The relationship between risk and rhetoric can seem strange at first. That we live in a risk society where we are exposed to several hazards seems to be a very reliable, consistent, and serious claim. However, risk cannot escape from rhetoric (Sauer, 2003). We can establish several connections between both categories. Rhetoric is concerned with the way in which risk is communicated, translated, and/or constructed through language. Regardless of the theoretical approach that we use to define both risk and rhetoric, we can claim that the communicative construction of risk is, at least, a rhetorical process in which the probabilities about a hazard are represented through language, using specific symbolic systems to persuade individuals on a certain way. As Schwartzman, Ross, and Berube (2011) state, “How we package data and recommendations [about risk] will be profoundly affected by the rhetorics of uncertainty” (p. 5). On a broader sense, rhetoric helps us to understand the persuasive dimension of human interaction. As Potter (1996) points out “[R]hetoric should not be confined to obviously argumentative or explicitly persuasive communication. Rather, rhetoric should be seen as a persuasive feature of the way people interact and arrive at understanding” (p.106).

This paper analyzes the role of rhetoric in the presentation, definition and construction of risk. Following Luptons classification of risk, we explore how the concept of rhetoric -and its scope and limitations- can be understood in relation to three different approaches of risk: realist, weak constructionist, and strong constructionist. We draw on tradition such as Rhetoric of Science and Sociology of Scientific Knowledge to analyze the ontological and epistemological characteristics risk and, therefore, the place that rhetoric has according to different understandings of risk. Finally, we discuss the political implications of these three different approaches to the rhetoric of risk.

We consider that the study of rhetoric and risk relations has a central aspect related to the ways in which experts, politicians, and publics configure and negotiate (or not) the meaning of specific risks. Depending on the way in which risk is approached and, therefore, on the role of rhetoric, relevant social groups (Pinch & Bijker, 1984) can establish and perform different actions.

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Public Communication of Science and Technology

 

Risk and rhetoric
The role of rhetoric in the presentation, definition, and construction of risk

Adriana Angel   Ohio University

Carlos Raigoso   Universidad Nacional

The relationship between risk and rhetoric can seem strange at first. That we live in a risk society where we are exposed to several hazards seems to be a very reliable, consistent, and serious claim. However, risk cannot escape from rhetoric (Sauer, 2003). We can establish several connections between both categories. Rhetoric is concerned with the way in which risk is communicated, translated, and/or constructed through language. Regardless of the theoretical approach that we use to define both risk and rhetoric, we can claim that the communicative construction of risk is, at least, a rhetorical process in which the probabilities about a hazard are represented through language, using specific symbolic systems to persuade individuals on a certain way. As Schwartzman, Ross, and Berube (2011) state, “How we package data and recommendations [about risk] will be profoundly affected by the rhetorics of uncertainty” (p. 5). On a broader sense, rhetoric helps us to understand the persuasive dimension of human interaction. As Potter (1996) points out “[R]hetoric should not be confined to obviously argumentative or explicitly persuasive communication. Rather, rhetoric should be seen as a persuasive feature of the way people interact and arrive at understanding” (p.106).

This paper analyzes the role of rhetoric in the presentation, definition and construction of risk. Following Luptons classification of risk, we explore how the concept of rhetoric -and its scope and limitations- can be understood in relation to three different approaches of risk: realist, weak constructionist, and strong constructionist. We draw on tradition such as Rhetoric of Science and Sociology of Scientific Knowledge to analyze the ontological and epistemological characteristics risk and, therefore, the place that rhetoric has according to different understandings of risk. Finally, we discuss the political implications of these three different approaches to the rhetoric of risk.

We consider that the study of rhetoric and risk relations has a central aspect related to the ways in which experts, politicians, and publics configure and negotiate (or not) the meaning of specific risks. Depending on the way in which risk is approached and, therefore, on the role of rhetoric, relevant social groups (Pinch & Bijker, 1984) can establish and perform different actions.

A copy of the full paper has not yet been submitted.

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