Concordia University Risk Research Working Group

Risk Research Working Group Image

Risk seems to be omnipresent in contemporary everyday life. From the moment we wake up to the moment we go to sleep (and even when we are asleep!) we may be engaged in some form of risk-taking or risk-management. What to wear, what to eat, who to befriend, what to watch on-line, how much to wager on that game, how fast to drive, how long to put off that assignment, how to feel, how much to drink at the pub—in all of these decisions we may make more or less conscious calculations about the kinds of risk we will take, and their consequences for us down the line. Sometimes we may be oblivious to the apparent risks we face in our daily lives. We may not think twice before jumping on our bikes without wearing a helmet, or basking in the sun without a hat. Equally, we may develop an inflated sense of the risks that surround us—we may be anxious about flying for example, when statistical data tell us that it is much less risky than driving.

Risks also abound beyond our individual orbits. Organizations expend considerable energy to try to know and off-set risks. National governments, for example, attempt to risk-manage the economy by tweaking macro-economic levers. Cities zone areas according to whether they might be at risk of flooding, or fire, or other calamities. Some companies downplay risks associated with their products (think of tobacco companies, for instance). Others have a vested interest in amplifying the collective worry over this or that risk (think of media companies vying for audience attention, and insurance companies seeking to insure us against increasing numbers of uncertainties).

Starting with the formation of the CISSC Risk Research Working Group in 2015, scholars from across the disciplines of anthropology, applied human sciences, geography and sociology, as well as the fine arts, have turned their attention on studying and theorizing risk, and transformed it into one of the most dynamic areas of cross-disciplinary inquiry at Concordia.

Key Questions

  • How do perceptions of risk (material, symbolic, and emotional) shape cultural production practices, relations, and outcomes?
  • How do nonhuman beings figure in calculations of risk, both as “risky subjects” and subjects of risk?
  • How best to deconstruct the risks of discriminating environments (be they racist, sexist, abelist, or discriminatory in other ways)? How best to understand the objective risks such environments pose for people, and the equally important (but different) qualitative experience of this risk?
  • How do organizations manage risk in the context of their everyday operations, and what consequences (intended and unintended) flow from these risk-management efforts?
  • How is risk commodified and rendered calculable in economic terms (for instance, in the insurance industry) and what effects does such calculability have on both the social structure of risk and our individual experiences of it?
  • How is risk assessed and quantified in health research, health care, and public health systems, and what effects do those systems have on the governmentality of lifestyles, on our understandings of health and illness, and on our individual experience of wellbeing?
  • What does risk mean when one smokes, uses drugs, bikes without a helmet, has sex without protection, etc? To what extent is risk an intellectual abstraction, a challenge to transgress the imperatives of health and wellbeing, or something else?

Group Members

Valérie de Courville Nicol – Professor, Sociology and Anthropology

Valérie is a sociologist who examines the social processes by which collective fears and desires come into being, with a focus on processes of emotional socialization, forms of emotion management, popular forms of literature on moral and emotional danger, and psychological and other therapeutic discourses and practices pertaining to emotional health. She is interested in what is socially construed as emotional risk, in how emotional risk is collectively experienced, in what affective signs are attached to emotional risk, and in how emotional risk orients individual and collective action through its association with particular capacities and solutions.

Mark Doerksen—PhD, Sociology and Anthropology

Mark’s research examines how perceptions and practises of institutional risk reduction conflict with the cultural practises of individuals. More specifically, he is interested in how medical and related regulations affect engagement with black and grey markets within the body modification scene.

Gilbert Émond—Associate Professor, Applied Human Sciences

Gilbert’s research program takes up phenomena of risk in several ways. HIV prevention and homophobia are the central topics, and his basic thinking frameworks are human systems and people interaction, looking for some conciliation of micro actions with macro complex structuration of action and practices. This approach recognizes that, while objective risks may be present in the space where people act, risk taking is not equal for everyone. As an example, a person takes some risk when he climbs mountains, but his training helps him to reduce this level of risk taking. In contrast, for a person with no training, mountain climbing represents a significantly more risky activity than it does for a person with training. However, suppose both climbers are in Nepal or a geologic zone. They, along with all other people in this place, face an objective risk of being affected by an earthquake. How they cope with this risk may be different and depends on a variety of complex factors. This example suggests that objective risks are also relative risks. Risk prevention has to be adapted to the person and the condition of their own experience in the milieu they act in. It is this relativity, and its complex grounds, that interest Gilbert in relation to domains like HIV, homophobia and sexual diversity issues.

