Adams, 1995;
Rayner, 1992), in any modern discourse, risk is something that must be acted upon; every
time a risk level is assessed, action therefore follows (shifts in behaviour, engaging in
public debate, etc.). The basis for the risk calculation therefore also changes in this proc-
ess of action. Thus, risk is not, as assumed in this approach, something that we are pas-
sive in relation to, but every risk communication involves an active agent in the creation
of those risks. One example is if a private security company such as G4S, which makes
risk-level assessments, raises the political risk level of a British corporate investment in
Sierra Leone to 8 from 5 (out of 10), it may possibly alter the behaviour of a number of
companies and possibly alter the risk level of the single company keeping their business
in the country. Hence, risk levels are not static; they are constantly changing due to

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Petersen 707

continuous action and assessment; the distinction between the observed and the observer
becomes impossible to establish.
A second critique relates to the understanding of political. Politics is not only under-
stood as spatially connected to the foreign nation state, but also intrinsically external
to the actors who run risks, and make decisions and investments. Politics proceeds
outside of the private sphere of the risk-taker, and a clear distinction between the pri-
vate undertaking and political sphere is thereby established. However, such a distinc-
tion discloses the possibility of conceptualizing the risk-taker (company or another
government) as a political actor, for example, when a company or government organi-
zation finds it too politically risky to invest or intervene in new markets or countries
and therefore refrains from doing so, it may contribute to a changing political situation
in the host country. Thus, such an understanding of politics addresses how politics —
as a formal entity — is acted upon, yet these scholars fail to recognize what Mary
Douglas, for example, has repeatedly stated: that political logics (ideologies and
visions) are internalized in the corporate decisions and that the company is therefore a

Table 1. Three approaches to risk in security studies

Critical risk studies Global risk management Political risk studies

Inspiration Sociology — the Sociology — Beck and Economic and technical
governmentality Giddens approaches
Main conceptual Security–risk Modernity– Inside–outside (politics
distinctions Prevention– late-modernity as domestic)
precaution (transformation) Politics–private
Method Interpretive/critical Interpretive/ Comparative political
Main analytical The governmentality The condition of risk Utility (the
category of risk management management (the form consequences of
(the practice of of governance) different practices)
Conceptual There is no reality Risks exist but are Risk exists and can be
understanding of risk. Risk is interpreted. measured.
constructed. Calculation is impossible, There is full information
‘Calculation of risk’ as there are no causal on the past–future
is a modern reading connections between and self–environment
of the concept means and ends relationships
Scientific aim Provide or show Provide or show Provide possibility of
political alternatives; political/managerial resource allocation
emancipation. potential (investment and
Critical potential decision-making).
Management potential
by defining progress/or

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708 European Journal of International Relations 18(4)

political player in society in its risk-thinking. Table 1 sums up the main differences in
the three approaches to risk in security studies, showing how these approaches differ
with regard to inspiration, conceptual understanding, method, analytical categories,
conceptual distinctions and scientific aim.

Conclusion:  Analytical Challenges

Understanding the interface between risk and security practices seems more relevant
than ever. Risk analysis and risk management practices are increasingly occupied with
issues that were formerly national security concerns, and since the borderline between
national intelligence, emergency management and crime control is becoming increas-
ingly difficult to establish, the domestic government risk practices also become security
practices. Neither risk nor security alone can be considered an analytical or theoretical
concept. In order to understand current affairs, however, we must also recognize that
concepts generally both reflect and condition socio-political development and change.
We should therefore not turn to risk because we think that it would provide us with bet-
ter analytical tools in an already-existing toolbox (than e.g. the concept of securitiza-
tion). Rather, we should attempt to understand the socio-political meaning given to the
concept in the practices of the military establishment, in the emergency response agen-
cies and in the PSCs — agencies which today tend to assume that terrorism, immigra-
tion and war (traditional security issues) can be approached in terms of risk management.
Without taking the concept and its socio-political meaning seriously, we ‘risk’ ignoring
important political changes.
Despite the relevance of studying the relationship between risk management and
(national) security practices, risk studies remains an undeveloped sub-discipline within
security studies. In the foregoing sections, the article has evaluated the different concepts
involved in risk studies by showing the claims to knowledge and politics being made;
how these debates translate the more settled economic and sociological approaches to
risk into their own language of ‘critical theory’, ‘history’, ‘transformation’, ‘manage-
ment’, ‘politics’ and ‘private’. However, it also became clear that each position has
imported some of the more methodological problems known from sociology and eco-
nomics, including a lack of conceptual sensitivity.
This concluding section will explain why conceptual sensibility must be taken seri-
ously within risk studies and relate this debate to the only (major) approach to security
which claims to be sensitive to concepts and social constructions of threats: securitiza-
tion theory.

