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The Songlines of Risk

In Maurie J. Cohen and Alan Holland, eds.,

Journal Article, Environmental Values, volume 8, issue 2, pages 135-152

Author: Sheila Jasanoff, Pforzheimer Professor of Science and Technology Studies

Belfer Center Programs or Projects: Environment and Natural Resources; Science, Technology, and Public Policy


Two decades of social and political analysis have helped to enrich the concept of risk that underlies the bulk of modern environmental regulation. Risk is no longer seen merely as the probability of harm arising from more or less determinable physical, biological or social causes. Instead, it seems more appropriate to view risk as the embodiment of deeply held cultural values and beliefs, the songlines of the paper's title,­ concerning such issues as agency, causation, and uncertainty. These values are incorporated into the formal methodologies, such as quantitative risk assessment, by which industrial societies assess risk. The meaning of risk accordingly varies from one cultural context to another, posing difficult problems for global environmental governance. The paper reflects on the role of science in promoting convergent perceptions of risk across disparate political cultures.


For more information about this publication please contact the ENRP Program Coordinator at 617-495-1351.

Full text of this publication is available at:

For Academic Citation:

Jasanoff, Sheila. "The Songlines of Risk." Environmental Values 8, no. 2: 135-152.

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