1. Risk versus Safety
Risk has become one of the defining obsessions of modern society. Almost daily, we are preoccupied with assessing, discussing, or preventing a wide variety of risks. In Wikipedia, risk is defined as the potential for gaining or losing something of value. The concept is applied in many different ways and used by insurance companies or banks when assessing the monetary value of a potentially dangerous situation. But besides financial wealth, social status or emotional well-being can also be at risk.
However, risk can also be defined as the intentional interaction with uncertainty,uncertainty being a potential, unpredictable, and uncontrollable outcome and risk being the consequence of action taken in spite of uncertainty5.
Risk perception is the subjective judgment people make about the severity and likelihood of a risk, and may vary from person to person.
Gradually, our society has come to establish a dense mesh of health-and-safety regulations that support our risk aversion attitude and our need to eliminate even minor risks. These regulations are important features of a non-risk society and culture and sustain the widespread cultural values of avoiding risk and denying death. In turn, they themselves are validated and sustained by these values.6
However, this quest for a risk-free society and its many expressions might lead us to a miserable existence. Dame Judith Hackitt has argued that children suffer under an “excessively risk-averse” culture in schools, which stifles their readiness for the real world: “Overprotective parents and risk-averse teachers who do not enable children to learn to handle risk will lead to young adults who are poorly equipped to deal with the realities of the world around them, unable to discern real risk from trivia, not knowing who they can trust or believe.”7
At this point, it is helpful to consider Julian Reid’s thoughts on resilience and security and, in particular his essay on “Resilience and the Art of Living Dangerously”.8 With his argument that “living systems cannot, by definition, be secured from dangers, because their very capacity to go on living depends, fundamentally, not on their freedom from danger but on their exposure to danger” – we are introduced to a concept somehow opposed to the aim duscussed above of avoiding risks.
Exposure to danger is a constitutive process in the development of living systems, and thus their problem is not how to secure themselves from it but how to develop the resilience which enables them to absorb the perturbations, disturbances, and changes in their structure which occur in the process of their exposure to it.
The concept of resilience is utilized by the UN9 to describe the capacity whereby peoples ‘exposed to hazard’ instead of securing themselves from disasters, learn how to adapt to them. Hence, developing states must demonstrate their ‘good governance’ to the UN by proving not that they are able to secure their societies from dangers but that they have taken steps to render them resilient in their exposure to them.
In the context of Melliferopolis and the findings that led to this paper, our observations are linked to the work with honeybees in urban contexts and are hence connected with the concepts of urbanization and livelihood in cities as well as the dissociation of “nature” or the control of natural occurrences in the anthropocene. When speaking of risk and safety in this particular context, I see two predominant aspects to the issue:
First, the nature of risk, and our understanding of it, has undergone tremendous change owing to the creation of new dangers in the era of industrialization. As Ulrich Beck states, industrial society has created many new dangers of risks unknown in previous ages.10
“In the Earlier, there was no absence of risk. But these risks were natural dangers or hazards. ...But, the risks in the modern society are created by our own social development and by the development of science and technology. Sometimes, we fail to ascertain the risk involved in a particular aspect of technology. For instance, no one quite knows what risks are involved in the production of genetically modified foods.”
Secondly, an ever larger percentage of the world population lives in cities. (See UN World's urbanization prospect11). These environments are managed and controlled mostly by human rule and often tend to suffer from over-determination aiming at safety, order and control. The phenomenon has been described by Richard Sennett in Uses of Disorder12 where he argues how an excessively ordered community freezes adults into rigid attitudes that stifle personal growth. Cities fail to meet society’s needs when they are over-determined both regarding their visual forms and their social functions, leaving no opportunity to be adapted or used creatively by their citizens.
This idea can be taken further by including non-human “citizens” into the picture. With increasing urbanization, outdoor environments have become more and more shaped by the needs of human city dwellers rather than in acordance with ecological expressions or necessities. "Nature" has been subdued to anthropocentric needs; this includes management of fauna and flora to a large extent and can lead to ecological alienation13.
This increase of control results in a heigthened perception of safety and comfort for city dwellers and to the reassurance that many risks posed by uncontrolled nature can be contained. Wild animals, poisonous snakes or stinging insects, as well as unwanted vegetal growth – like dangerously pending tree branches, stinging nettles or overhanging bushes with possibly staining fruit – are becoming rare in urbanized environments.
Helsinki is a good example of this development. City surfaces are strictly managed, green areas are contained and controlled, public spaces are fenced and patrolled by security services with the aim of avoiding unexpected situations and thereby of increasing safety.
When Melliferopolis started its activities in 2012, the urban beekeeping boom had not yet reached the cities of the North. At that time in Helsinki, only a few other hives had been installed and they were on rooftops, in private gardens and other publicly rather inaccessible areas.
When introducing beehives in public urban places that are not secured by fences or warning signs, the concept of safety is challenged. Since bees do not belong to the class of animals that we consider as pets (we would not think of watching TV with them and they cannot be entirely managed) a sort of wilderness or raw cosmic energy as expressed by Braidottis is re-introduced into urban managed environments when beehives are installed14.The sensation of being safe in the city – a familiar environment to so many – is disturbed by having to deal with uncontrollable animals – and ones which inspire in us the fear of a sting, with all the consequences can arise from one.
The comfort of being in a controlled, air-conditioned, regulated and overseen environment suggests safety and predictability. However, this subjectively perceived security bears certain risks in itself, as it seems to make us less alert to unforeseeable situations.
Absurd incidences occur when these concepts need to be translated into insurance contracts. The main aim of such contracts is to assess the monetary value of an incident, and therefore, the risk to be insured has to be clearly calculable.