Wednesday 9 March 2011

Possibility and Risk

Money, technology and education all deal with possibility.
They differ in terms of the nature of the risk they entail.

Money can be used to compensate for the loss of a 'property relation' by stimulating a person's identity with possibilities. Money is reliable in being able to deliver new possibilities ("I promise to pay the bearer..."), although the things that money is exchanged for are not necessarily 'reliable': in other words, they carry risk. This becomes interesting when money, as a form of possibility, is exchanged for something else which is also possibility - like technology, education or financial investments.

Technology, for example, only delivers if it works, or the person possessing has the skill to use it, or at least the desire to use it.

Financial investments only work if you are lucky and get good advice.

Education only delivers if the person purchasing it has the inclination and determination to succeed, and the providers of education equally have the determination to help learners succeed. The risks of failure are high.

The risks inherent in exchanging money for things like education or technology are increasingly being introduced to the purchase of material artefacts. I think this is what is happening with servitisation. A material artefact - like a house - with which I might establish an 'property relation', will often be delivered in conjunction with a service contract. The service contract will establish a legal framework within the terms of which the property relation will apply. A property relation with a servitised house is not the same as a property relation with a house without services. The difference is the degree of risk which enters the equation.

Is risk manufactured by society as a way of creating the need for services to manage that risk? New legal frameworks and legal conditions all impose risk on those property relations that were previously without risk (or the risk was much less). Thus, in waste disposal, risk is introduced in terms of fines for disposing of too much waste. Risk is manufactured by service providers as a way of demarcating the types and 'quality' of services which can be consumed. Thus, in travel, 'budget travel' incurs higher risk than premium travel.

In education, risk is introduced through greater reliance on self-motivation, organisation and attention to detail. Risks might be alleviated through higher service costs which might accompany personal tutoring, etc.

In technology, risk is introduced through usability or functionality, which can be constrained. The constraint of functionality in 'higher risk' products makes a greater reliance on individual flexibility.

In exchanging one form of possibility (money) for another (education or technology) involves realising the possibility inherent in what is exchanged for money, but balancing this 'realised possibility' for risk. To some extent, risk is traded against possibility. Society may 'manufacture' risk as a way of maintaining its viability. In post-industrialised societies, this may be the only thing we make!

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