From preparedness to risk: from the singular risk of nuclear war to the plurality of all hazards

Guggenheim, Michael and Deville, Joe. 2018. From preparedness to risk: from the singular risk of nuclear war to the plurality of all hazards. British Journal of Sociology, 69(3), pp. 799-824. ISSN 0007-1315 [Article]

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Abstract or Description

Debates on risk have largely assumed risk to be the outcome of calculative practices. There is a related assumption that risk objects come only in one form, and that the reason not everything can be transformed into a risk is because of the difficulties in calculating and creating universal quantitative comparisons. In this article, building on recent studies of preparedness that have broadened understandings of risk, we provide an analysis of how preparedness measures might themselves produce risk, in particular through risk’s durable instantiation, or what we call ‘concretisation’. Our empirical focus is on how government agencies in two countries shifted their attention from the risk of nuclear attack during the Cold War to an all hazards approach to preparedness. Comparing the mid- to late-twentieth century histories of the UK and Switzerland, we show that both countries shifted from focusing from a single risk to plural risks. This shift cannot be explained by a change in prevailing calculative practices, or by the fact that the risks changed historically. Instead, it is driven by historically specific changes in how risks are produced and reproduced in relation to how materialisations of risk operate over time.

Item Type:


Identification Number (DOI):


Risk, nuclear war, all hazards, comparison, disaster, calculation

Departments, Centres and Research Units:

Sociology > Centre for Invention and Social Process (CISP) [2016-]


20 March 2017Accepted
17 August 2017Published Online
21 October 2018Published

Item ID:


Date Deposited:

21 Mar 2017 10:35

Last Modified:

29 Apr 2020 16:25

Peer Reviewed:

Yes, this version has been peer-reviewed.


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