The level of generalization and need for conceptual sensitivity

Like much social science theorizing on risk, the risk studies in security studies often
appear to say something general about where international politics and security studies
are heading. Aradau, van Münster, Salter, Muller, Lobo-Guerrero and others talk about a
dispositif of risk, and Rasmussen and Coker about which rationalities characterize dif-
ferent historical epochs (Rasmussen, 2006: 1–11).20 Yet as both cultural theory and secu-
rity-identity studies in IR have argued on several occasions, risk and security are

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Petersen 709

culturally or contextually defined concepts (Campbell, 1992; Hansen, 2001) and address-
ing such diversity is methodologically important if we want to better understand current
security/risk identity practices.21 Nikolas Rose makes a somewhat similar critique in his
evaluation of Ulrich Beck’s risk society thesis. He writes, ‘I think this notion of risk
society, though suggestive, is misleading. It implies something homogenous and all
embracing, an array of effects that are amenable to an epochal sociological explanation’
(Rose, 2002: 213). Yet while Rose urges us to study the spread of a particular risk think-
ing — one associated with calculability and economic control — I propose that we start
with a more conceptually sensitive approach: one which recognizes that other concepts
of risk — than this particular modern liberal concept — also work as governmentality in
political life. One example can be found in the US management of the risk of terrorism
(counterterrorism), where management is not always understood as a matter of calculat-
ing the threat, but also of patriotism and belonging to the ‘homeland’. American counter-
terrorism rests largely on an understanding of risk management as a matter of protecting
vulnerable sectors and values in society — on a valuation of what we have and must
preserve — rather than on the idea of calculable probability and technical control
(Petersen and Tjalve, 2009). An analytical approach sensitive to conceptual change and
diversity would enable us to identify innovations in political language (see Skinner,
2002), and provide us with the ability to grasp new developments in the corporate, gov-
ernmental or organizational conception of risk. A conceptual discourse does not exist by
itself; rather, it will always be defined in interaction with other discourses (e.g. liberalism
versus republicanism, or differences between national discourses). Thus, there will
always be competing language systems in the sense that no single discourse can domi-
nate totally (Pocock, 1975, 1996). Yet such recognition of change, diversity and counter-
discourses would also identify political potential.
Thus, an analytical sensitivity attentive to the constitution of conceptual meaning is
generally missed. I would argue that we should begin elsewhere. The debate should not
focus on whether some philosophically or theoretically defined concepts fit reality or
not, but instead on what kind of reality these concepts convey and prescribe. We should
bring concepts back into a conceptual debate on risk and security; an attempt at taking
concepts seriously and showing how they shape our political reality by constituting
authority, identity, time and function.

The wider impact on security studies

Seen in a historical disciplinary perspective, there are parallels between the contem-
porary risk debate and the debate on the widening of security in the 1980s and
1990s.22 As for the so-called wideners, the argument for bringing in risk is based on
current developments in world affairs — on the changing understanding of threats.
In particular, the political attention to crises and catastrophes such as terrorism, glo-
bal economic crises and climate change have demonstrated the relevance and have
empirically legitimated the rise of risk studies. Moreover, like the widening perspec-
tive, the contemporary debate on risk is spurred by the aim of opening up the per-
spective of security studies beyond the agency of the state; freeing it from the
historically loaded concept of security by installing the concept of ‘risk’. However,

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710 European Journal of International Relations 18(4)

