"It Ain't Safe No More": Risk, Insurance, and Temporality

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Francois Ewald uses his essay "Insurance and Risk" to describethe inadequacies of the justice system, and to propose that its alternative is already emerging in practice. In a criminal court, he writes, ?an accident is [viewed as] a unique affair between individual protagonists. Insurance, on the other hand, functions through a quite different mode?a risk is first of all a characteristic of a population."The insurance system acknowledges that ?each person?s conduct, however immaculate and irreproachable it might actually be, harbors within itself a risk to others which might be miniscule but nevertheless exists. (Ewald, 203).? There is a deep and uninvestigated affinity between the approach of insurance and that of the newer scientific disciplines: for example, Feynman's electron cloud model, which is integral to quantum theory, expands upon and complicates the earlier notion of orbitals, showing that electrons can only be predicted to appear within a certain probability cloud, rather than in a distinct location. Similarly, calculus, built upon the foundation of algebra, concerns itself not with variables themselves but with the variance of variables and the limits of calculation. Each of these epistemological transitions holds in common the distinction which Ewald highlights: it is no longer identities which matter. Subjects, atoms, ideologies, ideas--these terms disappear from our discourse because they point towards an atomistic metaphysics and are no longer accurate. We are left, in their stead, with these terms: factors, probablities, practices, variations, flows, with the "subjects" constituted temporarily by foci of flows.


Damian Stocking




Ford Research Endowment

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