Special Topics in Public Organization & Administration Risk: Politics, Regulation, & Governance

Course Description

Risk has become an increasingly central topic in the study and practice of contemporary politics and administration. From disputes over the “precautionary principle” to debates about “systemic risk,” risk has become an organizing concept that governs the relationship between state and society.  The course will be organized around an analysis of the politics, regulation, and governance of risk.  The first part of the course investigates how risk shapes politics and vice versa.  We will begin with a consideration of Ulrich Beck’s argument that contemporary society is defined by its attitude toward risk.  We will then consider how experts, the media, and interest groups “socially construct” risks and how society perceives and responds to these social constructions. The second part of the course will explore the topic of risk regulation.  Governments regulate risks that touch nearly every aspect of our lives, from food safety, to financial security, to air travel. Risk regulation is often contentious, with debate focused on the science behind risk assessment and on the costs, benefits, and stringency of regulation.  This section of the course will investigate the organization and implementation of risk regulation in light of these disputes.   The third part of the course investigates risk governance.  Pandemics, natural disasters, electrical blackouts, and terrorist attacks are rare and surprising events. When they occur, governments must be prepared to mitigate harms and restore systems. This section of the course investigates how governments prepare for and manage these risks, often in close cooperation with non-profit and private sectors.


The major course requirement is a research paper on the politics, regulation, or governance of a specific type of risk.