The ethics of socio-cultural risk research

Nick Pidgeon, Peter Simmons, Sophie Sarre, Karen Henwood, Noel Smith

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

15 Citations (Scopus)


In socio-cultural risk research, an epistemological tension often follows if real hazards in the world are juxtaposed against the essentially socially constructed nature of all risk. In this editorial, we consider how this paradox is manifest at a practical level in a number of ethical dilemmas for the risk researcher. (1) In terms of strategies for seeking informed consent, and for addressing the power inequalities involved in interpretative and analytical work, researchers can find themselves pushing at the boundaries of standard understandings of ethical practices and ways of engaging informants in their studies. (2) Impact on participants is another key area of concern, since the subject matter on which data are collected in risk research may be a source of uncertainty, anxiety or unwanted self knowledge. (3) Risk researchers also face the possibility of institutional repercussions of raising risk issues with people who usually normalize the risks, thereby stimulating distrust in the institutions or organizations with formal responsibilities for risk management. There are no simple formulae to guide the researcher in dealing with such ethical issues and paradoxes. It is important, though, to recognize their specificity in risk studies, including the ambiguous status of questions about vulnerability since judgements about 'who is vulnerable' and 'in what ways' are themselves influenced by the situational framings and understandings of participants and researchers.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)321-329
Number of pages9
JournalHealth, Risk and Society
Issue number4
Publication statusPublished - 2008

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