there are also arguments against seeing this risk debate as part of the widening debate.
The widening perspective did build in the idea that ‘security’ was increasingly rele-
vant to a broader empirical field as well as disciplines; going beyond the military
domain; and was therefore important to the study of a wider range of sectors (eco-
nomics, environment and society). The widening debate thus aimed at studying what
one roughly speaking could call ‘the expansion of security’. The starting point of risk
studies is not the same.23 Risk studies want to approach threats that do not respect the
‘old’ dividing lines between foreign and international, crime and security, normal and
exceptional political life and so on — threats including terrorism, climate change and
financial crises that often cannot be considered to be solely a matter of security in the
traditional sense of the word (as a securitization).
This brings me to the question of why securitization theory cannot fill the gap and
the need for an approach which is sensitive to concepts while taking new and emerging
threats into account. The answer is straightforward: because securitization theory is
not sensitive enough to conceptual change. As Wæver indicates in his conceptual anal-
ysis of security, securitization as a speech act is closely tied to modern understandings
of necessity, state and raison d’état. Most studies on risk in security studies argue that
such an understanding of security is under pressure, which can be observed by study-
ing the security/risk thinking of emergency agencies, insurance companies, intelli-
gence agencies and so on.
The problem is not solved by calling a speech act on risk ‘a riskification’, as some
have suggested (see Corry, 2009; and supported by Ole Wæver).24 An understanding of
risk practices as riskification may sound appealing but encounters the same problem of
discursive fixation as securitization theory (Huysmans, 2006), as such an analytical con-
cept would require a description of the exact character of such a speech act. Instead of
seeking to reach a better understanding of how security influences risk management
practices, for example, such a position would simply close the debate — make the pos-
sibility of grasping current changes in the meaning of risk and security (e.g. due to new
understandings of crime, intelligence police, etc.) not viable.
One could of course argue that suggesting a wider perspective of risk and security
comes with a price, as it opens up the possibility that everything can be constructed as
a security issue; a route which we, following Wæver, for normative/democratic reasons
do not want to take. Such a position, however, shows very little trust in democracy and
tends to conceal the place of normativity/democracy in a widening approach. A concep-
tual analysis can point out the possible emancipatory strategies; may help us to consider
and find promise, without assuming prior superior knowledge about the political stakes.
As O’Malley argues: ‘Risk may take a wide diversity of forms’, some of which may not
be as oppressive, individualist and polarizing as often assumed in the critical risk litera-
ture (O’Malley, 2008: 453–454). Risk studies (science) should be experimental and
aimed at rewriting old vocabularies, thereby opening up critique by suggesting new
forms of social and political practice (see Cochran, 1999; Murphy and Rorty, 1990).
And the exact same can be said about security. In similar terms, there is no reason to
assume that the political rationality of security cannot be inclusive or democratic.25 One
way to treat such potential, however, would be the sensitive study of the changing con-
ceptual understandings.

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Petersen 711

I would like to thank Barry Buzan, Anna Leander, Rens van Münster, Vibeke Schou Tjalve, Trine
Villumsen and Ole Wæver for their comments on earlier versions of this article.

  1. Questioning the possibility of calculating risks is hardly new. Many scholars have done so
(and from different perspectives), including Dean (1998), Adams (1995) and Beck (2002).
What is new, however, is that scholars and practitioners, persons who otherwise firmly
believed in the possibility of measuring risks prior to 9/11, now question this measurement;
for example, in the economic literature on risk analysis, terrorism is often mentioned as a risk
that hardly can be comprehended within an economic logic due to the lack of measurability
and controllability. Michael Huber argues that ‘[l]acking any kind of experience, insurance
activities are left with “gut-feelings” about the insurance aspects’ (Huber, 2002: 1). He thus
concludes that the industry is therefore very reluctant to offer terrorism insurance. (for other
examples of similar problems with risk analysis on terrorism, see Knunreuther and Heal,
2003; Schneier, 2003; Viscusi and Zeckhauser, 2003).
  2. According to Web of Science, risk is a ‘topic’ in the article if the article includes the word risk
in the title, abstract or as an author keyword (www.iisknowledge.com).
 3. Mikkel Vedby Rasmussen makes a similar observation in his essay on risk and security
(Rasmussen, 2010).
  4. Rasmussen (2010) also sets out to review the risk literature in security studies. Contrary
to the present article, however, he does not map the entire field of risk studies in IR and
does not show what the disciplinary roots of this debate are and what claims to the political
are implied in the different conceptions of risk. Rather, Rasmussen presents some important
themes (management, temporality and reflexivity) in the current debate which he believes
should be further explored.
  5. German historian Reinhart Koselleck has a very similar understanding of concepts, as he
argues that concepts are ‘concentrates of meaning’ (Koselleck, 1985: 84). For more about
Skinner’s methodological position, see Skinner (2002). See Bartelson (2000) for a similar
attempt to use conceptual history/analysis in IR.
 6. Most noticeably, I do not treat the technical approaches to risk separately (e.g. engi-
neering and medicine). However, the concept of risk applied in those analyses is very
close to the one found in the economic approaches (for more on technical approaches,
see Adams, 1995; Renn, 1992). Likewise, I have not included the many approaches to
Science Technology — some of which come very close to the cultural position on risk
(cf. Jasanoff, 2002, 2009). ‘Risk communication’ could also be included as an approach
to risk, yet risk communication has become synonymous with a wide range of studies on
the conditions for communicating information and scientific knowledge that also tend
to work with a concept of risk close to the ones found in either the economic or cultural
approaches (Gutteling and Wiegman, 1996; Sublet et al., 1996). Not only would an inclu-
sion of these other perspectives on risk have required much more space, it would also not
have made a major difference to the conclusion as the concepts of risk expressed in these
other approaches are very close — and often linked — to the concepts expressed in the three
disciplines treated here.
  7. These two logics are obviously related, as the insurance aspect is often a calculable ele-
ment in any investment strategy, for example, it (ceteris paribus) becomes more expensive
to insure against terrorism if the company operates in nations perceived to be more prone
to terrorism.

