Jamie BaxterWestern Social Science

Social Theories of Technological Hazard Risk

This seminar course examines some of the key theories to explain why some people are concerned about particular hazards while others are not.  The strengths and limitations of each theory and its associated empirical support will be discussed.  Though this course concerns the issue of hazard risk perception, the theories we cover should link with major theoretical currents in other areas of geography (e.g., environmental perception and behaviour, critical theory, cultural theory).

Contact Information

Instructor/TA Room Email
Jamie Baxter SSC 1407 jamie.baxter@uwo.ca

Syllabus

Course Description

This seminar course examines some of the key theories to explain why some people are concerned about particular hazards while others are not. The strengths and limitations of each theory and its associated empirical support will be discussed. Though this course concerns the issue of hazard risk perception, the theories we cover should link with major theoretical currents in other areas of geography (e.g., environmental perception and behaviour, critical theory, cultural theory).

Format

Each week students will be provided a list of readings. All are responsible for the assigned readings and should be prepared with a list of discussion points for the group. These points can be everything from asking for clarification, pointing out limitations, or suggesting linkages with other readings in the course. Ideally my role will be a participant in the discussions so that you can direct issues we discuss - but failing that I will resort to my usual Socratic style.

Throughout the course, students will be ask to identify readings we can all read together. For example, such readings could be a complete collection of papers on a single topic, or a single paper to round out a partial list of readings for a topic.

Meeting Details

Alternate Fridays, 2 hours, 10:00 - 12:00, SSC 2435

Meeting Schedule

Oct. 15/04 Historical roots of hazard risk research

Oct 29/04 Risk concepts and psychometric risk as foundation

Nov 12/04 Evidence in risk research and the social amplication framework

Nov 26/04 TBA

Dec 10/04 TBA

Evaluation

Paper 1 (TBA) - 40%

Paper 2 (TBA) - 40%

Participation - 20%

University Policies

Accommodation for Illness, Family Death etc.

For UWO Policy on Accommodation for Medical Illness and a downloadable SMC see:

http://www.uwo.ca/univsec/pdf/academic_policies/appeals/accommodation_medical.pdf

Downloadable Student Medical Certificate (SMC): http://www.uwo.ca/univsec/pdf/academic_policies/appeals/medicalform_15JUN.pdf

Students seeking academic accommodation on medical grounds for any missed graded course components must apply to the Academic Counselling office of their home Faculty and provide documentation. Academic accommodation cannot be granted by the instructor or department.

And now some messages from our lawyers...

Mental Illness

If you or someone you know is experiencing distress, there are several resources here at Western to assist you. Please visit http://www.uwo.ca/uwocom/mentalhealth/ for more information on these resources and on mental health.

Plagiarism

The Department of Geography has a zero tolerance policy towards plagiarism. If a student commits plagiarism, the instructor will assign a grade of zero to the assignment. A second instance of plagiarism is regarded as a scholastic offense and will be dealt with according to The University of Western Ontario policy for Scholastic offenses - more on our policy on plagiarism via this link. The most common offense is failing to cite properly - if you quote directly, cite the author! You do not get the benefit of the doubt (you are not presumed innocent until proven guilty) when such offenses are committed. That is, the burden of proof is reversed. Can you prove "it was an accident" (this is a rhetorical question)?

The following is an excerpt from the university secretariat: Scholastic offences are taken seriously and students are directed to read the appropriate policy, specifically, the definition of what constitutes a Scholastic Offence, at the following Web site: http://www.uwo.ca/univsec/pdf/academic_policies/appeals/scholastic_discipline_undergrad.pdf

Not citing the work of others is generally the main violation - ignorance is no excuse! See next...

Turnitin.com

Unfortunately turnitin has "caught" several offenders in my classes, please do not be the next one - it is awkward for everyone involved. If you do original work and write and cite properly you have nothing to worry about. The university has provided this mandatory wording: "All required papers may be subject to submission for textual similarity review to the commercial plagiarism detection software under license to the University for the detection of plagiarism. All papers submitted will be included as source documents in the reference database for the purpose of detecting plagiarism of papers subsequently submitted to the system. Use of the service is subject to the licensing agreement, currently between The University of Western Ontario and Turnitin.com"

Once logged in to Turnitin copy the id and pass below to the appropriate fields at the Turnitin website.

1. Login to turnitin - register if you do not have an account.

2. Join the course with the following credentials:

TA "All Students" ID: 10691701
"All Students" password: Reed

Readings/Questions to Think About

Historical roots of hazard risk research

Krimsky, S. (1992) The role of theory in risk studies, in Krimsky, S. and Golding, D. (Eds.) Social Theories of Risk Westport, CT: Praeger, Ch 1. (pp. 3-22).

