The construction of risk
: how 'actors' construct the concept of 'risk' in practice in a Brazilian development bank

    Student thesis: Doctoral Thesis


    The ‘technology’ of risk structures social relationships within and outside of organisations, even though risk tends to be perceived externally as objective, neutral and apolitical. In adopting a poststructuralist perspective, this research investigates the impact of ‘calculating’ risk and how cultural, economic, social, psychological and political aspects influence the concept of risk and risk management practices. Hence, it provides a contextualized understanding of how risk and risk management are constructed intra-organisationally.
    This is a study of risk based on immersion. After six months of critical ethnographic fieldwork in a Brazilian development bank, called BrazBank, and applying the Discourse Theory of Laclau and Mouffe as well as the Logic of Critical Explanation of Glynos and Howarth, this research contextualises and challenges the universal logic of the discourse of ‘risk’, from a regulatory point of view.
    This research links macro- and micro-discourses of risk to reveal its ‘hidden power’ and to provide a glimpse into the fundamental contingencies in this discourse of control. It considers that the potential multiple interpretations of risk allows the construction of a hegemonic discourse, with boundaries that constitute and subvert certain claims in a rhetorical historic (re-)articulation of power. By doing so, it exposes how a technology that was supposed to simplify and enable, creates miscommunication in an organisation.
    ‘Risk’ became a battleground as controlling the understanding of risk, meant control of the organisation. Therefore, reflecting shifts in the international macro-context of risk regulation, the power of risk shifted between departments and their managers over political mandates and empowered and constructed experts and non-experts. This research illustrates different articulations of risk in the BrazBank context, how different individuals and groups developed competing interpellations of risk and, by examining the role of ideology, how and why certain conceptions of risk management practice were conserved, even as an illusion or secret, to maintain hierarchical positions and power imbalances.
    Date of Award28 Feb 2017
    Original languageEnglish
    Awarding Institution
    • University of Roehampton
    SupervisorMolly Scott Cato (Supervisor) & David Carter (Supervisor)


    • Risk Management, Post-structuralism, Laclau, Ethnography, Accounting

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