Abstract

This study examines how organizations construct and manage risk objects as a duality of harm–benefit within their normal operations. It moves beyond the existing focus on accidents, disasters and crisis. We study the risk‐transfer processes of 35 insurers where they navigate the tension of retaining risk in their insurance portfolio to increase the benefit of making profit and transferring risk to reinsurance to reduce the harm of paying claims. We show that organizations’ constructions of risk are underpinned by everyday risk management practices of centralizing, calculating and diversifying. Through variation in these practices, not all organizations seek balance and we in turn uncover the sensemaking processes of abstracting and localizing that enable organizations to prioritize harm or benefit. This contributes to the risk literature by illuminating the co‐constitutive relationship between risk sensemaking processes and everyday risk management practices. Following the complex linkages involved in the construction of risk objects as sources of harm–benefit, our analysis also contributes to the literature on dualities. It shows that while immediate trade‐offs between harm–benefit occur, prioritizing one element of the duality is ultimately a means for attaining the other. Thus, while initial imbalance is evident, prioritization can be an enabling approach to navigating duality.