Accident and Design: Contemporary Debates in Risk Management

By Christopher Hood; David K. C. Jones | Go to book overview
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David Jones & Christopher Hood

Since the mid-1980s, there has been an upsurge of academic and popular interest in the subject of risk and its management. Indeed, it has been claimed that risk is emerging as a key organizing principle in social science (Beck 1992, Douglas 1992, Giddens 1990,1991) and become “one of the most powerful concepts in modern society” (Leiss & Chociolko 1994:3). Controversies as to how risk should be managed are now claimed to rank as “among the most bitter disagreements in contemporary society” (ibid.: xiii).

The reasons for this growth in attention are complex and debated. For some, rising risk-consciousness reflects increased expectations of health, safety and security within advanced technologically based societies, notions that have been given added status because of contemporary aspirations to sustainable development. Others emphasize the increasing numbers of people who believe they cannot control their exposure to the chance of unfair or uncompensated loss caused by the activities or decisions of others. Since the mid-1980s, large-scale high-technology developments, such as nuclear power and biotechnology, have come under continuing attack, and there have been widespread fears of adverse consequences created by unforeseen and invisible threats (such as AIDS, the BSE-CJD link, radon, electricity transmission and certain kinds of environmental pollution). Other foci of attention, blame and apprehension have been the possible adverse outcomes of human-induced global environmental change and the apparently remorseless escalation in costs of so-called “natural disasters” (reflected in the United Nations declaration of the 1990s as the International Decade for Natural Disaster Reduction). And we can add a diverse range of longer-standing concerns on issues such as resource availability, the safe operation of industrial plant, transport safety, pesticides, drugs, and the viability of certain financial institutions. Even these issues turn out to be merely the most prominent landmarks in an extensive and varied landscape, “for risk is ubiquitous and no human activity can be considered risk free” (Hood et al. 1992:135).

Public interest and attention has stimulated the production of many


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