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How Risk Determines Identity and Social Development


Several sociological theories have tried to address the impact of risk in molding individuals, as well as determining social development in communities. In the attempt to investigate various theories to this effect; this paper shall conclusively analyze positions taken by three leading thinkers: Deborah Lupton, Frank Furedi, and Zygmunt Bauman. Various positions taken by these thinkers will be investigated and compared.

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Lupton traces the definition and classification of risk in recent history. First, she asserts that risk was previously was associated with fortune and fate (Lupton 1999). The fate aspect of risk originated from the individual’s inability to protect themselves from what could befall them. Most fateful exposures occurred as individuals tried to deal with their day-to-day lives. The fortune aspect occurred as individuals exposed themselves through risky activities. This meant that social status determined measures taken to protect self against risk, which resulted in the development of identity in societies. Today’s definition of risk has come to be divided into different categories, such as medical, economic, and environmental risk among others. Exposure to these types of risks thus determines the development of an individual’s identity.

As a result of changing definition and classification of risk, Lupton asserts that risk factors are controlled at the individual, institutional and societal level (Lupton 1999). At the individual level, individuals are tasked with ensuring that the shaping of their identities by risk factors have to is kept to the minimum. But this is a little hard considering that the modern types of risks cannot be controlled at the individual level. For instance, economic and environmental risks can hardly be controlled by individuals. Individuals develop institutions that help reduce the effects of risks in their day-to-day living. Governments are also tasked with the responsibility of capping the effects of risks in citizens’ (individuals) lives.

However, asserts Lupton, the very existence of institutions and governments tend to increase the effects of fear in individuals’ lives, the reason being that individuals are constantly reminded of the presence of risk in their daily lives (Lupton 1999). Having it in mind that there exist risks that could affect their identities leads to individuals changing their lifestyles constantly, which could eventually lead to identity change. The replication of identity and lifestyle change could lead to an overhaul in way of life in society. Lupton adds that institutions, which are supposed to help in reducing the effects of risk, and governments tend to create risks worse than the ones being addressed.

The results of individuals in the society being reminded of the presence of risks in their lives have included a continued change of social life. This has resulted from the politicization of risk issues in society. Indeed leaders in societal institutions and governments have seemed to make addressing risk their preoccupation. Fact that these two institutions could not have existed were it not for risk means that those working in them would keep telling the public of new types of risk. These players understand that failing to tell of risk would mean also death to their occupation. In addition, it can conclusively be asserted that the presence of institutions creates incentives for the establishments to engage in activities that would pose risk to their respective communities.

The increased interaction of people from all over the world and the interconnection of societal relationships has also contributed to the increased exposure to risk. This has resulted in greater subjectivity of risk in society (Lupton 1999). Given that individuals have less control over risk factors that develop from their increased interconnection with rest of the world have increased concerns. This has made people more concerned with their identities than ever before. Self defense against risk mean that identities can efficiently be protected. This individual intervention means that individuals have more choices in developing successful frameworks. Despite the success of self-initiated measures, institutional and governmental intervention has dominated prevention measures to an extent that individuals have been left with little choice. Fact that some of these institutions and government are at the center of causing risks to the public raises questions whether effects of risk in determining individual identity and social development would be achieved any time soon.


Bawman agrees with Lupton that definition of risk has been evolving with time, reason: nothing keeps original shape (Bawman 2004). The changing face of risk is therefore caused by changing time. Owing to the changing face of risk, Bawman argues that so does the measures developed to address the problem. He therefore claims that individuals should keep developing new strategies to protect their indentions and societies from effects of risk. Institutions developed with intentions of helping individuals deal with risk issues should also improve on strategies. Any failure to improve mechanism would lead to continuation of using old and ineffective methods in protecting individuals and societies from dreadful consequences posed by risk factors.

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Unlike Lupton who does not specify on the best positioned authority to ensure best protection against risk, Bawman is quick to note the importance of letting individuals take control of protection measures (Bawman 2004). According to Bawman, even institutions, including governments, which are tasked with the responsibility of helping individuals deal with risk factors, are subject to change with time. Trouble is that institutions are slow to change and thus subject people into greater risks. The ability of individuals to change in accordance with protection demands is therefore the greatest reason of letting them take control. In addition, having them take control reduces chances of moral hazard. This is a measure that leads to the entire society take control of the existing risk factors.

Bawman agrees that the existence of risk greatly the human experience. However, nothing can be done to eradicate risk despite attempts by institutions and governments, some of which have made risk eradication their preoccupation. Fact that these institutions try to eradicate risk rather than developing measures that would reduce effects is one of the reasons why they should relied upon. Providing these institutions with responsibility of “eradicating” risk is therefore the greatest mistake that societies undertake. The consequences of relying on institutions to develop and implement protection frameworks has have been dare to societies, even considering that the reliance began just few centuries ago.

