Risk Acceptability according to the social sciences by Mary Douglas, 22 of 52

It’s been such a long time between book reviews, and this is not due to a lack of reading. I have been spending hours reading journal articles, chapters from books and government reports…perhaps I should include them here? I have chosen not to as I do not believe that they reflect the real spirit of this blog, which was to read for pleasure and not lose what that brings.

Well I have officially lost it at the moment, my thesis writing is all consuming. The panic and guilt that a moment not spared on working on my thesis overwhelms me. So I have decided that in an attempt to take some of the guilt and put it to good use I would actually write a review of a recently research and read book. I chose to do this as I actually found the book both compelling reading and frustrating at the same time.

As you may remember I am an Anthropology graduate, my interest lies in understanding how our culture and society shapes or has been shaped by our humanity. We exist not in a vacumm of culture, but one that we have indeed created. My thesis is looking at a subject very close to work that I’ve been doing voluntarily for over a decade now. I am passionate about women’s right to access humane and safe maternity care. You may say that this is something that women in the Western world already enjoy and to some extent you are indeed right, but in other ways you would be surprised how wrong that assumption is.

Part of my thesis is looking at how risk discourses of the professions who deliver maternity care impacts on the types of care women are able to choose from and how they make those choices. It is a complex paradigm of choice making, women believe they are making informed choices having been presented with evidence and facts from trusted sources. In fact, that choice is impacted on a multitude of factors such as their very own basic experiences of life to that of how our society views risk taking as an abstract idea. For it is an abstract idea and one which I think Douglas, who is also an Anthropologist, makes a good case for in her book.

Douglas recounts numerous theories of how societies accept and incorporate risk discourses. Most influential to my thesis is that of how risk perception is something that is not necessarily an objective viewpoint even from professional groups. We should question what the motivations for particular understandings of risk are, we did they originate and who do these risk perceptions best serve? In conflict in maternity care is the risk perception cross over between what is seen as a more social form of understanding maternity care as compared to a biomedical form. That these can co-exist is something that the professions have a great deal of difficulty with. That we as women choosing maternity care, relying on information produced by these professions and governments, also have a great amount of difficulty with risk.

So what am I trying to say here. Risk acceptability according to the social sciences is not a nice neat linear theory, and many aspects of varying theories suit. Do we need a new understanding of risk perception and acceptability in our vastly changed world. This book was written in 1985, prior to the September 11 event that left an indelible imprint on how risk averse the Western World is today. My aim in my thesis is to incorporate some of these theories and apply them to todays society.


One thought on “Risk Acceptability according to the social sciences by Mary Douglas, 22 of 52

  1. Thanks for this Carolyn. Not sure that i’ll get time to read it, but I agree that the whole concept of risk aversity indeed abounds in our maternity care. Bring on all those wonderful midwives providing holistic and woman-centred care 🙂

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