Martin French—Associate Professor, Sociology and Anthropology

Martin’s research examines the social dimensions of technology with an empirical focus on communications & information technology and the risks they help to mitigate or aggravate. He is particularly interested in how organizations use surveillance technologies to know and manage the risks they face, and in the potentiality of these technologies to generate unanticipated risks.

Alisan Funk—MA Student, INDI Program

Alisan is a Montreal circus coach, performer, creator and director currently pursuing an Independent Master’s degree researching the intersection of Circus and Higher Education. She is a research assistant on multiple projects with the National Circus School examining technical and creative aspects of circus training, as well as pursuing her own research regarding the international trajectories, philosophies and manifestations of circus education.

Marilou Gagnon—Associate Professor, School of Nursing, Faculty of Human and Social Development, University of Victoria & Visiting Scholar (2015-2016), Sociology & Anthropology, Concordia University

Marilou’s work is underpinned by critical and sociopolitical approaches. Her fields of study include questions related to the body and technology (including biotechnologies, surveillance technologies and diagnostics), power and discourse, and sociopolitical dimensions of nursing practice and health care more generally. As a member of the University Chair in Forensic Nursing, she has been involved in a number of projects on HIV criminalization, HIV-related stigma, and human rights.

Marcelo Garcia—The Oswaldo Cruz Foundation (Fiocruz) & Visiting Scholar (2018-2019), Sociology & Anthropology, Concordia University
Marcelo is a journalist with a master’s degree in communication and health information from The Oswaldo Cruz Foundation (Fiocruz). His research in the area of communication and health focuses on the study of social networks, especially the circulation of information and rumors, the process of mediatization in human relations, discursive aspects of online communication and the issue of risk associated with science in the postmodernity. His recent interest is the circulation of rumors and fake news related to epidemic disease, especially zika and of yellow fever in Brazil.
Mark Gaspar—PhD, Centre for Interdisciplinary Studies in Society and Culture

Mark is a Humanities PhD with a principal focus in sociology. Mark’s work draws on social and cultural theory on risk, as well as the sociology of knowledge, health and illness and sexuality to compare research production on gay men and HIV prevention, with the lived experiences of young HIV negative gay men who have been at risk for HIV. His work examines how these young gay men manage the uncertainties related to HIV prevention, why some gay men manage these uncertainties with more ease than others, and how risk tolerance becomes a core facet of subject formation and self-identity.

Fergus Gleeson—MA Student, Sociology and Anthropology

Fergus’s research explores the socio-economic impact of public international law and how it manifests itself in international trade and investment agreements, with a particular emphasis on Investor-State Dispute Settlements. In particular, he focuses on how the accumulation of capital is facilitated by the displacement of risk and responsibility, especially in the realms of finance and ecology. Using the fundamental concepts of systems theory and cybernetics to examine these patterns of regulation and governance, he is interested in furthering interdisciplinary research methods to highlight the techniques used to enable this displacement.

Kregg Hetherington—Associate Professor, Sociology and Anthropology

Kregg is a political anthropologist specialized in environmental conflict, economic regulation, the bureaucratic state and international development in Latin America. He has written about the way that development regimes seek to commodify uncertainty as a way of improving market efficiency, using risk as an idiom for depoliticizing environmental and social conflict. He is interested in the legal and digital infrastructures necessary for making such phenomena calculable in the first place.

Lucian Ivanov—MA, Sociology and Anthropology

Lucian’s research interests are focused around how individuals managed the created risks caused by surveillance practices in the Eastern European Block. He is interested in gathering and synthesising data under the umbrella of the term surveillance (such as cultural surveillance), data that otherwise is organised and thought of in different terms, in post-communist countries.

Jochen Jaeger—Associate Professor, Geography, Planning & Environment    

Jochen is a geographer whose research crosses the fields of landscape ecology, road ecology, the quantification and assessment of landscape structure and landscape change, land consumption, ecological monitoring, and environmental impact assessment (EIA). Regarding the topic of risk, he is interested in the disclosure, communication, and consideration of uncertainties (and/or risks) in environmental decision-making and in risk-avoidance behaviour, e.g., in EIA.

Sylvia Kairouz—Associate Professor, Sociology and Anthropology

Sylvia is a social psychologist and social epidemiologist whose research focuses on comprehensive multilevel models of determinants of addictive behaviours, dependence and co morbidity, with an emphasis on the creation of (big) data sets that help to assess risk.

Ketra Schmitt—Associate Professor with the Centre for Engineering in Society in the Faculty of Engineering and Computer Science

Ketra’s research interest is in risk and policy, particularly as it relates to human and environmental health. She develops simulation models of social-technical systems and cost analysis to investigate both the implications and triggers of regulation. Her current projects involve communicable diseases and vaccine hesitancy, industrial symbiosis and radicalization.

