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UCL Institute for Risk & Disaster Reduction

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Risk, Power and Uncertainty

Module Tutor: Dr Allen Abramson

Module: 15 credits

Department: Anthropology

This course sets out to explore risk, power and uncertainty. Why so? Because, increasingly, late modern settings come to be specified and evaluated in terms of the hazards, risks and uncertainties they appear to generate: more so, perhaps, than the inequities, oppressions and alienations that formerly characterised the social analysis of modern malaise. The extent of this shift; the reasons for it; the place of power in its operation; its socio-cultural (and indeed, cosmological) implications are all matters of controversy that need to be rigorously examined.

The course begins with a brief survey of pre-modern notions of fate, destiny and magical protection; moves onto consider key contributions in the anthropology of risk (Douglas); assesses the applicability of the concept of 'chaos' in socio-cultural anthropology; and concludes with a critical examination of the sociology of 'the risk society' (Beck) and associated ideas. The second part of the course tackles a series of special issues chosen from areas of science, environment, medicine, politics, marginality, material culture, art, finance, gambling and extreme play. It is intended that the course will link together social, biological and material cultural trends in contemporary anthropology.