Risky times: hazard management and the tyranny of the present

Iain White, Graham Haughton

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This paper examines how the processes and practices of hazard management skew decision-making towards current concerns, shaping the treatment of the future in the present. We reveal how norms of science and policy combine to manage the complexity, uncertainty and intangibility inherent in working to long-term time horizons by defining, bounding and codifying how we understand the future. These processes, we argue, frequently but not inevitably, constrain the influence of long-term considerations, resulting in ‘hazardscapes’ where risks become embedded spatially, transferred temporally and difficult for future generations to reverse. We introduce the notion of a ‘tyranny of the present’ as a means to critique the ways in which the future is heard in risk management, that is, how the future is known, bounded, and incorporated, and the legacies that this may create. Overall, we highlight how more effective management of risks is not just a matter of better data or improved policy, rather that discourses of risk are subject to a ‘presentist’ bias, the underpinnings of which need to be better understood in order to make better decisions for future generations.
Original languageEnglish
JournalInternational Journal of Disaster Risk Reduction
Early online date4 Feb 2017
Publication statusPublished - 2017


  • risk; disasters; hazards; decision making; planning; futures

Research Beacons, Institutes and Platforms

  • Manchester Urban Institute


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