Marc Lafrance—Associate Professor, Sociology and Anthropology

Marc is a sociologist whose research explores the phenomena of sex, gender and sexuality as they relate to issues of human identity and embodied experience. Regarding the topic of risk, Marc is currently conducting research on men and masculinity in the context of occupational health and safety while focusing primarily on high risk occupations.

Carmen Lamothe—MA, Sociology and Anthropology

Carmen’s research interests focus on critical public health and surveillance through mobile technology such as apps. She is interested in exploring how public health agencies use online and other communication technology tools to construct risk, and in turn how the users of these tools use them to attempt to mediate their own risks.

Louis Patrick Leroux—Associate Professor, joint-appointment in English and Études françaises

After studies and a career in theatre practice, Patrick became interested in discourse analysis, research-creation and the writing of the body, more specifically in contemporary circus as it has emerged in Québec and can be understood in interdisciplinary perspectives. “Risk” and “Performance” have become two fascinatingly loaded terms in the study of circus, both drawing form high performance sports training and the hybridization of many performing arts forms. Risk has come to be expected and, indeed, spectacularized in this art form. Patrick is the founding director of the Montreal Working Group on Circus Research and is (or recently has been) involved research into the Cirque du Soleil’s impact on Las Vegas and North American cultural industries; the state and conditions of reception of circus research in Québec; and, most recently, circus dramaturgy and creative process at the National Circus School of Montreal, where he is also an Associate Researcher and a guest teacher.

Leanne Letourneau—PhD Student, Centre for Interdisciplinary Studies in Society and Culture

Leanne’s research examines how the stigma of HIV/AIDS and tuberculosis (TB) is connected to the formation of risk groups, and identification of risky practices, via epidemiology and public health surveillance. She is particularly interested in the Public Health Agency of Canada’s surveillance reports on HIV/AIDS and TB, in the way that risk groups are emphasized in these reports.

Andrew Maclean—MA, Sociology and Anthropology

Andrew’s research focuses on intersections of individuals, technologies and practice, and specifically on how these transpire in digital spaces. He is currently interested in the emerging risks in online governance reflecting capitalistic imperatives and how these both enable and constrain the emergence of freedoms of speech and expression online.

Isabel Macdonald—PhD Candidate, Communication Studies

Isabel’s SSHRC-funded doctoral work seeks to assess the opportunities and challenges of an emergent visual form of humanitarian reportage known as “comics journalism”, in light of the problems scholars have long theorized in more standard visual media representations of people affected by humanitarian crises. As part of her research for her thesis, Picturing life in a camp, she is producing and illustrating an experimental “comics journalism” project drawing on interviews with people displaced by the 2010 earthquake in Haiti. Over the course of the fieldwork she conducted for this project, in a camp for Internally Displaced People (IDPs) in Port-au-Prince, she has become increasingly interested in how agencies appointed to manage populations living in such highly precarious conditions conceive of risk, as well as in the question of what kinds of risk they seek to manage. Her current research is also concerned with the question of how data on migrant populations such as those categorized as IDPs is collected and mobilized in systems of humanitarian governance as well as in media discourses.

Alexander McClelland—PhD Candidate, Centre for Interdisciplinary Studies in Society and Culture

Alexander is an academic, writer and activist who is currently working on a doctorate at the Centre for Interdisciplinary Studies in Society and Culture, Concordia University. His work focuses on the intersections of life, law and disease. He has developed a range of collaborative writing, academic, artistic and curatorial projects that cross disciplinary bounds to address issues of criminalization, sexual autonomy, drug liberation, and the construction of knowledge on HIV and AIDS. His doctoral work is examining the lives of people who have been criminally charged and/or prosecuted in relation to not disclosing their HIV-positive status to sex partners in Canada. His work is supported through a range of awards, including the Canadian Institutes of Health Research (CIHR) doctoral HIV/AIDS Community-Based Research Award.

Fenwick McKelvey—Associate Professor, Communication Studies

Fenwick’s research examines Information and Communication Technology Policy with a focus on the pragmatic and policy implications of the computational routines or algorithms embedded in communication media. He is interested in risk relations mediated by new internet routing algorithms and social media platforms. He is also studying computer modeling, simulation and big data as new techniques of govermentality.

Eva MonsonProfesseure adjointe, Faculté de médecine et des sciences de la santé, l’Université Sherbrooke
Eva’s research background includes exploration of perceived neighborhood disorder and cohesion as they relate to risk of traumatic stress exposure and PTSD. Her current work examines different types of deprivation (e.g., socioeconomic) and their relationships to gambling behavior and related harm.
Kris Murray—PhD Candidate, Sociology and Anthropology

Kris’s research involves the voluntary risk taking behaviors of individuals, the political mastication behind their actions and activities, and the ways in which they interact or intersect with commercial, legal, and institutional apparatuses.

