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Role Of Risk In Contemporary Society

1396 words - 6 pages

By alexthatcher69 | June 2014
Introduction
In Learning Companion 3, Steve Hinchliffe suggests that risk can be considered as "the balance between the benefits of an activity ... and its costs", and further suggests that a risk society is one "where we are increasingly aware of the risks we face and the consequences of having that knowledge." (2009, p. 28). This report will look at some other definitions of risk and will examine the theory that we live in a risk society. Furthermore, it will offer some ways in which risk is managed by both individuals and experts and will explore the role of the social sciences in understanding risk. What is risk?

Risk is largely unavoidable in ...view middle of the document...

However, he further suggests that since expert knowledge is often contested, this can cause additional anxiety where none previously existed. In addition, risks from man-made disasters such as the explosion at the Chernobyl nuclear power plant do not respect national borders. Similarly, risks to the climate from the burning of fossil fuels do not only affect those doing the burning, but
also have repercussions all over the globe (Woodward, 2010, p. 165). A risk society, therefore, is one increasingly dependent on the often contested knowledge of experts to warn against sometimes invisible threats, where class and wealth can no longer protect against risks that may have global potential.

What are the effects of living in a risk society?
A characteristic of contemporary life is the easy availability of information and the levels of uncertainty that having access to this knowledge can bring. At a personal level this can include concerns about the consequences of consuming certain types of food, drinking too much alcohol, being overweight, indulging in unsafe sex and even sunbathing. These are all examples of risk over which the individual has a certain level of control. Lifestyle choices can have a positive or negative effect on the chances of developing illness but it is generally up to the individual to choose which life path to take.

In contrast, however, industrial or agricultural practices that negatively affect the environment, foreign policy that increases the threat of terrorism and the failure of improperly regulated financial institutions are all examples of risk over which the individual has little control. It is in these situations that expert knowledge is most valued. Risk management

The management of risk by experts
Experts manage risk in a very different way than individuals and are far more accountable for the decisions they make. The knowledge against which risk is assessed is largely socially constructed, that is to say that research is often driven by a specific need to known and whilst many important discoveries have happened by accident, Penicillin, X-rays and more recently, Viagra for example (BBC, 2002), most are the result of rigorous and systematic investigation. Each new piece of knowledge changes understanding and adds or takes away from that which is already known. Experts use knowledge in an attempt to manage risk by prompting changes in behaviour. By legislation, education and campaigns which target specific 'at risk' groups, and by the placement of material objects such as the concrete blocks outside
many of London's tourist landmarks to protect against terrorist attack. Decisions in this respect are made according to the best information available, but as has already been suggested, the best information may not stay 'best' for long and expert opinion is not immune to challenge or criticism. Risk management, therefore, can sometimes lead to solutions that are unpopular and contested and are out of date...

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