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Class or Individual? A Test of the Nature of Risk Perceptions and the Individualisation Thesis of Risk Society Theory

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The theory of risk society claims that 'individualisation' has led social class positions to loose their significance in explaining risk and risk perceptions in late modernity. Using social survey data from England, this proposition was put to an empirical test for three types of risks: income loss, accident or illness, and poor customer service or advice. Regression analyses revealed that class position only affected perceptions of the risk of income loss, whereas the risks of accidents or illness and of poor customer service or advice were strongly shaped by welfare and value orientations. While other indicators of individualisation derived from the data failed to explain variations in risk perceptions, the strongest effect on current risk perceptions was the experience of risk events in the past, and awareness of and drawing on support systems. The findings demonstrate the need for risk theory to differentiate between types of risks and to draw out more clearly their sociological contexts in order to grasp fully the nature of perceptions of risk prevailing in late modern society.

Keywords: Risk society; class; individualisation; risk perceptions

Document Type: Research Article


Affiliations: National Centre for Social Research, London, UK

Publication date: 2007-03-01

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