Risk rituals and the female life-course: negotiating uncertainty in the transitions to womanhood and motherhood

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This article argues that key points in the female life-course — specifically, the transition into independent adulthood and motherhood — have come to be characterised by risk. The discussion is anchored in two case studies: the first concerns female undergraduate students’ strategies for managing the risks associated with socialising, and the second deals with the depiction of pregnancy-related health issues in British newspapers. Across both, discussion focuses on the protective and self-limiting routines that have become a distinctive feature of women’s lives. This article approaches these as ‘risk rituals’ and works towards a refinement of this concept. First, by suggesting that this concept should pay greater attention to the critical question of who is being asked to take responsibility for a risk. Secondly, by suggesting that ‘risk rituals’ might on occasion serve to mark and manage life-course transitions. The article’s conclusion seeks to explain why risk rituals might serve this function. Developing out of conditions of detraditionalisation and individualisation, risk rituals are nonetheless socially-patterned, rather than universal. They are, for example, a particular feature of the female life-course, and in making this argument the article points out the connections between practices of risk-avoidance on the one hand, and social constraints associated with gender on the other. In making this case, the article seeks to provide a fresh perspective on risk and the life-course, as well as contribute to the emerging ‘risk rituals’ literature and work on gender and risk.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)15-30
Number of pages16
JournalHealth Risk & Society
Issue number1
Early online date14 Oct 2019
Publication statusPublished - 2 Jan 2020


  • Risk rituals
  • course
  • gender
  • life
  • motherhood
  • responsibility
  • uncertainty

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Public Health, Environmental and Occupational Health


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