Award Information

International Dissertation Research Fellowship 2019
Institutional Affiliation (at time of award):
Sociology, University of California / Los Angeles
Institutional Coherence in the Risk Society: Insurance, Catastrophe Modeling and Climate Change

Natural catastrophes across the globe are becoming more frequent and more destructive, raising questions about how society will cope in the future. While driven in part by demographic trends, evidence suggest that climate change is altering extreme weather events, thus putting more pressure on social mechanisms of risk mitigation, such as insurance. Framing this problem as a matter of institutional change, this dissertation examines how actors in the broader (re)insurance sector are adjusting their knowledge and risk assessment practices in light of a changing climate, and the subsequent impacts these adjustments have on how risk is priced, distributed and governed through (re)insurance. I focus specifically on global hurricane risk and the two institutional actors at the heart of producing knowledge about catastrophic risk – reinsurance companies and catastrophe modeling firms. Using qualitative methods – interviews, participant observation, and content analysis – this project will collect data about the responses of reinsurers and catastrophe modelers to the challenges of climate change in their day-to-day work of risk assessment. Drawing on theoretical approaches from organizational studies, science studies and the sociology of risk, I trace how information related to hurricane risks is produced, diffused and brought into processes of decision-making for reinsurers—mostly based in Europe—and the spill-over effects reinsurers actions have for other insurance actors around the world—including small property holders. Participant observation will give me access to the translational strategies, practical workarounds, and persistent obstacles that these actors face as they strive to integrate and legitimate the use of climate science in their assessment models. Ethnographic fieldwork will be conducted at the European offices of the two largest reinsurance companies, Munich Re and Swiss Re, and the London offices of catastrophe modeling Risk Management Solutions (RMS).