Types of risk transformation: a case study

Busby, Jeremy and Alcock, Ruth E. and MacGillivray, Brian (2012) Types of risk transformation: a case study. Journal of Risk Research, 15 (1). pp. 67-84. ISSN 1466-4461

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There has been a long-standing concern in the literature with the idea of countervailing risks, risk trade-offs and risk migration, reflecting our experience of risks as typically being transformed rather than eliminated. Our aim has been to combine this with the similarly long-standing treatment of risk as a social construction, producing a view in which risks become transformed from one kind to another, over time, as both the world and our understanding of it change. We investigated the risk transformations that have taken place around a specific group of flame retardant compounds, analysing how these transformations had occurred and how they were interpreted by actors such as scientists, regulatory staff and advocacy group members. The study used a series of key informant interviews and observations in technical meetings. This was followed by the application of qualitative template analysis, involving the categorisation of risk transformations according to: (1) whether they were interpreted as involving physical change or interpretational change and (2) whether they were translational, replacing one risk with another, or diffusional, merely adding to a stock of risk. One finding was that, whereas risk transformations were sometimes understood as being accidental or emergent, often they were seen as deliberate and functional from the standpoint of certain actors. A second finding was that risk transformations were often understood as being relative to the commitments we are prepared to relinquish. For example, replacing risk associated with one flame retardant chemical by risk associated with another involves trade-offs that only arise because we retain a commitment to chemicals as flame retardants. The main contribution of the study has been to show how transformability, as well as uncertainty, is central to problems of managing risk – and to show that this transformability is as much social as physical in nature.

Item Type:
Journal Article
Journal or Publication Title:
Journal of Risk Research
Uncontrolled Keywords:
?? risk transformationrisk trade-offssocial constructioncase studymanagement sciencestrategy and managementgeneral social sciencesgeneral engineeringsafety, risk, reliability and qualitysocial sciences(all)engineering(all)ge environmental sciences ??
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Deposited On:
01 Dec 2009 16:58
Last Modified:
16 Jul 2024 08:30