9th Conference European Sociological Association

RN22 Sociology of Risk and Uncertainty

2009-09-04 13:30:00 2009-09-04 15:00:00 Friday, 4 September 13:30 - 15:00 Open Session II Building I, 2E4

"So What Do You Mean by «Risk», Anyway UK Stakeholder Knowledge of Food Chain Risks

This paper will report on recent research investigating differential understandings of food chain risk amongst a range of UK stakeholders in food and food production, including food scientists and risk regulators farmers NGO workers and food campaigners food industry representatives and members of community groups. We were interested in comparing how these stakeholder groups understood risk and risk management across the food chain, with a view to ultimately improving the ways in which these risks are communicated. An innovative visual research method, known as fuzzy felt, was used to elicit focus group discussions of food risk. Participants were asked to work together to produce an image of the food chain, upon which they marked where and what the major risks were, and the steps to be taken to manage them.

We found that this method successfully supported group exploration of the complex issues at hand amongst participants with very different levels of familiarity with food production. The images produced were analysed alongside transcripts of group discussions, in order to show how participants conceptualise the food chain, where and what the risks are, and how these risks should be managed. The research has found that the complexity and scope of stakeholder knowledge of food chain risks is highly variable and solidly grounded in social, political, economic and ethical contexts. Furthermore, we found wide variation in stakeholders concepts of risk itself, and striking differences in awareness of how food risks are managed and regulated. By creating a situation where participants themselves can set the agenda on risk, this research highlights the potential shortcomings of traditional, expert-led, risk communication approaches. We explore the potential of this approach for participatory risk communication and management, and reflect upon the implications of these findings for the constructed and negotiated nature of «risk» itself.