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The semantic distinction between ‘risk’ and ‘danger’: A linguistic analysis
School of Global Studies, University of Gothenburg, Gothenburg, Sweden..
2012 (English)In: Risk Analysis, ISSN 0272-4332, E-ISSN 1539-6924, Vol. 32, no 2, 281-293 p.Article in journal (Refereed) Published
Abstract [en]

The analysis combines frame semantic and corpus linguistic approaches in analyzing the role of agency and decision making in the semantics of the words “risk” and “danger” (both nominal and verbal uses). In frame semantics, the meanings of “risk” and of related words, such as “danger,” are analyzed against the background of a specific cognitive-semantic structure (a frame) comprising frame elements such as Protagonist, Bad Outcome, Decision, Possession, and Source. Empirical data derive from the British National Corpus (100 million words). Results indicate both similarities and differences in use. First, both “risk” and “danger” are commonly used to represent situations having potential negative consequences as the result of agency. Second, “risk” and “danger,” especially their verbal uses (to risk, to endanger), differ in agent-victim structure, i.e., “risk” is used to express that a person affected by an ac- tion is also the agent of the action, while “endanger” is used to express that the one affected is not the agent. Third, “risk,” but not “danger,” tends to be used to represent rational and goal-directed action. The results therefore to some extent confirm the analysis of “risk” and “danger” suggested by German sociologist Niklas Luhmann. As a point of discussion, the present findings arguably have implications for risk communication.

Place, publisher, year, edition, pages
Wiley-Blackwell, 2012. Vol. 32, no 2, 281-293 p.
Keyword [en]
agency; corpus linguistics; danger; risk; semantics
National Category
Social Sciences General Language Studies and Linguistics
Identifiers
URN: urn:nbn:se:kth:diva-180305DOI: 10.1111/j.1539-6924.2011.01668.xISI: 000300668000012PubMedID: 21883332ScopusID: 2-s2.0-84857110100OAI: oai:DiVA.org:kth-180305DiVA: diva2:892416
Note

QC 20160113

Available from: 2016-01-10 Created: 2016-01-10 Last updated: 2016-01-27Bibliographically approved
In thesis
1. Risk, language and discourse
Open this publication in new window or tab >>Risk, language and discourse
2016 (English)Doctoral thesis, comprehensive summary (Other academic)
Abstract [en]

This doctoral thesis analyses the concept of risk and how it functions as an organizing principle of discourse, paying close attention to actual linguistic practice.

          Article 1 analyses the concepts of risk, safety and security and their relations based on corpus data (the Corpus of Contemporary American English). Lexical, grammatical and semantic contexts of the nouns risk, safety and security, and the adjectives risky, safe and secure are analysed and compared. Similarities and differences are observed, suggesting partial synonymy between safety (safe) and security (secure) and semantic opposition to risk (risky). The findings both support and contrast theoretical assumptions about these concepts in the literature.

          Article 2 analyses the concepts of risk and danger and their relation based on corpus data (in this case the British National Corpus). Frame semantics is used to explore the assumptions of the sociologist Niklas Luhmann (and others) that the risk concept presupposes decision-making, while the concept of danger does not. Findings partly support and partly contradict this assumption.

          Article 3 analyses how newspapers represent risk and causality. Two theories are used: media framing and the philosopher John Mackie’s account of causality. A central finding of the study is that risks are “framed” with respect to causality in several ways (e.g. one and the same type of risk can be presented as resulting from various causes). Furthermore, newspaper reporting on risk and causality vary in complexity. In some articles, risks are presented without causal explanations, while in other articles, risks are presented as results from complex causal conditions. Considering newspaper reporting on an aggregated overall level, complex schemas of causal explanations emerge.

          Article 4 analyses how phenomena referred to by the term nano (e.g. nanotechnology, nanoparticles and nanorobots) are represented as risks in Swedish newspaper reporting. Theoretically, the relational theory of risk and frame semantics are used. Five main groups of nano-risks are identified based on the risk object of the article: (I) nanotechnology; (II) nanotechnology and its artefacts (e.g. nanoparticles and nanomaterials); (III) nanoparticles, without referring to nanotechnology; (IV) non-nanotechnological nanoparticles (e.g. arising from traffic); and (V) nanotechnology and nanorobots. Various patterns are explored within each group, concerning, for example, what is considered to be at stake in relation to these risk objects, and under what conditions. It is concluded that Swedish patterns of newspaper reporting on nano-risks follow international trends, influenced by scientific assessment, as well as science fiction.

          Article 5 analyses the construction and negotiation of risk in the Swedish controversy over the use of antibacterial silver in health care and consumer products (e.g. sports clothes and equipment). The controversy involves several actors: print and television news media, Government and parliament, governmental agencies, municipalities, non-government organisations, and companies. In the controversy, antibacterial silver is claimed to be a risk object that negatively affects health, the environment, and sewage treatment industry (objects at risk). In contrast, such claims are denied. Antibacterial silver is even associated with the benefit of mitigating risk objects (e.g. bacteria and micro-organisms) that threaten health and the environment (objects at risk). In other words, both sides of the controversy invoke health and the environment as objects at risk. Three strategies organising risk communication are identified: (i) representation of silver as a risk to health and the environment; (ii) denial of such representations; and (iii) benefit association, where silver is construed to mitigate risks to health and the environment.

