SoRU (Sociology of Risk and Uncertainty)

Risk is pervasive. In the last 20 years the concept has expanded into a huge number of societal domains. The original focus on technical and environmental risks widened to areas such as health and physical/mental illness, crime, regulation, social inequality, the media, public and social policy, lifestyle, globalisation and global risk as well as the management of everyday life and intimate relationships. Since the diversity of riskdomains is neither covered by technical or psychological approaches nor by the research on catastrophes a wider societal perspective on risk and uncertainty is needed.
The central aims of the SoRU initiative are to establish a sustainable discourse on the sociology of risk and uncertainty in order to support and trigger new theoretical and empirical developments in (trans-) national research.
The research network goes beyond the traditional approaches on risk perception, risk communication and sociology of catastrophes or disasters with a societal perspective on risk and uncertainty referring to theoretical traditions of cultural theory (Douglas, Tulloch/Lupton), risk society and reflexive modernization (Beck, Giddens), governmentality (Foucault, Rose, Dean, O’Malley), systems theory (Luhmann, Japp), edgework (Lyng) and actor network theory (Latour, Law, Callon). It will initiate theoretical discussion and research in and across different approaches as well as between disciplines, and will encourage and support new and recent developments in theorizing and research.
Further initiatives are welcome. If you would like to become a member of the SoRU-network please do not hesitate to contact one of the regional network coordinators (ESA, ISA, TASA) or SoRU directly.

Key principles of the SoRU networks include the following:

  • Shifting from doing research on ‘risk’ to the tension between ‘risk and uncertainty’.
  • Broadening of the perspective from risk as rational management of uncertainty to pre-rational and non-rational strategies to manage uncertainties and mixed forms as trust, emotion, intuition etc.
  • Biographical (un-)certainty in addition to the everyday life perspectives.
  • Strategies of social resilience and risk governance.
  • Risk and the problems to verbalise embodied experiences (suffering, anxiety etc.).
  • Narrative and biographical approaches to risk research.
  • Development of cross-disciplinary links, particularly with psychology, political science and social policy
  • Comparative cross-national research on risk cultures/regimes in different societies

… and more, this list is by no means exhaustive …


The SoRU initiative was developed in 2005 as part of the interdisciplinary work in the ESRC ‘Social Contexts and Responses to Risk’ priority network (SCARR, 2003-2008) led by Prof. Peter Taylor-Gooby. In 2004 Jens Zinn prepared with the support of a number of enthusiastic colleagues two proposals for founding research networks on the Sociology of Risk and Uncertainty, one to the European Sociological Association (ESA) and one to the International Sociological Association (ISA). In 2005 the Research Network 22 within ESA and in 2006 the Thematic Group 04 within ISA had been confirmed and started to work. A central website was established, research streams within the major conferences of ESA and ISA were organised and started to attract usually more than 100 abstracts.
In 2009 another SoRU group ‘Risk Societies’ has been established within the Australian Sociological Association (TASA) by Jens Zinn and Alphia Possamai-Inesedy.
That same year Patrick Brown took over the lead of RN22 and a group of experts from Mid Sweden University – Anna Olofsson, Susanna Öhman and Jörgen Sparf – became more active. Jörgen developed a new enhanced website and the group organised a first Mid-Term Conference for RN22 in 2011 at Mid Sweden University, campus Östersund.
The success and development of the SoRU initiative and the regional networks very much depend on the voluntary contributions of scholars all over the world. We welcome anyone who would like to contribute and help to develop this initiative further.