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Environmental Risk Narratives in Historical Perspective: From Early Warnings to 'Risk Society' Blame

Burgess, Adam (2019) Environmental Risk Narratives in Historical Perspective: From Early Warnings to 'Risk Society' Blame. Journal of Risk Research, 22 (9). pp. 1128-1142. ISSN 1366-9877. (doi:10.1080/13669877.2018.1517383) (KAR id:68574)

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The ‘storying’ of risk is an important and neglected dimension and narratives such as ‘nuclear catastrophism’ have powerfully framed experience and acquired considerable independence, with ‘what might have been’ becoming as real as what actually did. This article builds upon limited earlier risk narrative research, focusing upon their historical development in the US and UK. Analysis proceeds from an understanding of risk as a tool that brings together an understanding of threats, what is threatened and how that might be remedied in the future, increasingly based upon past experience. Risk narratives emerge historically with the growth of concern for the public impact of environmental events, through individuals recognising these in secular terms, prepared to warn others and, later, challenge denial of institutional responsibility. But the explicit language of environmental risk only emerges in post-war America through public challenges to fluoridation, pesticides and consumer safety, the article arguing that we can approximately distinguish ‘risk society’ narratives concerned with human-made threat and an assumption of corporate and institutional responsibility, focused upon victims and blame for their condition. This singular focus can be problematic in its impact upon victims themselves in the case of nuclear catastrophism, however. A concluding suggestion is that If narrative is to be used in risk communication it will require more sophisticated forms that go beyond only exposing risk, insisting upon blame and inferring limitless harm.

Item Type: Article
DOI/Identification number: 10.1080/13669877.2018.1517383
Uncontrolled keywords: environment, risk, narrative, blame, history
Subjects: H Social Sciences
Divisions: Divisions > Division for the Study of Law, Society and Social Justice > School of Social Policy, Sociology and Social Research
Depositing User: Adam Burgess
Date Deposited: 15 Aug 2018 14:55 UTC
Last Modified: 09 Dec 2022 02:42 UTC
Resource URI: (The current URI for this page, for reference purposes)
Burgess, Adam:
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