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Rationalizing risk

Arguing over safety on the Firth of Forth

Achim Schlüter and Peter Phillimore

This article examines the centrality of 'safety' in Grangemouth's recent politics. Scotland's main petrochemical center is a town dominated for well over fifty years by a major BP complex. In a context of extensive redundancies at BP, new insecurities surrounding the future of the company's Grangemouth site, and a series of recent accidents, as well as controversy over planning applications from other chemical companies, the town has been pushed into unusually searching questioning about both safety and economic security. This article explores the different lines of reasoning and rationalization on risk, safety, and the future advanced by regulators, BP, and residents and their political representatives. We emphasize how important the familiarity of petrochemical technology has been in public responses to the question of safety, in contrast to many environmental risk controversies. And we argue that safety has provided a focus for social, moral, economic, and political perspectives on the town's present circumstances and future prospects to be played out.

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Lam Yee Man

Many people believe risk drives change. Environmental degradation, depletion of the ozone layer, and global warming all help advance global environmental development. However, why do some countries react promptly while some are slower to react to environmental risk? Reasons vary, but this article focuses on how the specific way risk was formulated and introduced in Hong Kong impeded drastic and swift environmental development. Tracing back to the time when the notion of pollution was first formulated in Hong Kong, this article argues that pollution was not defined as what it was. Instead, pollution was defined and introduced to the public as a problem of sanitation, turning pollution into a problem of categorization—a risk that could be easily resolved. This article contributes to the study of both pollution and risk by studying pollution as a social construct in the unique case of Hong Kong. A warning from Hong Kong—instead of addressing and resolving it, risk could be discreetly displaced.

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Ken MacLean

This article examines current debates for and against Humanitarian Mine Action (HMA) in Myanmar. The analysis, based on interviews with key local, national, and international actors involved in HMA, reveals why so many of them regard the mapping and removal of “nuisance” landmines as posing a security threat to the peace process. (Landmines deny people access to territory; when conflict ends, these landmines no longer serve a strategic purpose and thus become a dangerous nuisance.) These same debates also shed light on the growing role risk management approaches now take in Myanmar as a response to decades of authoritarian misrule by a succession of military regimes. The landmines, although buried in the ground, actively unsettle such good governance initiatives and the neoliberal development projects to which they are often linked, most often by reterritorializing military, humanitarian, political, and economic authority in overlapping and conflicting ways at multiple scales. The findings reveal why HMA actors resist labeling the crisis landmine contamination poses to civilians as a “crisis” that requires immediate humanitarian action.

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Rights and Risks

Evenki Concerns Regarding the Proposed Eastern Siberia-Pacific Ocean Pipeline

Gail Fondahl and Anna Sirina

Indigenous peoples' rights to a healthy environment and to be able to participate in decisions affecting their environment are increasingly recognized in Russian law. In this article we explore the case of the Evenki living at the north end of Lake Baikal, who are faced with the construction of an oil pipeline through their home-land. The Evenki perceive significant potential risks to their livelihoods and lifeways due to potential environmental degradation from the pipeline, risks that destabilize their substantive rights. They also express frustration over their inability to participate in the pipeline planning—their procedural rights to decision making are not being realized. While the pipeline project is currently stymied over environmental concerns, environmental and cultural justice concerns of indigenous peoples could pose considerable de jure obstacles to its future progress, given the pipeline construction company's disregard of indigenous rights.

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Teppo Eskelinen

This article focuses in the allocation of financial risks from the viewpoint of social justice. In contemporary society, finance and the related risk allocation patterns have become highly important in determining the social positions of individuals. Yet it is somewhat unclear how ‘financial risks’ should be understood in normative theory and to what extent their allocation is a specific problem of justice. This article consists of a definition of this category and a typology of three different and distinctive perspectives to financial risks and social justice, out of which a synthesis is drawn. The contribution of the article is to propose a normative basis for a research programme on risks and justice in the society of high financialisation.

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Theorizing “The Plunge”

(Queer) Girls’ Adolescence, Risk, and Subjectivity in Blue is the Warmest Color

Michelle Miller

This article explores the graphic representation of queer adolescent sexuality on offer in the coming-of-age graphic novel Blue is the Warmest Color. This representation, read alongside object relations psychoanalysis and in terms of feminist sexuality education theorizing, invites adult readers to reconsider the ways in which we think of the relationship between girls, risk, and sexuality. I propose that in order to honor girls’ sexual subjectivity, we must treat romantic risk-taking as an ordinary, healthy and essential aspect of growing up.

