Historical Social Research

Jens O. Zinn: The Proliferation of ‘at risk’ in The Times: A Corpus Approach to Historical Social Change, 1785-2009. [Abstract]

Examining long term social change is one of the most rewarding but time-consuming challenges for sociological research. Historical analyses are often the only way to understand present-day social conditions such as the perception and management of risk in the UK. This article reports research which breaks new ground by utilising corpus linguistic tools to examine the proliferation of risk words in The Times (London) from the 19th to the 21th century. The article develops a corpus sociological approach to show that socio-structural changes, institutional practices and socially relevant events have supported the proliferation of ‘at risk’. The early dominance of insurance, trading and economics and the rise of epidemiology at the early 20th century has increasingly been replaced by reporting of job insecurity and lives, children, patients and people being ‘at risk’ in the second half of the 20th and beginning of 21st century. This time is also characterised by a dominance in reporting of people are put or putting themselves ‘at risk’. These remarkable changes are accompanied by the huge increase of risk words in media coverage supporting the view that they have driven the proliferation of the ‘at risk’ construct in media coverage.

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