Tensions at the front line of risk work: implications for policy and practice

A BSA Risk and Society Study Group Event

9–10 December 2019
BSA London Meeting Room, Imperial Wharf, London, UK

About the Event

Keynote speakers:

  • Dr. Patrick Brown, University of Amsterdam
  • Dr. Nicola Gale, University of Birmingham
  • Dr. Jens Zinn, University of Melbourne

The term ‘risk work’ describes the labour required to manage the uncertainties many professionals encounter when working in risk-orientated policy contexts. This type of work takes place in both private and public sector organisations, where particular interpretations of rules and guidance shape how the work ‘gets done’ (Brown and Gale, 2018). When working in so-called client-facing contexts, workers must interpret generic, risk-orientated policies and protocols, and then apply these to individuals – and vice versa.

When exploring the practicalities involved in risk work, tensions between the values underpinning various professions and requirements to perform individual risk assessments come to the fore. Topics that are particularly relevant here include how responses to uncertainty other than risk (such as hope, trust and intuition) are used by professionals and how this impacts on (and is navigated by) the people they work with; the moral nature of working with, for example, people living in poverty and the ways in which professionals respond to this aspect of risk work; and the extent to which risk work is constructed through interactions between professionals/para-professionals and the different groups they work with.

Questions related to risk work include: what is the level of risk work carried out and by whom? Who is held accountable for decision-making? How does power operate within and between different occupational groups and organisational structures? How does policy shape practice in these contexts, and what are the unintended consequences when risk dominates formal/institutional approaches to uncertainty? These questions could be explored in relation to, for example, health and social care, where professionals are often described as being at the ‘frontline’ when their day-to-day practice involves face-to-face work with certain groups. This includes children and their families and adults experiencing mental health problems. Practitioners engaged in this type of risk work include GPs, nurses, social workers, community health workers and those who work alongside them.

Call for Papers

This is a two-day conference intended to foster discussion about risk work as a relatively new focus in the general risk and uncertainty field. We aim to encourage thinking in this UK forum to connect to wider discussions at the European and wider international level. This will be a small, participative event that we hope will encourage an environment where we can really think issues through and develop ideas for collaborative future study.

We would particularly welcome the following:

  • Papers that present original work, and/or combine empirical research with conceptual debates.
  • Papers that focus on organisational and institutional factors influencing risk work.
  • Papers that explore how professionals manage short-term risks and longer-term relations with the people they work with.
  • Papers that address various different logics, rationales, or ‘forms of knowing’ involved in the handling of uncertainty.

We are keen to consider possible outlets for a publication of papers based on those presented at this conference. This will be discussed during the event.

Please submit an abstract of no more than 250 words by email to the study group convenors - Gemma Mitchell and Jo Warner by midnight (GMT) on Friday, 20 September 2019. We will advise you if your submission has been successful by Friday, 4 October 2019. Presentations will be 15 minutes long with additional time for questions.

The event will also offer opportunities for more general discussion about the study group’s aims and objectives as well as how to connect researchers working on risk and uncertainty in different fields across the UK and beyond.

Key Dates and Times

  • Registration Opens - 14 August 2019
  • Abstract Submission Deadline - Midnight (GMT) 20 September 2019
  • Registration Closes - 2 December 2019
  • Day 1 - 9 December (11am–4pm)
  • Day 2 - 10 December (10am–3pm)

Registration Fees

Your registration fee includes lunch.

  • BSA Members: £30
  • Non-Member: £40

Useful Information

Venue Details: BSA Meeting Room, Suite 2, 2 Station Court, Imperial Wharf, Townmead Road, Fulham, London SW6 2PY. 

Accommodation: The venue is located in central London. Options include:

If you would like more information, or would like to attend the conference without submitting a paper, please contact Gemma or Jo.