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Calm Vessels

Cultural Expectations of Pregnant Women in Qatar

Susie Kilshaw, Daniel Miller, Halima Al Tamimi, Faten El-Taher, Mona Mohsen, Nadia Omar, Stella Major and Kristina Sole

This article explores emerging themes from the first stage of ethnographic research investigating pregnancy and loss in Qatar. Issues around the development of foetal personhood, the medical management of the pregnant body and the social role of the pregnant woman are explored. Findings suggest that Qatari women are expected to be calm vessels for their growing baby and should avoid certain foods and behaviours. These ideas of risk avoidance are linked to indigenous knowledge around a mother’s influence on a child’s health and traits. Motherhood holds a particularly important place in Qatari culture and in Islam, and women are ultimately responsible for protecting and promoting fertility and for producing healthy children.

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Jonathan Skinner

Risk and Sociocultural Theory: New Directions and Perspectives. Edited by Deborah Lupton Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1999, ix, 185pp., paperback £19.99. ISBN 0-521-64554-9.

Trade and Trade-offs: Using Resources, Making Choices, and Taking Risks. By Estellie Smith. Prospect Heights, Illinois: Waveland Press, Inc., 2000, x, 185pp., glossary, annotated bibliogr., paperback $20.95. ISBN: 1-57766-092-7.

Hitting the Jackpot: Lives of Lottery Millionaires. By Pasi Falk and Pasi Maenpaa. Oxford: Berg, 1999, 168pp., appendices, bibliogr., £15.99. ISBN 9781859733059.

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Risky Environments

Girlhood in a Post-conflict Society

Donna Sharkey

Post-conflict settings often contain high levels of risk for war-affected girls, yet these same settings also support hope for them. In such contexts, what risks exist for girls and how do they construct responses to these risks? is article is based on an ethnographic study which included a cohort of fifteen girls who had been caught up in the decade-long war in Sierra Leone, a war noted for its gender-based viciousness. Having lived through horrific situations, a major task of these girls has been to make meaning of, and respond to, the risks existing within their post-conflict environments. Following an analysis of the current context of the lives of these girls, this article examines the risks the girls face in their daily lives and the strategies they employ as strength-based responses to these risks.

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Virginia García-Acosta

*Full article is in French

English abstract: The concept of “social construction“ associated with risks has proved to be an increasingly useful analytical tool among disaster experts. However, as is natural with the creation and evolution of theoretical concepts to explain reality, it has acquired different meanings. This, in some cases, has generated some confusion in its use. This paper attempts to clarify some of the variations of the concept “social construction of risk“ by studying and reviewing its main usages and contents. In particular, it looks at the concept's association with perception and with vulnerability. It is basically a theoretical essay intended to help scholars who study disasters so they can use more fluently one of the concepts that will allow them to better comprehend the object of their studies.

Spanish abstract: El concepto de “construcción social“ asociado con los riesgos ha demostrado una utilidad analítica cada vez mayor entre los estudiosos de los desastres. Sin embargo, como es natural que ocurra en la generación y evolución de planteamientos teóricos para la interpretación de la realidad, se le han atribuido significados diversos. Lo anterior ha contribuido en algunos casos a confusiones en su utilización. Este ensayo pretende contribuir a esclarecer algunas de las variaciones en el uso del concepto “construcción social del riesgo“ por medio del estudio y revisión de los principales manejos y contenidos que se le han dado, particularmente dos de ellos: el que lo asocia con la percepción y el que lo hace con la vulnerabilidad. Se trata de un ensayo básicamente de corte teórico, cuyo objetivo último es aportar elementos para que los estudiosos de los desastres puedan disponer con mayor fluidez de uno de los conceptos que permitan comprender el objeto de su estudio con más destreza.

French abstract: Le concept de « construction sociale » associé aux risques a démontré une utilité grandissante en tant qu'outil d'analyse pour les spécialistes qui étudient les catastrophes. Toutefois, comme c'est le cas de tout processus naturel de création et de développement des approches théoriques qui servent à l'interprétation de la réalité, des significations diverses ont été données à ce concept. Ce e diversité a contribué dans certains cas à créer des confusions dans son utilisation. Le présent article éclaircit des variations du concept de construction sociale du risque par l'étude et la révision des principaux usages et contenus qui lui ont été donnés, dont deux en particulier : celui qui l'associe à la perception, et celui qui l'associe à la vulnérabilité. Cet essai a comme objectif d'offrir une réflexion de nature théorique sur l'utilisation d'un des concepts fréquemment utilisés par ceux qui s'adonnent à l'étude des catastrophes.