Despite greater demand that individuals be given more say in the dealing with risk factors, Bawman argues on the importance of improving institutions aid the process of helping individuals deal with risks. This is because working institutions provide members of the public with hope that something is being done to address risk factors prevalent in respective communities. Solutions proposed through these institutions happen to mirror of individuals except that they are applied on a large scale level. In this consideration, Bawman calls for individuals to be involved in the formulation of frameworks used by the institutions and the government (Bawman 2004).

According to Bawman, there exists both positive and negative consequences of of depending on the individuals to develop and implement solutions to risk factors. The major advantage is that people are allowed to make mistakes and learn from them, which is the best way of knowing what works and what does not work. This also helps institutions and governments to concentrate on risks that cannot be controlled at the individual level. Another benefit is that people develop tendencies to undertake precautionary measures, because they would be the ones to pay the price. This benefit thus helps in reducing the possibility of moral hazard.

The negative effects of providing individuals with liberties to protect themselves from risks include sacrificing those without enough resources to do so. Only those with resources to help reduce effects of risks that get all benefits. It is in this regard that institutions and governments engage in the processes of ensuring that all in the community are well covered. In addition, the failure for most people to take care of the risk factors could lead to the entire society paying the price, which is not fair to those who had adequately prepared themselves. Fact that some factors out of individual control could be left without being covered, and therefore result to greater societal consequences.


Furedi largely concentrates on the effects of ever increasing risk consciousness to the entire society (Furedi 1997). This sentiment arises from an observation that society has been forcing members to be concerned of the risk factors that could befall them, but provides little or no solution at all. As it has turned out, people are increasingly raising concerns regarding risks that have existed since time immemorial. Due to the societal risk pressure exerted on individuals, people have come to develop an identity of fear—by always thinking that there is something that could impact their lives negatively. One downside of this fear is that society provides little remedies. So the question of what needs to be done is left to the individuals. As if not enough, the society still has doubts on solution mechanisms developed at the individual level; for instance, it is constantly claimed that individual solutions are less effective compared to those developed by the established institutions as well as government agencies. In this regard, members of the public are left more confused on what they should do. This confusion leaves Furedi with a lot of questions on what the society, especially leaders expect individuals to do. Unlike Bawman and Lupton who provide some space for institutions and governments to take part in the solution development stages, Furedi argues that developing solutions should completely be individuals business. This is because participation of institutions and the state in the solution development and implementation processes would lead to greater confusion that would decrease efficiency on the measures already in application.

Furedi argues that the institutionalization of risk issues has led to the loss of individual liberty to develop mechanisms to deal with risk issues, which is another way of demanding more liberty to the people (Furedi 1997). This liberty has been lost through the powers that institutions have taken from the public. Some of these powers include forcing members of the public to follow on the mechanism developed by these institutions, failure of which individuals could be subject to being regarded as law breakers. These institutions have the tendency to develop one-size-fits-all solutions that end up benefiting some people in the society while hurting others. As a result, the societies find themselves in situations where some members, which could be the majority, having their identities being changed by the risks, whereas other community members, sometimes minority, reap all the benefits. Furedi argues that this imbalance could be leveled one individuals are left to develop mechanisms that fit their needs. Any failure to embark on leaving individuals alone could lead to increased imbalances in societies, which does not bode well to marginalized members, who mostly happen to be the most poor and venerable groups.

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Providing individuals with abilities to develop their own mechanism would lead to the use of precautionary measures among societies. Society members who may fail to develop internal mechanisms would pay the price by having their identities and circles of influence being negatively affected by certain risks. But this does not mean that there all society members would be safe from risks; some, especially the poor ones would be affected. It is in this regard that Furedi calls for the well positioned society members to aid their colleagues; institutions and governments, too, are called into taking part in helping needy groups to overcome risk challenges (Furedi 1997).

This involvement of all community members to help needy groups in the society should not lead to the establishment of new risks. Reason: parties coming to help might start raising alarm on risks arising from the poor people’s lack of solution mechanisms. This does not help at all. If anything, fear and problems associated with risks tend to increase, which makes it even harder to bring under control. The raising of alarms by institutions and governments is one fear that Furedi raises, asserting that society members become more scared, which could lead to slow adaptation of coping with risk factors.

In addition, Furedi argues that society’s preoccupation with risk leads lead to development of low expectations among the populace (Furedi 1997). This is because self confidence in developing and implementing successful mechanisms is affected. This leads to the development of paternalism, where society members start depending on the state and institutions to help in dealing risk issues. The development of paternalism does not bode well to the society, because getting too hooked may lead to the development of moral hazards. In addition, people society members might end up underusing their potential in solving problems in their lives.

This paper has presented three perspectives on the effects of risk in shaping individuals identity as well as society development. It has been established that risk factors have greater impacts on the two aspects tested, meaning that failure to protect against risk could change community and individuals lives completely. However, a question arises on the party to be responsible in developing and implementing risk reduction mechanism. The three thinkers agree that individuals should be at the forefront, but have contradicting views when it comes to institutional and state roles.


Bawman, Z 2004, Identity, CUP, Cambridge.

Furedi, F 1997, Culture of Fear. Wisely & Sons, New York.

Lupton, L 1999, Risk, Routledge, New York.

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