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The ethics and politics of uncertainty. Dr Chris Groves The “Risk Society”. Complex processes; interconnectedness; unintended consequences Become the stuff of everyday concerns. Playmobil Hazardous Materials Team . Playmobil Security Check Point .

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the ethics and politics of uncertainty
The ethics and politics of uncertainty

Dr Chris Groves

the risk society
The “Risk Society”

Complex processes; interconnectedness; unintended consequences

Become the stuff of everyday concerns

Playmobil Hazardous Materials Team

Playmobil Security Check Point

attachment and expectations
Attachment and Expectations

[…] the anxieties of change centred upon the struggle to defend or recover a meaningful pattern of relationships… It seemed to me that the concept of grieving could be applied to many situations of change which we would not ordinarily think of as bereavement…

We do not, as some sociological accounts seem to suggest, passively absorb the values of society. We each create our own meaning out of a unique experience of attachment which is also recognizably the product of a culture.

Peter Marris, 1974. Loss and Change, London: Routledge and Kegan Paul, p. 1.

Peter Marris, 1991. “The social construction of uncertainty”, in Attachment across the life cycle, p. 88.

spreading attachments
Spreading attachments

Whenever men and women are inspired to find a great personal meaning in generalized, abstract ideals of patriotism or revolutionary struggle, religious duty or dedication to a community, they characteristically personify the relationship in the language of attachments

Peter Marris, 1996. The politics of uncertainty, London: Routledge, p. 52..

how do we go on
“How do we go on?”

This constructed world of predictable relationships is the context of our actions. But it is subject to constant revision, and always more or less vulnerable to loss, self-doubts, experiences which make no sense to us. Then we no longer know what to do. [Uncertainty in this sense] is very different from risk, where risks can be calculated, because we may know very well how to act in the face of risks which are calculable or familiar.

Marris, The politics of uncertainty., p. 4.

  • Impact of
  • subjective uncertainty
    • (the breaking
    • of attachments)
  • Impact of
  • objective uncertainty
    • (the indeterminacy
    • of the
    • future)

The reciprocal management of uncertainty has to begin with the situation of the most marginal and excluded, not only because they suffer most, but because their situation reveals most comprehensively the whole chain of interactions through which the competitive struggle for autonomy of control is displacing the burden of uncertainty from stronger to weaker

Marris, The politics of uncertainty. p. 151.


Those who have already lost their jobs have, on average, spent over a year searching for other employment, and have ended up only earning three-quarters of their former wage. Many have used up all their savings, been forced to sell their homes, or forced to abandon ambitions for their children’s education. The stress of greater insecurity is reflected in broken marriages, heart disease, alcoholism, child abuse and a pervasive undermining of self respect.

Marris, The politics of uncertainty. London: Routledge, pp. 96-7.


By resignation, by living only for the moment, by other-worldliness or incantations of invulnerability, a psychological space can be protected in which some sense of agency can survive. But such defences, which may be provoked in any situation of unbearable uncertainty, tend to compound the inequalities of power, the social prejudices and instability from which the uncertainty arose.

Marris, The politics of uncertainty. p. 105.

south wales gas pipeline1
South Wales Gas Pipeline

Although plans for a small handful of above-ground installations have had to face the usual local planning procedures, most of the route for the pipeline was secured via Whitehall diktat and compulsory purchase orders, so any public consultation was minimal, and the project as a whole, it can be argued, was never subject to any meaningful debate

John Harris, “How Green was my Valley”,

The Guardian, 2 April 2007


Sense of community has eroded, people don't want to trust, they're too…independent, looking after themselves, The whole confusion about…it's a perfect structure for further issues like this pipeline to come in, because we've allowed it to happen.


…If someone is doing something bad to your area, you go to your councillor and your councillor'll fight for you. Well what we found and what everyone in this village knows - because we sat in those planning meetings - is that they will manipulate to destroy you, literally to destroy you, it's like we're rabbits in a burrow and if you pop your head out of the burrow somebody'll shoot your head off, so stay down there. It's as simple as that.




[…] there’s a bomb in the back garden…

[…] We've got nothing, we're a very, very quiet area, and we've never had anything. The only thing we've ever had is the fact that we're rural, that you can walk outside your door and you're in country you're in total country, and now that’s gone

[…] people who had faith in the judicial system, if you talk to them now, they'll say they have no confidence in British justice any more, because they've taken it to court, expecting to have a fair hearing, and people have virtually lost their homes and that over this business. And that dents people's confidence in for want of a better word the system. People who have thought it was there for them have come to realise that it's not.



The conflict between incompatible meanings cannot be resolved simply by producing evidence, not because evidence is irrelevant, but because its relevance can only be determined by the meanings themselves . . . Annihilating the meanings of others in the interests of truth is a form of killing.

Marris, The politics of uncertainty, p. 31.