Of two different worlds: Bushfire, rurality, and risk perceptions in peri-urban Melbourne

Travis Young

Penn State University


As Australian cities increase in population and area, the contrast between urban and rural is diminishing. This growth has led to changes in the demographic and socioeconomic structure of the suburbs and small towns on the urban periphery as it pushes new populations to unfamiliar landscapes with new environmental considerations. These residential experiences contrast starkly in the bushfire prone areas of Greater Melbourne.  Drawing from in-depth interviews with homeowners, exploratory mapping, and textual analysis of official planning documents, we examine the roles that local knowledge and place identity play in house and contents insurance decision-making, micro-level mitigation and preparation activities, and broader perceptions of bushfire risk. While our preliminary findings do not show significant differences in house and contents insurance uptake along the urban-rural continuum, they do highlight discursive and structural mechanisms that link insurance and mitigation decisions to a distinct sense of place. These findings contribute to a growing body of research examining underinsurance in high risk areas, as well as to research on landscape, identity, and vulnerability.

In the shadow of debt: Liminality and the making of insurance subjects

Dr Shaun French1

1University Of Nottingham


Meteorological and aquatic metaphors are frequent narrative devices in accounts of global finance and crisis.  Little critical attention has, however, been paid to the ways in which images of weather and water saturate the visual cultures of mass finance.  The paper reports on a study of insurance advertising in the UK.  Working at the intersection of Lazzarato’s theory of the indebted subject, critical insurance studies, and literature on everyday financialization the paper examines ways in which financial subjects are produced in, and through space and place.  The analysis focuses on two geographical imaginaries that mark insurance advertising.  First, images of domestic space.  Visual tropes such as umbrellas and wellington boots are used to signify, I argue, not simply the promise of respectable domesticity, but a possessive individualism secure from the twin threats of nature and society.  Second, images of liminal space, not least spaces betwixt land and water.  While much recent emphasis has been placed on finance’s powers of abstraction, the frequent mobilisation of liminal visual tropes such as beachscapes in insurance advertising spatially index Lazzarato’s assertion that it is in the movement between processes of social subjectification and machinic desubjectification that governance of the self takes place.


Dr Shaun French is an economic geography at the University of Nottingham, UK.  He has a PhD from the University of Bristol.  His research interests are in the geographies of finance and in particular the geographies of insurance, contemporary processes of biofinancialisation, financial subjectification, and the politics of financial exclusion and differentiated access to banking and retail financial services.

Email: shaun.french@nottingham.ac.uk

Risky safety nets and sure-fire risk: How households are reconfiguring or nullifying house and contents insurance

Dr Kate Booth1

1University Of Tasmania, Hobart, Australia


Informed by assumptions of individuality and rationality, insurance is often conceived as a benign risk management tool. The knowledge that underpins insurance is also frequently assumed to be purely archival-statistical – a number’s game of rational calculation. Following this type of logic, noninsurance and underinsurance are signifiers of irrational decision-making and a number’s problem to be solved by educating more people into buying more insurance. Drawing upon empirical research into house and contents insurance, I describe how households reconfigure insurance as part of everyday life and in relation to a lack of trust in insurance companies. For households, insurance is not a straightforward risk management tool and safety net, and can be a risk in and of itself. I also reflect upon how urban and housing trends appear to be leading to a growing nullification of insurance. For households, this nullification or noninsurance appears to be, in part, a strategy of adaptation to everyday risks that are more sure-fire than those depicted in predictions of disaster and emergency. Paying attention to changes in the co-production of insurance and households appears warranted if this profit-driven product is to function in the public good.


Dr Kate Booth is Senior Lecturer in Human Geography and Planning at the University of Tasmania. Her research is motivated by an interest in place and places and the possibility of political dissent, and she is focused on how insurance is co-constituted in households.  She has also undertaken research in visitor studies, cultural-led urban change, environmental philosophy, and place theory and methodologies. Kate leads the University’s planning program, coordinating the professionally accredited Master of Planning course, and the Graduate Diploma in Environmental Planning. She currently teaches regional and urban planning, and has also taught social research methods.

‘Cyclones are fun’: Negotiations of Risk and Insurance in Far North Queensland

Dr Nick Osbaldiston1

1James Cook University, Cairns, Australia


Understanding how people interpret their vulnerability to risks is imperative to unpacking how they negotiate insurance. In Far North Queensland, residents have experienced dramatic rises in insurance costs in recent time prompting state and federal investigations into pricing and subsequent take up of this risk mitigation strategy. In this paper, research conducted in 2017 will be analysed on residents of the coastal community of Cairns. While it is clear from quantitative data that one of the reasons people do not take up insurance at all is cost, other reasons also add weight to this decision. These include self-efficacy and the perception of risks that individuals believe they face. Using cultural sociological tools, this paper argues that the institution of insurance is narrated as inherently corrupt. Distrust with insurers in particular leads many to avoid insurance and find ways to self-insure. One strategy employed is to consciously reduce risks through reflecting on what potentially could happen and the likelihood of such events. This paper argues that these individual and cultural forms of risk/danger reflexivity permeate local communities often producing small myths that reduce feelings of vulnerability.


Nick Osbaldiston is a senior lecturer in sociology at James Cook University. His research interests include internal and international lifestyle migration, environmental risks in coastal places and cultural sociologies of risk. He has recently published a book titled ‘Towards a sociology of coast’ (Palgrave, 2018).

Natural Disaster Risks and Confidence in Insurance Cover

Bruce Tranter


Analyses of nationally representative Australian survey data collected in 2017 show that the perceived risks of natural disasters from bushfires, cyclones or floods is quite low among the Australian public.  Disaster risk is experienced more acutely in rural locations compared to cities and their surrounds, while Queenslanders are more concerned about natural disasters than those living in other states.  Politically, Liberal and National party identifiers are less likely than supporters of other parties to be concerned about natural disaster risks, although the effect is relatively weak.  Should a natural disaster occur, two thirds of Australians covered by home and contents insurance claimed to be either somewhat or very confident they would be covered by insurance.  Social characteristics had little bearing on confidence in insurance, although those who exhibit higher trust in insurance companies were not surprisingly more confident of being covered.  However, the strongest correlate of confidence in insurance coverage in the case of natural disasters was knowledge of insurance related issues.  The more Australians believe they know about insurance cover, and the costs of rebuilding and replacing contents, the more likely they are to be confident of being adequately covered by insurance if a natural disaster strikes.

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