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Risk rituals?

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This article considers how risks are responded to through behavioral adaptations and avoidance strategies. We observe that such behavior can become totemistic and have a limited relationship to the risk it ostensibly answers to. Drawing upon examples such as recycling and original data from a study on drink-spiking avoidance, the article sets out a new concept for discussing and understanding such risk-related behavior: the 'risk ritual'. We elaborate upon this concept in the article, identifying a number of tendencies in risk rituals and drawing upon anthropological and sociological work on the nature and uses of ritual. We compare the 'risk ritual' to religious and community rituals, exploring the connections between the former and the rain dance, religious ablutions, abstinence from eating meat on a Friday, and rite of passage ceremonies. Influenced by the cultural approach to risk, we argue that risk rituals, like rituals more generally, are shaped by social conditions, currents, and processes, such as the emphasis on personal responsibility for risk management and the desire to mark out the 'sacred' and the 'profane'. The article concludes that ritualistic risk behavior is better viewed as functional rather than irrational.
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Keywords: risk function; risk rationality; risk rituals

Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: 1: Centre for Criminology and Sociology, Royal Holloway, University of London, London, UK 2: School of Social Policy, Sociology and Social Research (SPSSR), University of Kent, Canterbury, UK

Publication date: 2011-01-01

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