Voluntary risk Seeking in the Risk Society: Explaining Involvement in Edgework
How does voluntary participation in dangerous leisure activities requiring skills (‘edgework’) compare, for example, to gambling and thrill seeking and why does edgework thrive in societies preoccupied with safety and security? Lyng (1990) assumes edgework constitutes an escape from alienating working conditions and disenchanting rationalism in risk societies bearing upon blue and white collar workers alike. He also distinguishes these structural forces as drivers of edgework from a cultural explanation tying participation in edgework to individualism and anti-institutionalism. Besides, according to Fletcher (2008) and others, although athletes themselves legitimize their engagement in edgework as an escape from alienating and disenchanting living conditions, this is actually not the real reason for their participation in edgework. Instead, edgework supposedly provides an arena for the accumulation and display of cultural capital needed for members of the professional middle class to sustain their position on the labor market. We refute Lyng’s explanation and partly the cultural explanation as well and we validate the latter one based on two surveys among Dutch citizens (N=1,302; N=299). On the one hand, edgework cannot be explained by either perceived alienation, disenchantment, and institutionalism. On the other hand, it can be explained by individualism and the professional middle class is overrepresented in edgework, partly because its members cherish Protestant ethics such as the deferral of gratification and perseverance. This suggests that although edgeworkers resist the risk society in name, they in fact reproduce its underlying stratified class structure by investing in the symbolic capital needed to sustain and shield their own socio-economic position.