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At its simplest, risk refers to the possibility (not the certainty) of an adverse outcome. Yet despite its inherent reference to adverse possibilities, the theoretical significance of risk has—at least until recently—been chiefly positive. Based initially upon the observation of certain regularities in games of chance, risk denotes a means of organizing uncertainty about the future. Risk in this sense has been a key technique for modern economies and societies. Peter Bernstein explained that with risk was discovered the “ability to define what may happen in the future and to choose between alternatives” (1996: 2). The capacity to manage risk enables choice and is energizing. It brings the appetite for and the freedom to take risks.

More pessimistic sociological uses of risk have emerged in recent ...

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