Communicating Health: Political Risk Narratives in an Environmental Health Campaign

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This four-year participant observation study of a “good neighbor” campaign aimed at chemical releases from a plastics plant in southwest Ohio investigates the role that health discourses play in environmental health disputes. Environmental health activists defined health, attributed illness causation, and narrated risk in ways that resisted dominant approaches to health, science, and corporate issues management. Those constructions were contested in everyday interactions with neighbors, corporate management, and regulators. The research found that neighbors’ biographical health narratives politicized risk in ways that aided the negotiation of emissions reductions, but individualized, passive, and technocratic approaches to health risks presented barriers to fully understanding the health effects of chemical emissions. The study demonstrates the need for campaign practitioners to raise critical public awareness of taken-for-granted health beliefs, and for greater involvement of academics in promoting democratic scientific methods.

Keywords: Environmental Health Campaign; Health; Health Activism; Narratives; Organizing; Political Risk

Document Type: Research Article


Publication date: February 1, 2012

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