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712 European Journal of International Relations 18(4)

  8. The term ‘independent event’ refers to the fact that two similar risk events/incidents do not
directly depend on each other. Independent events are, for example, traffic accidents, which
are considered more or less coincidental. Independence is in many ways impossible; however,
when linked to large-size populations, some risks are considered more independent than others.
  9. See Bernstein (1998) for a presentation of this reasoning.
10. The works of Nikolas Rose (1993, 2002), Ian Hacking (1990, 2003) and David Garland
(2001, 2003) have also been influential for the governmentality studies on risk.
11. The ambiguity of the concept of ‘risk’ will be illuminated by focusing on the constitution
of concepts and counter-concepts. A counter-concept is in many respects the concept’s radi-
cal Other — as the concept that is discursively constituted as different from the concept
and which is inescapable from a description of the concept. In other words, the unity of
the conceptual constellations is formed by the distinctions made in the articulations of
12. Yet these scholars are often critical towards Beck’s more or less materialistic or realist
interpretation of today’s risk society (Aradau and van Münster, 2007); a society of risk
which Beck argues is qualitatively different in terms of threats and knowledge.
13. For a similar critique of Critical security studies (especially the works of Ken Booth), see
Wæver (2009).
14. Giddens has a similar periodization of modernity versus late modernity. In the late-modern
society, he differentiates between two types of risks — external risks and manufactured
risks (Giddens, 1990, 1991, 2002).
15. Mitchell Dean has raised a similar criticism of Beck, arguing that Beck treats risk as ontologi-
cally given and fails to recognize that risks are socially constructed (Dean, 1998: 218).
16. See, for example, Luhmann (1998: 16ff.).
17. Likewise, Zarkada-Fraser and Fraser define political risk as ‘the aggregate negative effect
of governmental and societal actions and/or inertia on a select group or all foreign concerns
operating in or wishing to penetrate a country’s market’ (Zarkada-Fraser and Fraser, 2002:
99). For a discussion of the various definitions, see Jarvis (2004) and Krobin (1979).
18. The subjects of concern under the name of ‘political risk’ have proven to depend on the gen-
eral international political developments, for example, expropriation as the dominant concern
in the post-war period of decolonization. See Haufler (1997) for a brilliant analysis of how the
concept of political risk has developed historically as a ‘business norm’.
19. Coker also uses Furedi’s term ‘Cultures of fear’ to describe the late-modern risk society
(Coker, 2009; Furedi, 2006).
20. This is especially striking because critical studies on risk within security studies are largely
formed by scholars who are highly conscious and articulate about the identity issues at play
in a modern discourse of security.
21. For an account of the disciplinary developments in security studies, see Walt (1991). For a
history of the concept of security (especially looking at the international aspect of the con-
cept), see Wæver (2003).
22. Thanks to Ole Wæver for raising this point.
23. In his article, Olaf Corry refers to ‘riskization’ as a pendant to securitization and
defines its main rhetorical elements as being about general harm, potential futures and
24. Rita Floyd and Paul Roe are probably the authors who have most directly raised this point in
security studies in their attempt to show how securitization might not be negative and repres-
sive. However, I will not go as far as Floyd and argue that we must make universal criteria
for normative judgement, but rather show potential by critically investigating different risk
practices and concepts in today’s political struggles (Floyd, 2007; Roe, 2006).

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Biographical note
Karen Lund Petersen is Researcher and Deputy Director at the Centre for Advanced
Security Theory, University of Copenhagen, Denmark. She holds a PhD in Political
Science from the University of Copenhagen, and has taught and published on International
Relations theory, conceptual history, risk management and security studies.

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