Risk calculation and precautionary uncertainty: two configurations within crime assessment

N Klima, N Dorn, T vander Beken

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review

4 Citations (Scopus)


This paper explores two configurations of thinking about crime amongst law enforcement agencies and private sector security managers: ‘risk calculation’ (concerned with everyday, calculable probabilities and impacts and their management) and ‘precautionary uncertainty’ (concerned with events that might be incapacitating, yet are not calculable by probability assessments). The paper explores their respective constituent concepts and fields of application in crime assessment, drawing upon qualitative research-in-progress in Belgium. Risk calculation, as applied to crime, starts with past data on routines that link perpetrators with targets that lack capable guardians. Precautionary uncertainty focuses on potential impacts that are highly disabling and potentially wide-spreading (contagion, knock-on effects), asking how such impacts can be contained and recovered from. Risk and uncertainty are shown to be related to ‘rational-instrumental’ and ‘deliberative-constitutive’ approaches as developed by Fisher’s work the field of law, which offers a meta-narrative in relation to which they can be positioned. Finally, the paper asks if these two crime assessment methods should be seen as distinct or as merging. On the basis of criteria of conceptual sharpness, openness to public debate and justiciability, the authors champion the maintenance of a clear distinction between risk and uncertainty.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)15-31
Number of pages17
JournalCrime, Law & Social Change
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 2011


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