Literary Risk Constructions

09 February 2022 → 08 February 2026
Regional and community funding: Special Research Fund
Research disciplines
  • Humanities
    • Contemporary literature
    • Literatures in English
    • Modern literature
    • Literary studies not elsewhere classified
victorian literature sociology children's literature risk modernism literary studies contemporary literature
Project description

This project considers literature from the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries through the prism of risk, a concept currently under investigation in sociological, political and economic studies that has significant implications for the humanities. John Tulloch and Deborah Lupton argue that ‘most sociological research has done little to enquire into the ways in which people broadly conceptualise and define “risk” as a concept’. Combining literary analysis with sociological work on risk, my project is premised on the idea that literature offers hitherto unexplored evidence of how ‘lay knowledges’ of risk are constructed and perpetuated. Risk in fictional and non-fictional discourse – particularly discourse that takes marginalized or ‘othered’ groups as its focus – has historically been a means by which we attempt to reproduce hegemonic power dynamics and ideologies. As Barbara Adam et al. argue, ‘Risks have become a considerable force of political mobilisation, often replacing references to, for example, inequalities associated with class, race and gender’. Modern risk scholarship has begun to take this further, with Anna Olofsson et al. defining what they term ‘intersectional’ risk theory: risk is ‘constructed and (re)produced in power relationships […] intrinsically connected to the processes by which the norms of gender, ethnicity and class are socially, performatively and intersectionally inscribed in language, mind and bodies’. I am interested in what Olofsson et al. identify as the ‘discursive imperative’ inherent in the language of risk, which ‘offers a means to challenge accepted notions, to promote special interests and to influence behaviour to attain a specific goal, or, by extension, to bring about specific forms of social change’. The potential for risk to serve as a site of resistance, and for literature to serve as a platform for competing constructions of risk, is the main theme of this interdisciplinary project.