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Imbrication of Representations: Risk and Digital Technologies*

Claudio Ciborra

Journal of Management Studies, 2006, vol. 43, issue 6, 1339-1356

Abstract: abstract Though emerging from different venues and backgrounds, risk management and digital applications are both based on sophisticated techniques of representation. This paper tracks the multiple overlappings and convergence between these two streams of representations. Initially digital technologies play a background role, as a tool to execute the algorithms of risk calculus. Then, they are useful in managing surveys and data analysis for those areas where risk management needs to store data on, for example, accidents. With the extension of markets for trading risk, computers and networks (or Information and Communication Technologies, ICT) become the tools of choice to allow the efficient functioning of industries like insurance. In other industries, like banking, where ‘the business’ is a vast archipelago of applications running on systems and networks, it is apparent that these integrated systems are inherently exposed to risk. Hence, these humble tools become both the infrastructure of the risk industry, and also the source of new, often incalculable risks; they move from a clear‐cut subordinate relationship (as tool) to that of imbrication. Risk representations become more calculable and formalized, but this is obtained at the price of an incalculability of the risks of the infrastructure itself. The analysis of the multiple patterns of imbrication of representations between risk and digital technologies is applied to a range of empirical domains: from software engineering and information systems (the subservient infrastructure); to operational risk in banking; and finally to the future scenario of the democratization of finance, whereby Global Risk Information Databases (GRIDs), become gigantic machines to represent, compute, and trade all sorts of individual and social risks.[1] Overall, the paper seeks to characterize the multiple links between risk and digital technologies in organizations and draws in part on the phenomenology of representation and Heidegger's studies of Care and Concern and his later work on the essence of modern technology.

Date: 2006
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