The UK 'at risk' - A corpus approach to historical social change 1785-2009

Jens O. Zinn

CASS, Lancaster University

Since the 1980s sociologists have tried to explain the proliferation of risk language. Theoretical explanations provided by risk society theorists such as Anthony Giddens and Ulrich Beck, for example, were mainly developed on the basis of scholarly observations rather than empirical evidence. With the digitization of newspaper archives new opportunities occurred to examine long term social change empirically such as the shift towards risk in public debate. This presentation reports results from an interdisciplinary research project which utilises corpus linguistics tools to examine long term social change towards risk. It uses 'risk words' as an entry point to analyse the changing meaning of risk and uses The Times corpus at CASS to examine the discourse-semantic shifts of at risk-constructs ('at the risk', 'at risk' and 'at-risk') from 18C to early 21C. Combining collocation analysis with detailed qualitative analysis of concordances the presentation shows how at risk-constructs has become part of the cultural repertoire used in the print news media representing what could be called a new zeitgeist. The research argues that socio-structural changes, cultural changes, institutional practices and socially significant historical events shaped and fostered the use of at risk-constructs.

Jens Zinn is Associate Professor in Sociology at the University of Melbourne and Guest Professor at the Risk and Crisis Research Centre Mid-Sweden University. He is currently Marie Skłodowska-Curie research fellow at CASS.

Earlier publications on discourse semantic change of risk: Zinn, J.O. 2019 (in preparation) The UK 'at risk'. A corpus approach to social change 1785-2009. Basingstoke, UK: Palgrave Macmillan.

Zinn, J.O. 2018 The Proliferation of 'at risk' in The Times: A Corpus Approach to Historical Social Change, 1785-2009. Historical Social Research 43(2), 313-364.

Zinn, J.O. and McDonald, D. 2018: Risk in the New York Times (1987-2014) - A corpus-based exploration of sociological theories. Basingstoke, UK: Palgrave Macmillan.

Zinn, J. O. and McDonald, D. 2016: Changing Discourses of Risk and Health Risk: A Corpus Analysis of the Usage of Risk Language in the New York Times. In: Chamberlain, M. (ed.): Medicine, Risk, Discourse and Power, London, New York: Routledge, 207-240.

Zinn, J.O. 2010: Risk as Discourse: Interdisciplinary Perspectives. CADAAD journal 4(2), 10624.Available at:

Week 9 2018/2019

Thursday 6th December 2018

Fylde LT 3