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Centre de compétences suisse en sciences sociales

Type of publication Peer-reviewed
Publikationsform Other publication (peer-review)
Author VoglDominikus,
Project MOSAiCH 2011
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Other publication (peer-review)

Publisher University of Bern Faculty of Business Economics and Social Sciences Institute of Sociology, Bern

Open Access

URL https://boris.unibe.ch/112101/
Type of Open Access Repository (Green Open Access)

Abstract

The dissertation is an approach to cover different views on risks and specifically on nuclear risk perception. The dissertation aims to contribute theoretical foundations as well as empirical evidence on the questions of how to perceive and to govern global risks, such as nuclear technology. Technological risks, we face today, can be seen as products of the era of modernity. We created them, seeing them as chance and controllable. Major nuclear accidents repeatedly provide evidence that the assumption of controllability is too strong. A paradigm shift is needed in scientific reasoning. In the beginning of this work an approach is developed to define risks as a semi-normative concept of individual judgement as well as objective foundation. The dissertation emphasizes that individual’s risk perception can in its extremes be solely based on feelings, on the one hand, or on pure objective information, on the other. This can create tension in societies if expert’s risk evaluation does not match individualistic judgements of risks. As a result, social protests on local level happen, broader civil society movements are formed or new political parties, such as the Green party in Germany are established. On the individual level, empirical studies indicate that risk perception is clustered within societies. Women, for example, systematically evaluate the use of nuclear energy as more dangerous as man. To provide empirical evidence, this work contains three empirical chapter using data from the International Social Survey Programme (ISSP). All three chapters are interested in the question of how dangerous individuals perceive nuclear energy. Furthermore all studies are linked to the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant accident in March 2011. The first study examines individual nuclear risk perception in the U.S., Great Britain, France, Germany, and Japan, before the accident. The second study uses data of country samples that contain observations before and after the accident to show how the event has an immediate effect on risk perception in societies. A third chapter using observations after the accident compares nuclear risk perception with individual’s environmental concern. The studies show how social factors, such as gender, education, social status or values shape our concerns and our view of nuclear risk. It becomes also clear that a major nuclear accident is affecting more risk averse groups, such as educated men, stronger than already concerned people creating higher levels of risk perception. A main driver of risk perception is a loss of trust in governments and its controlling agencies. The questions that remain are the question of how to govern risks and how to avoid creating risks that are perceived as very dangerous for future generations. Unanswered remains in this dissertation the question of how to design institutions that are able to pass on the knowledge of risks, such as nuclear technology, from one generation to its next generation. In order to avoid the creation of too dangerous risks for future generations, this work is advocating an adaptive and integrative risk-management model opposed to a command-and-control management model to control for social ignorance and to avoid an accumulation of risks. Nuclear technology is an example of how new risks have created new dilemma and questions we face in societies and across countries as well as across generations. Nuclear technology forces humanity also to overcome common levels of ignorance and not knowing, for example by using a different language and worldview, incorporating more information into risk assessments. It also forces all actors to create institutions and citizen’s trust into its institutions that are able create control mechanisms to avoid the harm to human beings or a catastrophe, by a series of nuclear accidents or a nuclear war. The sound of risk is teaching us how we need to change. Change is an art.
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