Notions of risk have become central to contemporary forms of governmentality and been the subject of extensive research and theorizing over the past decade. Much scholarship on risk has focused on the late nineteenth century displacement of ideas of individual responsibility and fault by methods of cost distribution, such as workmen’s compensation schemes, that would distribute the burden of accidents and risk more evenly throughout society without paying close attention to the attribution of blame. After the mid-twentieth century, thought regarding risk and insurance began to reimagine individual responsibility by using risk calculations and prediction to determine individual outcomes and responsibilize lower-level employees and actors. Expert forms of knowledge concerning individual risk (medical, juridical, scientific, psychiatric, carceral) are institutionalized as a way to assuage popular insecurities and, by the turn of the century, we see notions of risk beginning to be usurped by principles of precaution, cultures of safety, and other techniques to address uncertainty.
These developments represented different reactions, at different periods, to groundswells of social insecurity and fear of uncertainty. They emerge alongside a proliferation of predictive technologies whose actuarial compass has included increasingly precise methods of measurement and future-inflected statistical prognostication. But, even as technicist modes of knowing and deciding expand to saturate every aspect of individual life, popular anxieties have, by and large, not been soothed by these developments. Quite the contrary, post 9/11 there appears to be growing risk consciousness, reflected by anxieties concerning the twin specters of social disorder and individual precarcity that loom large on a daily basis.
The purpose of this symposium is to explore the future of these categories of risk, uncertainty, measurement, and prediction. Will these concepts continue to be organizing principles for forms of governmentality or will they be replaced by other categories and techniques? How might we understand the impulsion towards ever-more secure modes of knowing, risk-reduction, and certainty at a moment when risk-taking, contingency and uncertainty fuel both the ideological and economic rationale of the neoliberal present? To address these questions, this symposium will bring practitioners from the field of insurance, law and risk-management into conversation with a multi-disciplinary group of scholars and students from the University of Chicago. Rather than focusing on the contradictory co-implication of these divinatory logics, this symposium will attempt to grapple with their precondition: belief in the certainty of knowledge and in the crystallization of truth forms.
François Ewald is Professor of Insurance at the Conservatoire National des Arts et Métiers (Paris) and Director of the Ecole nationale d’assurances (Paris). He chairs the Precautionary Principle Observatory and the scientific council of the Fondation pour l’innovation politique (Paris) and he is a Fellow of the French Technological Academy. His research interests are in the fields of risk and the philosophy of risk, and his publications include L’Etat providence (1986), Le Principe de precaution (2001, 2008).