Uncertain Worlds: Comparative Perspectives on Risk

Risk has long been understood as a ubiquitous feature of modern life, actively shaping institutions, individual behaviour, social relationships, economic activities, and cultural practices. Scholarship on how we think probabilistically about the future and plan for what we might find there has recently exploded. The field of Risk Studies is highly interdisciplinary, including research in the humanities, social sciences, and sciences. Together, risk researchers endeavour to understand how we plan for contingent events like hurricanes, pandemics, market collapses, and political upheavals. This work holds a sense of urgency and purpose, as scholars think about how to prepare for and cope with disasters, and how to make our modern world more resilient to future events. In spite of these promising foundations, however, Risk Studies often operates within temporal and geographical limitations, focusing on risk as a characteristically modern feature closely related to Western capitalism. Scholarship often assumes that risk became a problem for human beings when modern life began; risk-mitigation practices or technologies like insurance or statistical reasoning are linked to the emergence of the European industrial age. Risk is thus often treated as a new way of confronting an unknown future, replacing alternative or earlier concepts like fate, chance, and fortune. Meanwhile, scholars studying other or earlier societies have also contemplated the role of risk, but the work of bringing these different perspectives into dialogue remains to be done. Our working group hopes to lay the groundwork for a more complete story of risk. We gather together scholars working on a range of places and periods and using an array of different approaches. Thus, the project leverages the existing interdisciplinary nature of Risk Studies, while expanding its spatiotemporal boundaries. Participating scholars work across disciplines, from political science to history, statistics, archaeology, environmental science, and beyond. The diversity of intellectual backgrounds will showcase risk’s usefulness for interdisciplinary inquiry into human behaviour. Our project will reveal how widely and deeply past and present societies confront uncertain futures, and how they understand that terrain as marked by threat and opportunity.


  • Seth Bernard, A&S Classics
  • Emily Nacol, UTM Political Science


Faculty, University of Toronto

  • Ritu Birla, A&S History
  • Steven Hoffman, UTM Sociology
  • Carl Knappett, Professor, History of Art (A&S)
  • Teresa Kramarz, Assistant Professor, School of the Environment
  • Madeleine Mant, UTM Anthropology
  • Silvana Pesenti, A&S Statistical Sciences
  • Edward Swenson, A&S Anthropology

Graduate Students, University of Toronto

  • Carley Chavara, Political Science
  • Donald McCarthy, Classics
  • Claudia Paparella, Classics
  • Ujjwala Sharma, History

Postdoctoral Fellow, University of Toronto

  • Constance de Font-Réaulx, History

Other Participants, Outside University of Toronto

  •  Saptarishi Bandopadhyay, Associate Professor, Osgoode School of Law
  • Giacomo Fontana, PhD Student, Institute of Archaeology, University College London
  • Roni Hirsch,  Polonsky Academy Fellow, Van Leer Jerusalem Institute
  • Steven Klein, Senior Lecturer in Political Theory, King’s College London
  • Myles Lavan, Professor and Director of Research, School of Classic, University of St Andrews
  • Dana Murray, PhD Student, Faculty of Information, University of Toronto
  • Jerry Toner, Lecturer and Director of Studies in Classics, Cambridge University
  • Astrid van Oyen, Professor of History, Art History, and Classics, Radboud Universiteit
  • Adrian Wilson, Senior Lecturer in History of Medicine, University of Leeds