'Risk Rituals?'

Sarah Moore, Adam Burgess

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


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
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)111-124
JournalJournal of Risk Research
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 2011


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