contemporary risks, political reflexivity, and adaptive governance

Beck (1992) argues that contemporary risks are different from what he calls “old dangers” because contemporary risks are largely invisible – the effects of climate change on the frequency and severity of extreme weather events, for instance. When these risks do reveal themselves, in times of crisis, they are in extreme form (for instance, Hurricane Katrina, Hurricane Sandy, etc.) and last long enough to incite fear but not long enough to provoke deliberation about adapting – preparing more efficiently for future risks of the same kind. We seem to rush in, rescue, rebuild, and then we seem to forget. Many believe that crises like these superstorms are what we “need” to motivate the development of management plans for responding to future/similar risks. But is that it? If so, then why is water management and adaptation a contested policy issue in coastal cities, like New York and New Orleans, that have been severely – and visibly – affected by contemporary risks? Is it possible that a significant part of the problem is that these events are being framed as issues of crisis instead of as issues of crisis balanced with information about effective actions (what Brulle calls “challenge appraisals”)? If superstorms and other contemporary scientific risks are only framed, and therefore understood, via threat messages, then the perception of these dangers exceeds citizens’ perceptions about their abilities to cope. Challenge appraisals, on the other hand, are responses to danger that address specific coping strategies, with the goal of mobilizing “interested”/affected citizens to act positively in response to the context of the crisis.

Kuypers offers a solution for articulating such challenge appraisals, rhetorical framing, which is a methodology for understanding how news narratives affect actions and reinforce particular themes over others.

Is it possible that aligning existing frames about disaster response with related frames about suggested remedies (Brulle’s “challenge appraisals”) will produce frame resonance (Benford, American Sociological Review, 1986) that will motivate more productive/sustainable management of these crises?

In order for frame resonance to be successful, though, it seems as though it must consider the larger issue of risk itself, and how publics’ understandings of risks aren’t conducive with Beck’s “risk society” quite yet …

The  management of contemporary of scientific risks is so elusive primarily because, as Beck writes, these risks are different in kind: they are largely hidden, invisible, but they’re also “politically reflexive,” and are characterized by:

•  systematic and often irreversible harm

•  causal interpretation (i.e. the scientific/anti-scientific knowledge circulating about them)

•  changeability (they are magnified, dramatized, or minimized within the knowledge circulating about them; meaning they are open to social construction and definition)

These risks are what I refer to as “networked” risks – exponentially more pervasive and complex than “old dangers.” Networked risks require a different mode of governance than traditional risks/old dangers: for example, adaptive governance.

Adaptive governance provides a possible solution for the management of contemporary scientific risks because it allows institutions to respond to the needs and desires of the community, given the context of a changing environment (see Brunner & Steelman in Brunner et al., 2005). In other words, a mode of management that facilitates and reinforces public values in a context of uncertainty. This mode of management is practiced in water management sectors in the Netherlands, for instance, where large consultancy firms operate using a “water governance” approach (i.e. Twynstra Gudde) that embed social measures (“soft” science), link tasks, ensure support for and structure the decision-making process (see The crux of my research pertains to this last point: structuring the decision-making process, via a Public Values Mapping methodology (see ASU Consortium for Science, Policy & Outcomes) that informs the development of frames that have the rhetorical potential to connect with, reinforce, and persuade public values about science, risk, and adaptation policies …


About klangbehn

Doctoral Candidate: Rhetoric of Science University of South Florida 4202 E. Fowler Avenue Tampa, FL 33620-5550 View all posts by klangbehn

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: