Geography & Environment Publications

Revisiting Cultural Theory of Risk: Explaining Perceptions of Technological Environmental Hazards Using Comparative Analysis

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Canadian Geographer

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DOI: 10.1111/j.0008-3658.2005.00080.x


This study addresses one of the main research problems in the area of environmental hazard risk—to explain why perception of threat from the same hazard varies between groups. We argue that the cultural theory of risk, explicitly place-contingent ways of life and worldviews that support those ways of life, goes a long way towards explaining risk perception differences in the communities of Kinuso, Fort Assiniboine and Barrhead Alberta. Fifty-five in-depth interviews were conducted within these communities; three of the four communities are closest to the Alberta Special (hazardous) Waste Treatment Facility. A regional donut pattern of interviewee concern is partially explained as differential attachment to ways of life like farming, tourism and hunting for the concerned and amenity-proximate rural living for the unconcerned. These relationships are further supported by worldviews like distrust and sensitivity to equity for the concerned and the price of progress for the unconcerned. Though this study is not about siting process per se, detailed conversations about the siting process indicate that the perceptions of risk (as concern) in the operational phase of this hazard were solidified early on and are likely difficult to change.

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