Constructing responsibilities for risk: Negotiating citizen - State relationships

Karen Bickerstaff, Peter Simmons, Nick Pidgeon

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

95 Citations (Scopus)


The paper examines the ways in which citizens negotiate responsibility in relation to various environmental and technological risks. It focuses on the role of agency and the way that this figures in constructions of relations of responsibility between individuals and institutions. A central argument is that, across the different issue contexts, patterns of perceived agency are crucial to understanding the apparent contradiction in citizens’ attributions of role-responsibilities for the management of risk. The empirical basis of the paper is a series of twelve reconvened focus groups conducted at locations around England, giving a total of twenty-four meetings, in which citizens discussed six different areas of technological risk: genetically modified (GM) crops, genetic testing, mobile-phone handsets; mobile-phone masts; radioactive waste; and climate change. The authors highlight the problem of citizen ambivalence towards responsibility, tracing it to perceived tensions affecting both citizen and state performances of responsibility, and conclude by discussing the implications for policy and by outlining an agenda for further research.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1312-1330
Number of pages19
JournalEnvironment and Planning A
Issue number6
Publication statusPublished - Jun 2008

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