People walking along a flooded causeway

How can NGOs feel at home with uncertainty?

by Irene Guijt, Head of Research and Publishing at Oxfam Great Britain Uncertainty is a given in Oxfam. Each day brings new concerns, unexpected twists in relationships and the rollercoasters of dynamic contexts. We adjust out of necessity. But how explicitly do we build uncertainty into our work? And how do we not get paralysed…

Envisioning the future in the present: making sense of uncertainty

The STEPS symposium on ‘the politics of uncertainty’ made me think about a couple of questions that I have been concerned with in my research work, but that I have so far mostly approached from a perspective of risk, and how risk is translated into space (‘riskscapes’). The symposium addressed the issue of uncertainty and…

Infrastructures of the imagination: uncertainty and the politics of prefiguration

By Martin Mahony and Silke Beck Sticky imaginaries, shifting frames, irreducible incertitude . . . the recent Politics of Uncertainty symposium gave us much to reflect upon in the context of recent shifts in the politics of global climate change, and what they might mean for the relationship between knowledge and action. Cluster 2 of…

Embracing uncertainty: lessons from journeys and struggles

Michele Nori, Rose Cairns and Nathan Oxley Embracing uncertainty, by choice or by necessity, is something migrants, victims of political violence, and people holding a religious belief have in common. What could we learn from their experiences about a broader understanding of living with uncertainty, and how can this inform other domains and contexts? This…

Whose risk? Whose responsibility? The politics and financialisation of uncertainty

At the STEPS Centre Symposium on the Politics of Uncertainty, Susan Erikson (Simon Fraser) and Rebecca Elliott (LSE) presented fascinating cases for the insurance theme, which was part of the finance cluster. Here are two snapshots: Financing Emergency Pandemics In July 2020, 26 investors in the Pandemic Emergency Financing Facility (PEF) are set to reap…

Solidarity, insurance, emotions and uncertainty

I spent a fascinating three days at the STEPS Politics of Uncertainty Conference in July, and in the last few weeks have been mulling over what I have taken from the rich conversations we have had. I spent much of my time in a stream focused on uncertainty in the context of finance and banking….

Control room

When ignorance does more than you think

Unstudied conditions are avoided as vigilantly as possible—right now, when it matters—by control room operators of large critical infrastructures mandated to operate reliably and safely systemwide. Having failed to fail because an operator was behaving ignorantly is orthogonal to high reliability management. That said, ignorance has differentiated functions in large socio-technical systems—but in ways not…

Trees

Uncertain superlatives

Certainty has such a strong place in politics not just because it serves as the preferred foundation/platform from which to choose to act, but also because certainty supports and drives the belief that any such choice to act can be superlative, i.e., serve as the best or superior or optimal course of action. A key…