The sound of risk and the art of change. Towards a deeper understanding of nuclear risk perception

Vogl, Dominikus (2017). The sound of risk and the art of change. Towards a deeper understanding of nuclear risk perception. (Dissertation, University of Bern, Faculty of Business, Economics and Social Sciences, Institute of Sociology)

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The dissertation is an approach to cover different views on risks and specifically on
nuclear risk perception. The dissertation aims to contribute theoretical foundations as
well as empirical evidence on the questions of how to perceive and to govern global risks,
such as nuclear technology. Technological risks, we face today, can be seen as products of
the era of modernity. We created them, seeing them as chance and controllable. Major
nuclear accidents repeatedly provide evidence that the assumption of controllability is
too strong. A paradigm shift is needed in scientific reasoning. In the beginning of this
work an approach is developed to define risks as a semi-normative concept of individual
judgement as well as objective foundation. The dissertation emphasizes that individual’s
risk perception can in its extremes be solely based on feelings, on the one hand, or on pure
objective information, on the other. This can create tension in societies if expert’s risk
evaluation does not match individualistic judgements of risks. As a result, social protests
on local level happen, broader civil society movements are formed or new political parties,
such as the Green party in Germany are established. On the individual level, empirical
studies indicate that risk perception is clustered within societies. Women, for example,
systematically evaluate the use of nuclear energy as more dangerous as man.
To provide empirical evidence, this work contains three empirical chapter using data
from the International Social Survey Programme (ISSP). All three chapters are interested
in the question of how dangerous individuals perceive nuclear energy. Furthermore all
studies are linked to the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant accident in March
2011. The first study examines individual nuclear risk perception in the U.S., Great
Britain, France, Germany, and Japan, before the accident. The second study uses data
of country samples that contain observations before and after the accident to show
how the event has an immediate effect on risk perception in societies. A third chapter
using observations after the accident compares nuclear risk perception with individual’s environmental concern. The studies show how social factors, such as gender, education,
social status or values shape our concerns and our view of nuclear risk. It becomes also
clear that a major nuclear accident is affecting more risk averse groups, such as educated
men, stronger than already concerned people creating higher levels of risk perception.
A main driver of risk perception is a loss of trust in governments and its controlling
The questions that remain are the question of how to govern risks and how to avoid
creating risks that are perceived as very dangerous for future generations. Unanswered
remains in this dissertation the question of how to design institutions that are able
to pass on the knowledge of risks, such as nuclear technology, from one generation
to its next generation. In order to avoid the creation of too dangerous risks for future
generations, this work is advocating an adaptive and integrative risk-management model
opposed to a command-and-control management model to control for social ignorance
and to avoid an accumulation of risks. Nuclear technology is an example of how new
risks have created new dilemma and questions we face in societies and across countries
as well as across generations. Nuclear technology forces humanity also to overcome
common levels of ignorance and not knowing, for example by using a different language
and worldview, incorporating more information into risk assessments. It also forces all
actors to create institutions and citizen’s trust into its institutions that are able create
control mechanisms to avoid the harm to human beings or a catastrophe, by a series
of nuclear accidents or a nuclear war. The sound of risk is teaching us how we need to
change. Change is an art.

Item Type:

Thesis (Dissertation)


03 Faculty of Business, Economics and Social Sciences > Social Sciences > Institute of Sociology

UniBE Contributor:

Liebe, Ulf


300 Social sciences, sociology & anthropology




Igor Peter Hammer

Date Deposited:

26 Feb 2018 12:01

Last Modified:

31 Oct 2019 22:49



Additional Information:

e-Dissertation (edbe)




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