Infrastructures of risk: a mapping approach towards controversies on risks

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Abstract:

Anyone concerned about food risks related, for example, to acrylamide, bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE) or food supplements is confronted with vast and complex landscapes of political debates, with various uncertainties, contested responsibilities, competing knowledge and ambivalent value-making. In risk assessment procedures, these fluid complexities often get simplified to come to any evaluation at all. A retrospective review of risk scandals, however, highlights that most risks arise just from those connections in production, usage and disposal which remained unseen or were even blinded out during previous risk assessment. To better deal with these 'unknown unknowns', society at large and decision-makers in particular need not only new strategies to avoid manufactured uncertainties but also more comprehensive knowledge tools and concepts to fully explore potential sources and connections of hazards, risks and uncertainties. Facing this challenge of risk governance, the paper discusses the potential of the visualisation ('mapping') of risk controversies and introduces the concept of 'risk infrastructures'. The aim is to equip stakeholders, laypersons and decision-makers with risk mappings which make visible how competing knowledge claims, protagonists, institutional settings, facts and values are related to each other. It will do so in referring to a prototype software application of such a 're-assembling strategy' (Actor-Network-Theory (ANT)) called 'Risk Cartography'.

Keywords: ANT; mapping; risk governance; risks; visualisation

Document Type: Research Article

DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/13669877.2010.505348

Affiliations: 1: Department of Sociology, Munich Institute for Social and Sustainability Research (MPS), Munich, Germany 2: Department of Applied Social Sciences, University of Applied Sciences, Munich, Germany

Publication date: January 1, 2011

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