Environmental Sociology, Social Theory, and Risk: an Introductory Discussion

  • Maurie J. Cohen


Ranging from food security to nuclear safety to biodiversity conservation, governments have created vast bureaucracies to alleviate risk in the modern age. These organizations are in the perilous business of managing uncertainty and they typically define risk in narrow, ostensibly objective terms — for instance the number of expected deaths per 1000 people or cases of cancer in a delimited geographic area. Due to the seeming pervasiveness of public concern, contemporary societies spend tremendous sums of money and mobilize vast armies of professional personnel to reduce hazard exposure. Especially prominent in this battle are experts in arcane fields such as toxicology, environmental chemistry, epidemiology, and nuclear physics. In particularly thorny cases, social scientists — most commonly economists — are enlisted to handle the human dimensions of risk. Unsurprisingly, most large industrial corporations have on staff specialists with similar qualifications, for example to keep firms in compliance with their pollution permits. Despite its tremendous diversity and scope, nearly all of the work within this domain can be defined as constituting the determination of ‘acceptable risk.’


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Copyright information

© Palgrave Macmillan, a division of Macmillan Publishers Limited 2000

Authors and Affiliations

  • Maurie J. Cohen

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