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Interrupting the social amplification of risk process: a case study in collective emissions reduction

Research output: Contribution to Journal/MagazineJournal articlepeer-review

<mark>Journal publication date</mark>2009
<mark>Journal</mark>Environmental Science and Policy
Issue number3
Number of pages12
Pages (from-to)297-308
Publication StatusPublished
<mark>Original language</mark>English


One of the main approaches we have for studying the progressive divergence of understandings around a risk issue is that of social risk amplification. This article describes a case study of a particular environmental contaminant, a chemical flame retardant that could be interpreted as having produced a risk amplifying process. It describes in particular how a group of industrial organizations acted collectively to reduce emissions of this contaminant, in an apparent attempt to avert regulation and boycotts—that is, to intercept the social amplification process and avoid its secondary effects. The aim of the study was to investigate the constitutive qualities of this collective action: the qualities that defined it and made it effective in the eyes of those involved. These include institutionalisation and independence, the ability to confer individual as well as collective benefit, the capacity to attract (rather than avoid) criticism, and the ‘branding’ that helps communicate what otherwise appear to be a set of unconnected, local actions. Although the risk amplification framework has been criticised for implying that there is some externally given risk level that is subsequently amplified, it does appear to capture the mentality of actors involved in issues of this kind. They talk and act as though they believe they are participants in a risk amplification process.