The Power of Risk Perception: The Discord Between Public and Scientific Perception of Risks Around Food

Monday, 11 July 2016: 18:15
Location: Hörsaal BIG 1 (Main Building)
Oral Presentation
Charlotte FABIANSSON, Sociology, College of Arts, Victoria University, Melbourne, Australia
In the twenty-first century society, risk has become a household concept used in diverse situations - risks can be found everywhere and the societal debate about risk reignites every time a new scare is emerging, be it a nuclear plant meltdown, a climate change driven natural catastrophe or a food scare.

What is actually a risk is debatable in many settings as it depends on the context, the social and cultural milieu but it is also about who defines the situation or action as a risk, the expert or the layperson.

The risk concept is especially well grounded within food production, processing and consumption. Experts and scientific research define risks, but so too do consumers. Some common ground exists about what food is safe and what food is risky to eat, but there is also a wide gap between what the experts’ assess as a risk and what a layperson considers a risk, particularly in regard to foods that are not considered “natural”.

Even if food is one of the most essential life supporting features of human life, food scares do not necessarily create life-changing food consumption behaviour, as eating habits are among the most deeply ingrained forms of human behaviour well established in an individual’s social and cultural environment.

In this paper, I discuss, how the gap between public’s and experts’ perception of food risks can be understood from the socio-cultural, risk society and the governmentality risk discourses.