Jessica Percy-Campbell—PhD Candidate, Political Science, University of Victoria

Jessica Percy Campbell is a PhD candidate at the University of Victoria working under the SSHRC-funded ‘Big Data Surveillance’ project with supervisor Dr. Colin Bennett. Currently, her research interests surround the future of surveillance capitalism and digital privacy. Jessica aims to work alongside privacy advocate groups to unveil the risky consequences embedded in Big Data related activities, such as the lifestyle segmentation practices of data brokerage and analytics firms.

Matthew Perks—PhD Student, Games Institute, University of Waterloo
Matthew’s research looks into the indexing of environmental behaviours in the Canadian population using the concept of eco-citizenship as a transformative solution in mitigating the risk of climate change. In addition to this, Matthew is interested in the use of Big Data and the concept of gamification as tools of surveillance but also as a tools of empowerment for individuals in the digital space.
Norma Rantisi—Professor, Geography, Planning & Environment

Norma Rantisi’s research on cultural industries examines how socio-spatial relations mediates the material and physical risks associated with  neoliberalized forms of cultural production today. Some of the fields that she is examining include apparel and circus arts.

S.Z. Reuter—Associate Professor, Sociology and Anthropology

Shelley’s most recent book, Testing Fate: Tay-Sachs Disease and the Right to Be Responsible (University of Minnesota Press, 2016), examines the racialized history of Tay-Sachs disease and what recent developments in this era of geneticization and genetic risk have come to mean for human agency. She is currently finishing a project on maternal uncertainty in reproductive decision-making, and is in the early stages of two new projects: one is on  mothers who leave their children and the other is a study of health and wellness promotion by university student health clinics.

Amy Swiffen—Associate Professor, Sociology and Anthropology   

Amy is a sociologist whose research focuses on the relationship between law and society in new legal contexts, such as human rights, international law and public health law. She is interested in social theories of risk and uncertainty, and how concepts of risk are articulated within sociological theory.

Vinicius Teixeira—MA Student, Sociology and Anthropology

Vinicius’ research is inclined to further how the concept of sousveillance can be applied to politically morphing societies. Old paradigms are at stake when independent people start displaying the truth behind the curtains of decision-makers – the associated risks are nearly immeasurable. Having a Latin background allows him to have a quite accurate grasp on societies more susceptible to these transformations and instabilities

Matthew Unger—Assistant Professor, Sociology and Anthropology

Matthew is a sociologist who’s work focusses on the intersection of the social, juridical, and political implications within aesthetic judgment. His research also entails understanding the way contemporary discourses, apparatuses and rituals of criminal accusation are informed by contextual and contingent considerations of risk.

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Guta, A. M. Gagnon, J. Mannell, and M. French. (2016). “Gendering the HIV ‘Treatment as Prevention’ Paradigm: Surveillance, Viral Loads, and Risky Bodies,” in Emily van der Meulen and Robert Heynen (eds). Expanding the Gaze: Gender and the Politics of Surveillance. Toronto: University of Toronto Press, pp. 156-184.

Gaspar, M., Grennan, T., Salit, I., and Grace, D. (2018). “Confronting comorbidity risks within HIV biographies: gay men’s integration of HPV-associated anal cancer risk into their narratives of living with HIV,” Health, Risk & Society

Pavlyuk, O.,* Noble, B.F., Blakley, J.A.E., Jaeger, J.A.G. (2017): Fragmentary provisions for uncertainty disclosure and consideration in EA legislation, regulations and guidelines and the need for improvement. Environmental Impact Assessment Review 66: 14-23.

Lees, J.,* Jaeger, J.A.G., Gunn, J.A.E., Noble, B.F. (2016): Analysis of uncertainty consideration in environmental assessment: An empirical study of Canadian EA practice. Journal of Environmental Planning and Management 59(11): 2024-2044.

Leung, W.,* Noble, B.F., Jaeger, J.A.G., Gunn, J.A.E. (2016): Disparate perceptions about uncertainty consideration and disclosure practices in environmental assessment and opportunities for improvement. Environmental Impact Assessment Review 57: 89-100.

Leung, W.*, Noble, B., Gunn, J., Jaeger, J.A.G. (2015): A review of uncertainty research in impact assessment. – Environmental Impact Assessment Review 50: 116-123.

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Risk and Rumor

Why Do We Hurt Ourselves

Punishing Disease