Risk communication: World creation through collective learning under complex contingent conditions

  • Strydom P
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Abstract

Risk communication, in the full sense of the word, is a discursive event in which speakers advance claims in the face of other responding participants before a general public. The presence of the public leads the participants to evaluate what happens in moral terms, with the result that their claims obtain an unavoidable normative quality and the discursive event takes the form of a public controversy which puts pressure on the participants to coordinate their disagreements. Proceeding from the assumption of socially distributed and shared cognition, the core argument of this paper is that risk communication, in the final analysis, is a cooperative learning process in and through which a communication community constructively arrives at a diagnostic interpretation of its common situation, the challenge it faces, and possible ways of dealing with it. Since such learning is possible only under conditions of relatively high complexity and contingency, however, its characteristic non-linear dynamic development makes uncertainty both many-sided and unavoidable. Often, however, such a collective achievement is put beyond reach, not simply because of complexity, contingency and uncertainty, but rather because the agents or groups involved follow one or other of a number of strategies which effectively block learning. Were the social sciences to contribute to the enhancement of risk communication (e.g., by facilitating value- and will-formation in the face of concrete problems), they should study the multi-levelled process of risk communication in the different communicative-discursive contexts within which it takes place with a view to clarifying the learning processes and potentials they harbour. Crucial here are the normative standards appealed to and the degree of legitimacy they allow. Not merely the management of uncertainty depends on this, but also the very world brought into being through risk communication. [ABSTRACT FROM AUTHOR] Copyright of Journal of Risk Research is the property of Routledge and its content may not be copied or emailed to multiple sites or posted to a listserv without the copyright holder's express written permission. However, users may print, download, or email articles for individual use. This abstract may be abridged. No warranty is given about the accuracy of the copy. Users should refer to the original published version of the material for the full abstract. (Copyright applies to all Abstracts.)

Author-supplied keywords

  • Communication
  • Complexity
  • Contingency
  • Discourse
  • Learning
  • Normative standards
  • Problem-solving
  • Public interest
  • Public sphere
  • Risk
  • The public
  • Uncertainty
  • World creation

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Authors

  • Piet Strydom

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