Digital Risk Society
Chapter for The Routledge Handbook of Risk Studies (2016), edited by Adam Burgess, Alberto Alemanno and Jens Zinn. London: Routledge, pp 301-309, Forthcoming
11 Pages Posted: 21 Oct 2014 Last revised: 6 Jan 2016
Date Written: October 19, 2014
This chapter examines the phenomenon of risk as it is mediated and remediated via digital technologies. As social life and social institutions have become experienced and managed via novels forms of digital technologies, and as both public and personal spaces as well as human bodies have become increasingly monitored by digital surveillance devices and sensors, a new field of risk inquiry has opened up in response to what might be termed ‘digital risk society’. The intersections between risk and digital technologies operate in several ways. First, the phenomena and individuals that are identified as ‘risks’ or ‘risky’ are increasingly configured and reproduced via digital media, devices and software. These technologies act not as only as mediators of risk but frequently are the source of new concepts of risk. Second, various uses of digital technologies are often presented as posing risks to users. These two aspects of digital risk society may be glossed as ‘digitising risk’ and ‘the risks of digital technology use’ respectively. In a third major dimension, members of some social groups are positioned in the literature on the ‘digital divide’ as at risk of disadvantage in relation to communication, education, information or better employment opportunities because they lack access to or interest or skills in using online technologies. This aspect of digital risk society may be characterised as ‘digital social inequality risks’. The three dimensions of digital risk society require new sources of theorising risk that are able to understand and elucidate the ways in which digitisation and risk intersect to create risk representations, mentalities and practices. This chapter addresses each one of these major dimensions in turn. Before doing so, however, it is important to introduce some of these perspectives that may be productively employed to theorise digital risk society. This involves moving away from the perspectives that traditionally have dominated risk sociology and embracing the ideas of writers in such fields as digital sociology, internet studies, new media and communication and surveillance studies.
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