A. Silvast, Department of Social Research, UNIVERSITY OF HELSINKI, Helsinki, Finland


This paper discusses large technological systems and their risks. The key theoretical starting point comes from studies of risk, uncertainty and government, and it emphasizes on risk as a concrete governmental technique. According to this argument, it is important to understand the concrete ways for protection against unwanted events, as these have fundamental consequences for the kinds of people we are and our contemporary ways of life. Social scientific discussions of this idea in the context of technological systems are not that common, and the paper addresses the topic through an empirical case on infrastructures. The research question is: what are the techniques that measure and mitigate uncertain future events in the Finnish efforts to secure society’s vital infrastructures, and in particular, energy supply? An empirical analysis is focused on three sides of the question: first, on the different expert ways that try to take infrastructure threats into account and sensitize actors like ministries, authorities and companies to them; second, on the mechanisms that assign responsibilities and resources to these same actors; and third, on the concrete practices that are applied by the experts to monitor and test the success of the respective measures. The research is based on policy documents, interviews and participatory observations from the security of energy supply field in Finland. These materials were gathered between 2007 and 2008 as part of my ongoing sociology dissertation. Additional sensitivity to the data was gained from my previous professional background on electricity engineering. The paper concludes by discussing the results and the shaping of possibilities for people’s actions and ways of life. The main finding of the study is without doubt the unpredictability of the ways that influential security experts in Finland apply when assessing and mitigating infrastructure threats. Risk in this context is most often not equal to standardized calculation of probabilities and harms of unwanted events. Instead, the experts rely on imaginative methods, like threat scenarios and crisis exercises, to produce knowledge about infrastructure threats and test the capabilities that actors have for protection against them. Risk techniques, in sum, can be a rather diverse set of rational responses to threats, and these can also shape the actions of organizations to various different directions

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