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Engaging with risk in non-Western settings: an editorial

Desmond, Nicola ORCID: (2015) 'Engaging with risk in non-Western settings: an editorial'. Health, Risk and Society, Vol 17, Issue 3-4, pp. 196-204.

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In this guest editorial I argue for the need to resituate an understanding of risk perception within linguistic and methodological frameworks across different cultural settings. Drawing on long-term ethnographic fieldwork in north-western Tanzania, I briefly explore the concept of risk as it has evolved in Western settings from post-Enlightenment scientific tradition. I question the underlying assumptions of Western scientific notions of risk and consider the concepts of risk and uncertainty as they relate to broader social discourses of modernity, tradition, development and social change within a postcolonial sub-Saharan Africa setting. Acknowledging but moving beyond the social framing of risk put forward by Mary Douglas and others including Deborah Lupton and Pat Caplan, and following Jens Zinn in proposing the need for a refined notion of risk, I argue that the influence of language and method is intrinsic to the ways we conceptualise and subjectivise risk. Drawing on research exploring the risk perceptions of actors engaged in health prevention in a non-Western setting in Tanzania – those of externally funded health interventions, government biomedical service providers and local, lay populations – I show how framing of what is considered a priority for health is culturally contingent. Further I suggest that this cultural contingency is reproduced in encounters with researchers, framing risk according to broader social circumstance and situated dynamically within the context of people’s everyday life experiences. This necessitates a process of refinement which is only likely to be achieved under certain conditions; if emic categories are taken into account, if the complexity and contingency of risk and its interpretation is acknowledged through language and if there is greater recognition and awareness of the direct impact of method on individual risk prioritisation and framing, moving towards a more ethnographic approach to go beyond superficial understandings and explore the tensions between what people say they do and what they actually do. These conditions for enhancing engagement with risk become more important given an increasingly influential globalisation; creating a dynamic social world in sub-Saharan Africa, in which risk priorities are constantly reassessed and management strategies renegotiated as individuals encounter novel and changing lifeworlds.

Item Type: Article
Subjects: WA Public Health > Health Problems of Special Population Groups > WA 395 Health in developing countries
Faculty: Department: Clinical Sciences & International Health > Malawi-Liverpool-Wellcome Programme (MLW)
Digital Object Identifer (DOI):
Depositing User: Stacy Murtagh
Date Deposited: 27 Feb 2019 10:44
Last Modified: 27 Feb 2019 10:45


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