What is risk?
Material world and risk
Case study 1: allotment
Case study 2: sun exposure
Risk society and Ulrich Beck (1992)
Understanding and knowledge
Geoffrey Rose (1850)
Uncle Norman and last person
Title: Risk and understanding through expert knowledge and lay dispute
This report will look at how modern society is a risk society, how expert knowledge is used to understand risk and how lay people respond. Case studies will be used to show how expert knowledge on understanding and managing risk is communicated. These will show how the lay person disputes risks and make decisions without following the expert knowledge. The work of sociologists of Geoffrey Rose (1850) and Charlie Davison and colleagues (1991) is used to show how the lay person disputes expert knowledge by using their own everyday knowledge and experience.
What is risk?
2.1 Material world and risk
In modern society we live in a material world that now provides us with material goods which previous societies didn’t have. However these new material goods can bring us benefits but also can bring us risks. Putting yourself, or something, at risk is putting yourself in a possible situation which would have a negative outcome. Thompson et al. did a study in 1989 on cyclists who wanted to try to manage the risk of a head injury by wearing a helmet while cycling. The results showed an 85% decrease in the risk of a head injury if a helmet was worn. However, research by Walker (2006) concluded that if a car was to overtake a cyclist wearing a helmet, they would drive closer. Using this expert knowledge some people may chose to not wear a helmet to keep divers at bay even though with a crash the risk of a head injury would be higher.
2.2 Case study: allotment
In 2003 Tim Jordan and his family had an allotment in Hackney in which they thought the soil was safe. Eighteen months after getting the allotment their local authority, sent them a letter telling them the soil was poisoned with arsenic and lead. The test used by the council measured the total amount of poison in the soil using soil plugs. These samples were sent to a laboratory where the level of poison was compared to ‘soil guidance values’ (Exploring Social Lives, 2009 p. 54). This was a well established tests scientists used to develop their expert knowledge about soil and poisons.
The soil was then tested in a different way with a PBET (physiologically based extraction test). The basis of this test was to measure the level of poison in the soil that would enter the human body. The test tries to create a situation of the soil passing through the human digestive system of a two year old. This test showed that the level of poison in the soil was less then the earlier test.
Both tests gave the public information about the level of poison and therefore the level of risk in gardening on that soil. But each test gave the lay person different information making it difficult for them to be certain about the risk. This case study shows that expert knowledge if not always consistent.
2.3 Case study 2: sun exposure
The sun exposure case study concentrates on Glaswegians attitude towards sun exposure whilst knowing the risks. Simon Carter conducts research on the attitude towards sun exposure drawn from interviews and focus groups of tourists between ages 20 - 35 who regularly travel abroad. This research found that those involved were aware of health advice on how to protect themselves from the dangers of sun exposure and why.
Glaswegians find going on holiday without a pre-holiday tan as embarrassing. The Glaswegian term ‘peely-wally’ is used to describe people who are pale ‘When you’re away and the sunglasses and white legs come out I’m ashamed to be Scottish ... it’s like if you see a group of peely-wally people then they are Scottish.’...
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