Golding, D. (1992) A social and programmatic history of risk research, in Krimsky, S. and Golding, D. (Eds.) Social Theories of Risk Westport, CT: Praeger, Ch 1. (pp. 23-52).

Questions

1. Outline Krimsky's different forms of theoretical explantion.

2. To what extent are these forms of theoretical explanation overstated?

3. What is the difference between "individualism" and "contextualism"?

Risk concepts and psychometric risk as foundation

Renn, O. (1992) Concepts of risk: A clarification, in Krimsky, S. and Golding, D. (Eds.) Social Theories of Risk Westport, CT: Praeger, Ch 3. (pp. 53-79).

Slovic, P. (1992) The role of theory in risk studies, in Krimsky, S. and Golding, D. (Eds.) Social Theories of Risk Westport, CT: Praeger, Ch 1. (pp. 3-22).

Starr, C. Social benefit versus technological risk, Science, 165(Sept.), 1232-1238.

Questions

1. According to Renn, why are the positivistic view of risk and the social constructionist view poor descriptions of social reality?

2. Comment on the statement, "If we could simply get people to understand the true risks of various substances/activities, we would have a far easier time helping people focus their risk-related actions appropriately".

3. Compare the revealed preference approach to studying risk with the expressed preference approach.

4. Outline the key limitations of both the expressed preference approach and the revealed preference approach.

5. Why does Renn claim there is no approach that can integrate all of the approaches in his sevenfold classification of "risk perspectives". Do you agree (good essay topic)? Explain.

6. What role does stigma play in risk perception?

7.What is intuitive toxicology and how does it move risk perception research forward?

8. What methods might be used to explain the many patters Slovic and his colleagues have observed?

Evidence in risk research and the social amplification and attenuation framework

Burger, J. (2000) Consumption advisories and compliance: The fishing public and the deamplification of risk, Journal of Environmental Planning and Management, 43(4): 471-488

Kasperson, R. E. (1992) The social amplification of risk: Progress in developing an integrative framework , in Krimsky, S. and Golding, D. (Eds.) Social Theories of Risk Westport, CT: Praeger, Ch 6. (pp. 153-178).

Leschine, T. (2002) Oil spills and the social amplification and attenuation of risk, Spills Science and Technology Bulletin, 7(1-2): 63-73.

Taubes, G. (1995) Epidemiology faces its limits, Science, 269(5221): 164-169.

Questions

1. What are the key "disjunctures" that motivated Kasperson to develop and integrated framework?

2.What are the most serious criticisms of the social amplification and attenuation of risk framework?

3. To what extent do Burger and Leschine add to the social amplification/attenuation of risk framework or do these empirical examples simply take the framework as given?

4. How does Taubes' discussion of the limits of epidemiology relate to the assumption(s) which form the basis of the social amplification and attenuation of risk framework (or is it unrelated)?

5. What are some implications of Taubes' paper for the practice of "risk research" (broadly defined).

Cultural theory of risk

Douglas, M. and Wildavsky A. (1982) Risk and Culture, Berkeley CA: University of California Press. (pp. 1-15; 174-198).

Tansey, J. (2004) Risk as politics, culture as power, Journal of Risk Research, 7(1), 17-32.

Poortinga, W., Steg, L. and Vlek, C. (2002) Environmental risk concern and preferences for energy-saving measures, Environment and Behavior, 34(4), 455-78.

Brenot, J., Bonnefous, S. and Marris, C. 1998 Testing cultural theory of risk in France, Risk Analysis 18(6), 729–739.

Marris, C., Langford, I. and O’Riordan, T. 1998 A quantitative test of cultural theory of risk perception, Risk Analysis 18(5), 635–647

Questions

1. How are the key conclusions from Douglas and Wildavsky different from the "social construction" of risk?

2.What are Tansey's key objections to the way cultural theory has been used in risk research?

3. How much variation in risk perception does cultural theory "explain"?

4. Describe the mythological strengths and limitations to the three empirical papers.

Assignments

Assignment 1

Due: Dec 17/04

Worth: 40%

Compare, and critically assess any two of the following perspectives on risk in a formal essay - 5000 word max. (12 double-spaced pages). Be sure to cite the strengths and limitations of each in relation to the other. Cite current empirical research to support your arguments.

1. technical

2. economic

3. psychological

4. sociological

5. cultural

6. geographical

Assignment 2

TBA