The language of risk

Matthew Cotton, Karen Parkhill

Research output: Contribution to conferencePaper


Research in the sociology risk is increasingly focussed upon the multi-dimensionality of perception and communication. One important facet is the deployment of different linguistic devices through which risk is communicated and framed. In this paper we briefly review the different techniques and frameworks for analysing the language of risk -(e.g. from psychometric to discourse analytic techniques) - categorising them across different scales from individual micro-level interactions to broader social narratives (and the relationship between these scales).

We then outline key findings from our own empirical research projects on risk and language to explicate the importance of studying the language and linguistic devices used. The first case study examines the role of metaphors in shaping risk discourses in broadsheet newspapers in three countries (UK, USA and Australia) related to unconventional hydrocarbons. The second, explores the use of humour by those living with nuclear power in the UK (Oldbury and Bradwell). Through this case study we reveal the emotion work involved in deploying humour to both mask and reveal affectively charged states, which in turn shows that examining the use of humour leads to richer understandings of the lived experience of risk. We conclude, that the analysis techniques used in each case study permits risk researchers to examine what underlies risk perceptions, and how new and/or contested energy developments become more familiar and conventional, thus impacting public acceptability. Through these case studies we hope to show the value of using such analytical methods to explore language and linguistic devices, to shed new light on attitudes towards risk-bearing developments.
Original languageEnglish
Publication statusPublished - 2019
EventToxic Expertise Fourth Annual Workshop: : Interdisciplinary Perspectives on Petrochemical, Fossil Fuel, and Related Industries - Warwick University, Warwick, United Kingdom
Duration: 30 May 201931 May 2019


ConferenceToxic Expertise Fourth Annual Workshop:
Country/TerritoryUnited Kingdom


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