Understanding the discourse-semantic shift towards risk – A corpus sociology

This project contributes to understanding the social shift towards risk in a historical perspective on the basis of The Times corpus (1785-2009). It develops an empirically grounded theory of how ‘at risk’-language occurred first irregularly in 19th century news coverage until the frequency jumped from the 1960s/1970s onwards. This historical transformation took place when a phase of wealth, economic stability and cultural transformation was challenged by economic crisis and social conflict with health and life-style related issues became a key driver for ‘at-risk’-constructs being increasingly instantiated in media coverage.  The research was undertaken as part of a Marie Skłodowska-Curie Fellowship 2016-18 at CASS (Grant Number 701836, H2020- MSCA-IF-2015). This research is part of a broader and ongoing research enterprise which develops a methodology which uses corpus linguistic tools for the analysis of social phenomena (Corpus Sociology)


  1. Zinn, J.O. 2018 The Proliferation of ‘at risk’ in The Times: A Corpus Approach to Historical Social Change, 1785-2009. Historical Social Research 43(2), 313-364.
  2. Zinn, J. O. 2019: Utilising corpus linguistic tools for analysing social change in risk. Olofsson, A. and Zinn, J. O. (eds.): Researching Risk and Uncertainty – Methodologies, Methods and Research Strategies. Palgrave Macmillan, 337-366.
  3. Zinn, J. O. 2020: The UK at risk. A corpus approach to social change 1785-2009. (Critical Studies in Risk and Uncertainty), Palgrave Macmillan – https://www.palgrave.com/gp/book/9783030202378
  4. Jens O.Zinn (2020): Health and illness as drivers of risk language in the news media – a case study of The Times, Health, Risk & Society, DOI 10.1080/13698575.2020.1862065


  • Zinn, J. O.: Plenary talk: Contested Knowledge – Contested Meaning: The Mutual Constitution of Data and Risk at the international conference Data in Discourse Analysis at the TU Darmstadt 18-20 Feb 2020.
  • Zinn, J. O.: The UK at risk. A corpus approach to historical social change. At the European Sociological Association – RN22 Sociology of Risk and Uncertainty mid-term conference, Kaunas, Lithuania, 4-5 Oct 2018.
  • Zinn, J. O.: How Britain became a Risk Society – Discourse-semantic changes in The Times, 1885-2009. XIX ISA World Congress of Sociology, Toronto, Canada, 15-21 Jul 2018.
  • Zinn, J. O.: The UK ‘at risk’ – Social change and the proliferation of ‘at risk’ in print news media (1960-2015) at the Corpora and Discourse International Conference, Universität Lancaster, UK, 22-24 Jun 2018.
  • Zinn, J. O.: Social Change and discourse-semantic shifts in The Times – the ‘at risk’ construct in historical perspective. At the Risk and Society Study Group Event – BSA London Meeting Room, Imperial Wharf, 8 Sep 2017.
  • Zinn, J. O.: At the 9th International Corpus Linguistics Conference, Birmingham, 24-28 Jul 2017.
  • Zinn, J. O.: At the Workshop – Methods, Methodologies and Research Strategies of Risk Research which the Fellow organized in collaboration at Mid-Sweden University, Östersund, 30 Nov-1 Dec 2016.
  • Zinn, JO & McDonald, D: Changing Discourse-Semantics of Risk. A historical analysis of US newspapers after World War Two utilizing corpus linguistics research instruments. At the international Conference Corpora and Discourse, University of Siena, Pontignano Conference Centre, Italy, 30 Jun-3 Jul 2016.

New Research:

  • Risk Communication in the Post-Truth Era (JO Zinn, M Müller, J Cook): An explorative study on the changes in news coverage of selected newspapers from Australia, the US, the UK and Germany, 11/2018-6/2019.

Other activities:

  • Zinn, J. O.: Lecture on Corpus Approaches in Sociology for the newly interdisciplinary Master Data and Discourse Studies at TU Darmstadt, 3 Dec 2019.
  • Zinn, J. O.: Lecture The Contribution of Corpus Linguistics to Sociology, Colloquium for PhD students TU Darmstadt, 2 Jul 2019.
  • Zinn, J. O.: Presentation of results and methodology at the UCREL seminar series, Lancaster University, 6 Dec 2018.
  • Zinn, J. O.: Seminar at a PhD workshop in Östersund and Sundswall (Sweden) on the methodology and research results of the Fellowship, 22 Nov 2018.
  • Zinn, J. O.: Organised session stream on Corpus Approaches to Risk at the international conference of the Research Network RN22 Sociology of Risk and Uncertainty of the European Sociological Association, Kaunas, Lithuania,, 4-5 Oct 2018,.
  • Zinn, J. O.: Presentation of preliminary results and methodology at the UCREL seminar series at Lancaster University, 26 Oct 2017.
  • Olofsson, A. & Zinn, J. O.: Workshop: Methods, Methodologies and Research Strategies of Risk Research at Risk and Crisis Research Centre, Mid-Sweden University, Östersund, Sweden, 29 Nov–1 Dec 2016.


Jens O Zinn, University of Melbourne, School of Social and Political Sciences, jzinn@unimelb.edu.au