Trust, Risk and Identity

  • Simon Thompson


When do people feel confident enough to take risks? When, by contrast, do they seek security instead? Of course, no one can avoid all risks all of the time. On the contrary: Ulrich Beck’s (1992) idea of a ‘risk society’ suggests that the encounter with risk, and in particular the reflexive evaluation of that risk, are unavoidable in contemporary society. Choosing to travel by car rather than by train, to eat a high-protein diet rather than a high-fibre diet, to work in an office rather than in a factory, are decisions in which risk must be considered and confronted. But while it may not be possible to avoid risk tout court, it is nevertheless possible to embrace certain sorts of risk with more or less enthusiasm. Here I am particularly interested in a sub-set of risks that I shall call ‘risks with identity’ or ‘identity-risks’. These are risks that people may take with the course and style of their life as a whole, risks that are closely bound up with their sense of identity. In this chapter I shall focus on the argument that different attitudes to risk can be correlated with different attitudes to identity. According to this argument, those happy to take risks are also those who value autonomy, wanting to live their lives in the manner of their own choosing. By contrast, those who wish to avoid risk will seek the security of community, wanting to identify themselves with a greater whole and to follow unreflectively its rules and norms.


Psychological Harm Risk Society Basic Trust Individual Psychology Ethical Community 
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© Simon Thompson 2005

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  • Simon Thompson

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