Greta Krippner, UM Sociology

Unmasked: A History of the Individualization of Risk
Greta Krippner


Fall 2022
Lecture Time: 
Friday, December 9, 2022 - 1:30pm to 3:00pm
Lecture Location: 

R0240, Ross School of Business, Lower Level

Introduced By: 
John Rudnik


The notion that risk is appropriately understood – and managed – in terms of each individual’s own personal calculus is so familiar an idea in contemporary society that it appears to almost not require any explanation. However, closer inspection of the problem reveals an important historical irony, as for much of the twentieth century risk was understood to be an intrinsically collective affair. In this paper, I explore how risk was transformed from being understood as a property of groups to being understood as a property of individuals by examining the history of public and private insurance in the United States. Rather than locate transformations in how risk is managed in our society in the “great risk shift” occurring with the emergence of neoliberalism (Hacker 2006), I suggest that the individualization of risk in recent decades is only the latest instantiation of a recurrent conflict between security and freedom that has marked the evolution of capitalism. Seen from this longer historical perspective, the “personal responsibility revolution” appears not as the handiwork of neoliberal policymakers, but rather as the unintended result of movements that sought to gain access to markets for risk for those excluded from them.

Recording & Additional Notes

Greta Krippner is a historical sociologist with substantive interests in economic sociology, political sociology, the sociology of law, and social theory. Her work explores how the rise of the market has intersected wider social, cultural, and political transformations in U.S. society in the “long” twentieth century. Her first book, Capitalizing on Crisis: The Political Origins of the Rise of Finance (Harvard University Press, 2011), examined the financialization of the U.S. economy in the period since the 1970s, arguing that the turn to finance was an inadvertent response to unresolved distributional dilemmas as post-war growth stalled. Her current book project traces the evolution of methods of risk-based pricing over the course of the twentieth century, asking how the notion that each individual should “pay the cost” of her own riskiness emerged as a widely accepted normative principle governing how risk is distributed in contemporary society.