From ESA – Strategies & Activities

President's Message Sue Scott
ESA Office Communiqué – Christine's Internship at the European Sociological Association Christine Frank
14th ESA Conference 2019 in Manchester: Sociology Coming Home? Gary Pollock
ESA Journals News – European Societies Michalis Lianos
RN Reports – RN01 Ageing in Europe Dirk Hofäcker
RN Reports – RN13 Sociology of Families and Intimate Lives Detlev Lück
RN Reports – RN19 Sociology of Professions Christiane Schnell
RN Reports – RN34 Sociology of Religion Roberta Ricucci
NA Reports – British Sociological Association (BSA) Judith Mudd
NA Reports – French Sociological Association (AFS) Muriel Darmon
NA Reports – Polish Sociological Association (PTS) Mikołaj Pawlak
Thesis Spotlights – Education and Sociocultural Identification: Facilitating Learning Effects through Congruence Margot Belet
Thesis Spotlights – Resistance to the Dominant Economic Discourses: Making Sense of the Economy from a Working-Class Neighbourhood Anna Carrillo Arnal
Thesis Spotlights – The Political Economy of State Transformation in Italy from the Crisis of the Keynesian Welfare State to the Crisis of the Neoliberal Paradigm Adriano Cozzolino
Thesis Spotlights – Times and Rhythms of Retail Work: Alienation and Immediatisation Processes in the Shopping Streets of Milan and London Annalisa Dordoni
Thesis Spotlights – Social Relationships and Social Participation of Women with Disability Eleni Koutsogeorgou
Thesis Spotlights – Risk Perception and Digital Surveillance among American College Students Veronica Moretti
Thesis Spotlights – Female Labour Force Participation and Dynamics of Income Inequality in Switzerland, from 1992 to 2014 Laura Ravazzini
In Memoriam Robert Fine (1945-2018) David Hirsh

Thesis Spotlights – Risk Perception and Digital Surveillance among American College Students

Issue 42: 1968 - 50 Years On Wed 28 Nov 2018

Veronica Moretti, PhD, Italy

Email: veronica.moretti4 [at] unibo.it
Institution: University of Bologna, Department of Sociology and Business Law, Bologna, Italy
Time: Enrolled in September 2014, date of defence 17th April 2018
Supervisor: Prof. Antonio Maturo
Funding: The study was supported by the Department of Sociology and Business Law

Examining risk within a sociological perspective implies taking into consideration the remarkable transformations which have taken place in recent years. Digital technologies have expanded the opportunity for individuals to access and share information, which may make the future much less safe than before.

The research analyses the level of risk perception among students at two American universities. Within each of these universities, a Department of Public Safety (DPS) is designated to send students an email whenever a crime is committed on campus or in the surrounding area. The purpose of this service is to ensure adequate awareness of criminal activity. These notifications are known as “crime alerts”.

My thesis investigates the extent to which information sharing about criminal events through technology devices (emails) may alter risk perception and therefore lead students to modify their behaviour. The hypothesis is based on Luhmann’s (1991) semantic distinction between risk and danger. Both terms are commonly used to represent situations having potential negative consequences, but in the case of risk the damage originates as a result of human decisions, while dangers are beyond human control. Risks are related to trust (in our actions); while dangers are related to hope (in fate or destiny). Do crime alerts have an impact on student behaviour? Does information transform a potentially negative event into a risk that can be avoided by a decision?

The reference sample consists only of undergraduate students, as they spend significantly more time on campus than any other student group. Regarding the research methodology, the data were collected from two specific campuses through questionnaires (985) and semi-structured interviews (20).

The findings show varied responses, especially with regard to the use of technologies and the degree of conditioning which can be attributed to crime alerts. Through cluster analysis, four categories of students emerged: Frat Boy; New-normal; Techno-prudent; and Fearful. Although the students received the same alerts and information, differences emerged related to risk perception and changes in routine activities. Those who classified themselves as belonging to the most vulnerable categories (low income students, first generation college students) were strongly conditioned by the crime alerts and changed their behaviours accordingly. Other students expressed more fatalistic attitudes towards potential crimes and just “hoped” that they would not be involved in any negative event.

It seems that digital technologies may affect different people in different ways. As opposed to the classic theory of the diffusion of innovations, which states that the best-off take advantage of technological innovation more rapidly than lower classes, my study found that the most vulnerable students use the opportunity of digital crime alerts more intensively than students coming from affluent families, becoming the “early adopters” of this innovation.