Trust, risk and vulnerability : towards a philosophy of risk communication

Abstract: This thesis is a philosophical contribution to the theories on risk communication. The topic of risk communication is approached from several different angles, but with a normative focus on equality and vulnerability. Essay I is a comment on risk perception theory and the psychometric model in particular. In risk perception research individual risk taking is described as either a result of valuing the benefits from risk taking or a failure of comprehending the severity or probability of risks. The essay argues that sometimes individuals take risks simply because they are in a vulnerable position and have no other choice. Four factors are identified as crucial in risks from vulnerability: poor outset conditions, lack of reasonable options, hope and liability to disinformation. Essay II addresses the democratic approach to risk communication and the ideal of risk communication as a dialogue between more or less equal stakeholders. The Essay argues that even the more innovative and dialogue oriented approaches to risk communication are unequal. This is often blurred by the confusion between the described ideal and the description of these newer approaches. This inequality is analysed in a three-fold way: influence over the communication process; influence over and access to information; and influence over risk decisions. The Essay develops a typology of different risk communication practices and influence distributions and concludes that the form of risk communication most commonly referred in the literature is the most imbalanced kind where all three types of influence falls to the same party. Essay III explores the concept of trust, an often-mentioned objective for risk communication. The concept of trust is analyzed from previous philosophical approaches, and the idea of trust as comfortable defocusing is introduced. It is argued that not only the gains for the trustee but also the gains and risks for the truster, generally and in the case from risk communication, can be explained by this notion. It is concluded that public trust for institutions or organizations need not be framed on an individual level. Instead, the vulnerability of trusting can be counter-acted by a delegation of different stances, including both control and trust, among different individuals and institutions in society.