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Risk and Culture

An Essay on the Selection of Technological and Environmental Dangers

Mary Douglas (Author), Aaron Wildavsky (Author)

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Can we know the risks we face, now or in the future? No, we cannot; but yes, we must act as if we do. Some dangers are unknown; others are known, but not by us because no one person can know everything. Most people cannot be aware of most dangers at most times. Hence, no one can calculate precisely the total risk to be faced. How, then, do people decide which risks to take and which to ignore? On what basis are certain dangers guarded against and others relegated to secondary status?  This book explores how we decide what risks to take and which to ignore, both as individuals and as a culture.
Dame Mary Douglas, DBE, FBA (25 March 1921 – 16 May 2007) was a British anthropologist, known for her writings on human culture and symbolism, whose area of speciality was social anthropology. Douglas was considered a follower of Émile Durkheim and a proponent of structuralist analysis, with a strong interest in comparative religion.

Aaron Wildavsky (May 31, 1930 – September 4, 1993) was an American political scientist known for his pioneering work in public policy, government budgeting, and risk management.
"Poses an important question. Why do people emphasize certain risks while ignoring others? In particular, why have so many in our society singled out pollution as a source of concern? . . . Offering what they call a 'cultural theory of risk perception,' the authors suggest that people's complaints about hazards should never be taken at face value. One must look further to discover what forms of social organization are being defended or attacked."--New York Times Book Review "The authors call into question the presumed scientific objectivity of environmental risk assessment. Risk and Culture is a brief book organized around the premise that the selection of particular single issues (such as nuclear power or exposure to asbestos or ionizing radiation) as environmental hazards is culturally determined. The wellsprings of environmentalism in this and other nations, therefore, are not objective, empirical, rational, or free of value judgements; rather, environmentalism reflects moral, economic, political, and other value-laden factors. Judgments about what is or is not a danger are socially selected. . . . this is a first-rate critical analysis."--New England Journal of Medicine "This view of risk as a socially constructed phenomenon is a creative and refreshing addition to the risk analysis literature."--Nature "A shrewd and provocative book." --National Review

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