Skin Cancer and Expert Knowledge

Topics: Risk, Skin cancer, Science Pages: 6 (1488 words) Published: May 26, 2013

Write a report on the disputed role of expert knowledge in understanding and managing risk


1. Introduction – Page 3
2. What is risk? – Page 4
3. Risk Society – Page 5
4. Evidence of risk in contemporary society – Page 6
1. Allotment example – Page 6
2. Sun tanning example – Page 7
5. Conclusion – Page 8
6. References – Page 9


We are all familiar with risk. In fact, it is a key component in our everyday material life and we often manage it automatically either when dealing with mundane tasks or major hazards.

Take crossing a busy road for example. The danger of being hit by an oncoming vehicle is always present, but manageable by recalling safety advice like the popular safety advice “Stop, Look and Listen”.

However, some risks are not always obvious and we are dependent upon different types of knowledge generated by experts to help reveal them, but sometimes this expert knowledge can be contested and interpreted by lay people in society.

The aim of this report is to explore the claim that the role of expert knowledge is disputed between experts and the lay public and will do so by drawing on useful evidence to help support the claim.

2. What is meant by ‘risk’?

The word risk refers to a state in which there is a possibility of known danger or harm, which if avoided may lead to benefits (Carter and Jordan, p. 59).

To elaborate, here is an example that illustrates the definition of risk:

• Someone who rides a bicycle may be aware of the risk associated with manoeuvring through traffic alongside vehicles moving at fast speeds and manages the possibility through the use of hand signals and reflectors and lights. They may also wear a helmet to reduce the risk of head injury. However, they also manage the risk by weighing it against the benefit of healthy exercise associated with cycling.

3. Risk Society

Sociologist, Ulrich Beck (1989), is a very influential theorist in the debate of risk in the social sciences and his theory of risk society stresses that as we have made the transition from industrial society to contemporary society, we are also in a period of transition toward a ‘risk society’ where we are dependent upon expert knowledge to identify and outline risks that are sometimes beyond the direct powers of human perception (Carter and Jordan, p. 79).

Beck uses the events of the Chernobyl disaster to illustrate his theory. Here are a few key points about his theory:

• Beck argues that the as the cloud of nuclear radiation that spread through Europe, people who lived in the ‘fallout’ zones were heavily dependent on the knowledge of experts to identify the risk.

• Within a risk society, personal experience not longer enough in order to judge danger or harm.

• However, while Beck’s theory highlights the publics need of expert knowledge to define risks and the possible danger it poses for them, one of his key concerns is that the role of expert knowledge goes on to cause worry and anxiety for us all.

This theory of risk is very useful in exploring the claim that expert knowledge in managing and understanding risk is disputed, because we can apply it to numerous other examples of everyday material risk.

4. Evidence of risk in contemporary society

There are a large number of examples of material risk in contemporary society that we can apply Beck’s theory to. Here are just two of them.

4.1 Allotment Example

This example or risk involves the soil of an allotment which was said to be poisoned, how with the use of scientific tests the soil was in fact safe, and uncertainties were...
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