Chapter 9: Corporations, class and the normalization of risk
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The language of risk permeates academic, political, economic and cultural discussions of virtually every event in modern capitalist societies. Public policies and private sector innovations are conceptualized and understood through risk discourse – what is the risk of an oil spill from a pipeline vs. transportation by rail or tanker truck, are we at greater risk of catching colds if we avoid crowds or stop kissing people, what is the risk of a terrorist attack in a particular city? The result has been a tendency by analysts to present "riskiness" as universally distributed and experienced, with minimal attention to the vast differences in the ability of differently situated individuals, institutions and social classes to generate and protect themselves from risks. In this chapter we examine the "science of risk" and unpack the complex relationship between risk, class and inequality. The chapter begins with an etymology of the concept of risk, exploring its origins, its champions and the technological, cultural, political and economic developments that facilitated its domination. Then we examine the role of the global multinational corporation, surely the major generator of risks and its major beneficiary, and argue that the corporation has become the primary mechanism for the (re)production of class relations and resulting inequalities. We use neo-Marxism and empirical analyses of financial crime and workplace health and safety to demonstrate that class relations have been deepened and extended on a global scale in ways that validate and normalize the risk-taking of transnational corporations. We conclude with thoughts on how the science of risk can benefit from an inclusion of a more relational understanding of class.

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