Risk Knowledge Versus Uncertainty: Insights from Research on Health Issues

Thursday, July 17, 2014: 11:00 AM
Room: Booth 52
Oral Presentation
Claudine BURTON-JEANGROS , Department of Sociology, University of Geneva, Geneva, Switzerland
Today dominant forms of risk management illustrate the central role of scientific knowledge in the organization of society in general and in public health activities in particular. This approach suggests that through the accumulation of formal knowledge, greater control over health can be gained. However, the ambivalent consequences of relying on abstract knowledge are more and more apparent. The increasing dependence of – lay and professional – individuals on mediated knowledge (for example screening or epidemiological results) discredits first-hand, experiential knowledge. Furthermore, the definition of health on abstract parameters, associated with a lowering tolerance to abnormal results or anomalous events, implies an expansion of ‘at risk individuals’ and can generate unnecessary interventions. At the same time, the role of uncertainty in decisions related to prevention is more and more debated around the diffusion of precautionary and worst-case scenario behaviours. Bringing together the literature addressing different individual and global health risks, this paper will examine the changing status of knowledge in their management, taking into account the role that history, culture and experience play in collective and individual reactions to danger.