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Time, Risk and Health

Alaszewski, Andy and Brown, Patrick R (2015) Time, Risk and Health. In: Martyn Chamberlain (ed.) 2015 Medicine, Discourse and Risk. Routledge. (Access to this publication is currently restricted. You may be able to access a copy if URLs are provided) (KAR id:47042)

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Time is a key element of social life. Yet it has been relatively neglected in social theory and in the study of health and risk. In this chapter we show how interrogating understandings of time provides insights into how uncertainty and risk shape the ways in which organisations and individuals respond to illness. While individuals have their own personal ‘my’ time, if they want to engage with others they need to recognize and align their personal time with others and this alignment involves implicit agreements about and standardisation of time between members of a community. In premodern societies such standardisation was localised however in modern society this standardisation has become abstracted from specific social setting and universalised and globalised. The development of abstract times has implication for the ways in which individuals think about and organise their personal time and the ways in which time is used to organise activities in modern bureaucratic organisations. The development of abstract time has created the possibility for individuals to view their own lives through the lens of risk. The accumulation of epidemiological knowledge about the ways in which adverse events are distributed across the life course creates a generalised life timetable in which there are designated time-periods for particular life activities or events and individuals are considered to be at-risk, or exposed to harm, if they do not undertake normal activities in these periods. In modern society, bureaucratic organisations play a key role in the creation and management of uncertainty, for example hospitals claim to provide a safe environment which individuals can rely on during fateful moments, when their very existence is under threat. Such organisation use abstract time embedded in institutional routines to manage uncertainty. While such routines may appear to be rational and technically neutral, they do in practice contain irrational elements and are used as a form of social control. There is tension between the abstract time imposed by organisations and institutions and personal timings which form an important locus of power relations. Personal time is often colonised by those in more powerful positions and by organisations, while resistance to such colonisation requires both determination and subterfuge.

Item Type: Book section
Uncontrolled keywords: risk, risk management,serious illness, time, biography,narrative,organisation
Subjects: H Social Sciences > HM Sociology
R Medicine > RA Public aspects of medicine
Divisions: Divisions > Division for the Study of Law, Society and Social Justice > School of Social Policy, Sociology and Social Research > Centre for Health Services Studies
Depositing User: Andy Alaszewski
Date Deposited: 03 Feb 2015 14:06 UTC
Last Modified: 17 Aug 2022 10:58 UTC
Resource URI: (The current URI for this page, for reference purposes)
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