Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Paper Proposal: Risk-Aversion and Group Polarization

In discussing the “new global ascription of risk,” in The Rise of the Risk Society, Ulrich Beck notes the inconsequentiality of individual agency as the threats that afflict us, “the toxins and pollutants” are now “interwoven with the natural basis and the elementary life processes of the industrial world.” As I discussed in one of my earlier blog posts, how much is risk society’s being “closed to decisions” (41) similar to Berlant’s image of the post-modern subject treading water in the impasse of the present?

I’m interested in Beck and Berlant since a Risk Society and Crisis ordinariness or the impasse of the present seem to put forth completely different temporalities. In recognizing risk we are simultaneously pessimistic (“preventing the worst”) (49) and forward-thinking (“we become active today in order to prevent the problems ..of tomorrow”) (48) placing risk and the strategies to address risk decidedly in the future.

Are Berlant and Beck characterizing a double-bind in our contemporary situation, that of indulging in the circulation of the familiar within a present we believe is future-less while simultaneously being terrified of a future controlled by environmental, economic and social forces we are vulnerable to, responsible for, and incapable of preventing/controlling? I believe that both characterizations have credence, but what does circulating in cul de sac against a “social explosiveness of hazard” yield in the way we conduct our lives or how we act economically, politically and socially?

I’d like to discuss the strategies that specifically our generation (Generation-Y) employs to traffic through it as an increasingly risk-conscious and so risk-averse demographic. In Turbulent Passions, Thrift describes our general condition as ‘half-awake’ to the motivations and causal relationships between ourselves and larger social forces, so that we are “waiting to be turned on,” a characterization that is often leveled at those that belong to Generation-Y. (240) It seems that early exposure to soft risk (something like our economic recession) perpetuates a perceived need to coast and cope so that we’re all ‘doing pretty well’ and things are ‘pretty good’ and we’d like to maintain that.

Also because of the current hyper-speed dissemination of news, the central division that Beck identifies between those that are afflicted by risk and those that profit from them also includes those who recognize and can identify risk within it’s “relations of definitions..the legal, epistemological and cultural matrix in which risk politics is conducted.” If the condition of Generation Y is enduring soft-risk with an extreme and shared awareness of something like hard risk, what is the relationship between risk-aversion (and the affects that it produces such as disaffection or ironic posturing) and sustained but low-commitment slactivism and political engagement?

Professor Chun posed that “if we want action, we turn the world into an archive of what could have been,” suggesting that uncertainty is perhaps a more effectual way of provoking action. If precarity could produce something like risk-aversion, which creates a stagnant social or political paralysis, I’d like to think through precarity differently, as creating the moment in which “life in the impasse turns from threat to aim.” (Berlant 70) Precarity is the tipping point before risky behavior. umping off the mobilizing potential of group action that we discussed, there is a type of de-individuation that takes place when we are acting within a group that allows us to become less risk-averse or more willing to take risks. The sociology term is group polarization, in which groups make decidedly more extreme decisions together than the individual members would make on their own. 

If Risk-aversion but also Risk-taking can be products of group consensus, I’d like my paper to figure out how the collective action of Generation Y, most likely to be conducted via online networks, can be harnessed and sustained for effective socio-political change or activist work. 

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