Understanding Safety, Risk and Norms in the Global Economy through the lens of Sociology of Law. The case of Aviation (John Woodlock and Sabine Frerichs)
Safety, risk and norms are complex and highly contested concepts across different fields of scholarship. The regulation of safety and risk management varies enormously across different jurisdictions, with so-called risk regulation regimes differing from industry to industry. In risk and safety critical sectors of society such as health care, medical devices, mining and railways for example, risk and safety management is regulated not only as questions of protecting public safety but also in response to industry needs and in communication with key industry stakeholders and experts. It is not surprising then that global economic forces and international trade and markets are instrumental factors shaping the regulation of risk and safety in these sectors. In this course we will discuss in detail important socio-legal issues that arise in these areas of research where we will focus, from a global economic perspective, on risk and safety in relation to law and the regulation of these societal and industry sectors. In the main, however, we will discuss and compare these sectors with the case of aviation. And as a powerful regional and global economic actor driven by a competitive single market rationality, we will discuss the civil aviation sector of the European Union (EU); and in particular, the European Union Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) as a prime example of a supranational organization which achieves coordination across the European aviation sector through the use of hard and soft forms of law.
Aviation is considered an ultra-safe high-risk industry where the effective management of risk and safety is considered crucial to meet with the needs of aviation organizations and their main priority of ensuring profitability. In fact, 2017 was recorded as the safest year ever in aviation with only 5 fatal accidents resulting in 50 fatalities globally in scheduled commercial flights. To put this in perspective, this represents a global fatality rate of just 12.2 fatalities per billion passengers. It seems self-evident then that a positive safety record is vital for the market sensitive reputation of commercial aviation companies who continually safeguard their corporate image by working to reduce risk and to prevent unsafe incidents or accidents. However, safety in civil aviation is not just a technical matter, but involves complex and market focused law-making processes for the determination and management of acceptable risks. As a highly regulated activity, the management of safety and risk in aviation has therefore evolved over time into a complex arrangement of law which is structured and organized around a hierarchical legal order involving international, transnational, national and organizational levels of law, legality and legal authority. Legal scholars of aviation have long argued that from its very emergence, aviation safety is ultimately a matter of law.
During the bulk of the sessions, we will critically look at the sector of civil aviation through the lens of sociology of law. In the course we will discuss the social and legal contexts of aviation where we will apply sociology of law theories and perspectives to situate and critically analyze phenomena such as regulated safety and risk management, human factors, air accidents and the criminalization of human error, the increasing proceduralization of safety, and the experience of law, legality, responsibility and accountability among aviation professionals. Sociology of law has much to add to the existing safety and risk scholarship on aviation. The course will familiarize students with key concepts from the risk and safety science of aviation and with regulatory developments and interesting legal concepts and issues in this sector. The course will also include some practical exercises, such as a focus group session(s) with practitioners and key informers from the field of aviation. The aim is to allow students to engage with and discuss with these professionals their experiences of law, regulation, safety, risk, human error and even legal accountability. We will specifically discuss theories, concepts and methodologies from sociology of law, such as legal consciousness, legal pluralism and legal cultures which can allow us to frame and understand the social, organizational and professional dynamics surrounding the aviation sector, and not least in relation to globalization and the economics of commercial aviation. The course places much focus on critical thinking for the development of socio-legal focused approaches to research safety and risk management in aviation.