Steering through the Neighbourhood: Towards an Advanced Liberal Risk Society?

Research project
Inactive research
Project size
3 336 000
Project period
2009 - 2012
Project owner
Department of Sociology and Work Science


Short description

The aim of this study is to probe governmental strategies and practices of risk and sustainability in Nordic cities, in order to test the sociological hypothesis claiming that we now live in an ‘advanced liberal’ democracy where people are governed in the name of freedom. How are we constituted as governable subjects in the age of risk? While an opposition between freedom and rule often structures contemporary politics, the problem of government generally focused upon in this project is how the will to govern is systemically connected with the practice of freedom.

In order to be governed and acted upon, actors have to be specified as responsible and autonomous subjects; to make use of their freedom, actors have to be made governable. By way of discourse analysis – employing multi-sited ethnographic observations, interviews, and archive studies – the intention of the project is to study existing governmental risk strategies in action, on the streets and in the neighbourhoods of three Scandinavian cities (Gothenburg, Copenhagen, and Oslo). In addition to this general question, the project is designed to answer the following sociological ‘how’ questions: how we come to know about and act upon different conceptions of risk; how such conceptions are linked to particular practices and technologies; how such practices and technologies give rise to new forms of social and political identity; and how such risk rationalities, technologies, and identities become latched onto different political programs.

While contemporary research indicates that we look toward hazardous consequences of global climate change, the climate and the processes of the atmosphere do not appear easy to govern. Similarly, while epidemiological and toxicological research indicates that air pollution has a major impact on public health, to govern the breathing habits of human beings clearly looks like a mission impossible. Nevertheless, in the age of world risk society, when sustainable development and ecological modernization have become influential governmental rationalities, the ungovernable must be made governable.

Knowledge of how governability is constituted is thus of essential importance for the development of a sustainable society, and this is exactly what the present project will offer. The problem is that the governability of ‘risky’ domains seems to be established through rather complex social and epistemic chains of translation and sets of connections. In order to take the helm and navigate in this terrain, thorough, site-specific, and critical sociological investigations of governmental strategies in action are called for. In providing a critical examination of current governmental strategies of risk and sustainability in Nordic cities, this project offers the political possibility of fine-tuning the navigational instruments and, if necessary, re-plotting the common course towards more sustainable ways of urban life.