The Construction of Risk: 9/11 Terrorist Attack and the Response to It
On the 11th of September 2001 terrorists carried out suicide attacks on American soil. They killed over 3,000 people and shocked the world as people never really thought of the magnitude of the attacks and in particular the location of the attack, America where risk is calculated and anticipated. These events shed a light of a debate whether risk is an objective phenomenon whose probability can always be calculated, or it is subjective/dynamic phenomenon which is constantly constructed and negotiated.
To date there has been a contestation around risk approach. One approach is so called realism. The exponents of realism propose that risk is the outcome of probability and consequences of an unfavourable event (Bradbury, 1989). They see risk as an objective phenomenon that can be measured separately from cultural and social processes (Renn, 1992a). Because they view risk as an objective phenomenon, they argue that the perceptions of risk among individuals should be similar. Employing a standpoint of cognitive science, this approach has been widely used in dealing with risk in the areas of engineering, statistics, psychology, epidemiology and economics. It presents the conception of hazard with calculation of probability (Lupton, 1999).
The other approach, namely constructivism, provides a critique for realism by highlighting realism tendency to reduce the meanings and behaviours linked to risk perception and assessment to the individualistic level. In general, cognitive science ignores the symbolic meanings that humans give to objects and events. Lupton makes this clear by saying that perception in realism is restricted only to the way people see and comprehend the world through their senses and brain-functioning (Lupton, 1999). The realists have a tendency to place people outside the cultural and political frameworks, relationships, and institutions within which their beliefs and behaviours are constructed. This tendency is not correct because individuals are not free from emotions and self interests which affect the way they respond to risk.
Constructivism offers a dissenting approach by arguing that risk knowledge is not free at all from the socio-cultural contexts in which this knowledge is created (Lupton, 1999). This approach stresses that such knowledge is not free from values as it is the product of perceiving things in certain socio-cultural contexts. Therefore, the perception of risk among individuals is allowed to differ. Consequently, expert judgements of risk are regarded as equally constructed by implicit and cultural processes as are lay people’s judgements. Risks are not seen as realities lying outside of society and culture, but as integration of meanings, logics and beliefs. We can only know and experience risks through our specific location in a particular socio-cultural context. Lupton describes this well when she states that “a risk is not a static,...