Abstract [sv]

Avhandlingen analyserar begreppet risk och hur detta begrepp strukturerar diskurs. Ett centralt intresse för analysen är faktisk språkanvändning.

          I den första artikeln analyseras de engelska begreppen risk, safety and security och deras relation. Analysen bygger på korpusdata (the Corpus of Contemporary American English). Lexikala och grammatiska kontexter för substantiven risk, safety och security och adjektiven risky, safe och secure analyseras och jämförs. Både likheter och skillnader identifieras vilka i stort bekräftar att safety (safe) och security (secure) är synonymer och i sin tur motsatser (antonymer) till risk (risky). Studien stödjer flera tidigare antaganden om dessa begrepp inom forskningslitteraturen, men motsäger andra.

          I den andra artikeln analyseras de engelska begreppen risk och danger och deras relation baserat på korpusdata (the British National Corpus). Ramsemantik (eng. frame semantics) används för att undersöka antagandet att begreppet risk förutsätter beslutsfattande, medan begreppet danger inte gör det. Studien stödjer delvis detta antagande, men visar också på problem med antagandet.

          I den tredje artikeln analyseras hur nyhetspress framställer risk och orsak-verkansamband (kausalitet). Två teorier används. För det första används teorin om medias ”inramning” av händelser (eng. media framing). För det andra används filosofiska perspektiv på kausala beskrivningar. En huvudsaklig slutsats är att risker framställs på många olika sätt med avseende på kausalitet. Exempelvis kan en och samma risk framställas som ett resultat av flera olika orsaker. Vidare framställer nyhetspress riskers kausalitet med olika grader av komplexitet. I vissa tidningsartiklar presenteras risker utan några kausala förklaringar. I andra tidningsartiklar presenteras risker som resultat av komplexa orsak-verkansamband. Om man betraktar nyhetsrapporteringen om risker på en övergripande nivå, så framträder en komplex bild av riskers orsakssamband.

          I den fjärde artikeln analyseras framställningar av fenomen som benämns med morfemet nano, exempelvis nanoteknologi, nanomaterial och nanorobotar. Frågan som besvaras är på vilket sätt sådana fenomen framställs som risker i svensk nyhetspress. Teoretiskt utgår studien från den relationella teorin om risk och ramsemantik. Baserat på vilka fenomen som framställs som riskobjekt (eller hot) i tidningsartiklar, identifieras fem grupper av nanorisker: (I) nanoteknologi, (II) nanoteknologi och dess produkter (t.ex. nanopartiklar och nanomaterial), (III) nanopartiklar (utan referens till nanoteknologi), (IV) nanopartiklar som inte är resultat av nanoteknologi (utan istället uppstår t.ex. i trafiken) och (V) nanoteknologi och nanorobotar. För varje grupp undersöks vidare mönster i framställningen av dessa risker, exempelvis, vad som beskrivs som hotat av dessa riskobjekt och under vilka förutsättningar. Studiens empiriska observationer stödjer tidigare forskning om hur nanorisker rapporteras i nyhetspress internationalt. Rapporteringen av nanorisker är influerad av vetenskapliga riskbedömningar, men också av science fiction.

          I den femte artikeln analyseras en kontrovers kring användningen av antibakteriellt silver inom sjukvården och i konsumentartiklar som exempelvis träningskläder och sportutrustning. Fokus för artikeln är hur risker uppfattas i den svenska debatten som inbegriper nyhetsmedia (press och TV), regering och riksdag, myndigheter, kommuner, intresseorganisationer och företag. Vissa aktörer menar att silver är ett riskobjekt som påverkar olika värden på ett negativt sätt, till exempel, folkhälsan, miljön, och avloppsreningsindustrin. Andra aktörer förnekar dessa påståenden. De menar till och med att silver har fördelar som att motverka risker som hotar folkhälsan och miljön. Med andra ord åberopar båda sidorna av kontroversen hälsa och miljö som värden viktiga att skydda. Slutligen identifieras tre strategier för riskkommunikation som tillämpas i kontroversen: (i) framställningen av silver som en miljö- och hälsorisk, (ii) förnekande av dessa påståenden, och (iii) nyttoassociationer där silver framställs som något som motverkar miljö- och hälsorisker.

Place, publisher, year, edition, pages
Stockholm: KTH Royal Institute of Technology, 2016. viii, 75 p.
Series
Theses in Risk and Safety from the Division of Philosophy at the Royal Institute of Technology, ISSN 1654-627X ; 11
Keyword
risk, safety, concept, meaning, definiton, discourse, langauge, risk communication, corpus linguistics, content analysis, nanotechnology, nanoparticle
National Category
Communication Studies Other Social Sciences not elsewhere specified Philosophy General Language Studies and Linguistics
Research subject
Planning and Decision Analysis
Identifiers
urn:nbn:se:kth:diva-180310 (URN)978-91-7595-840-8 (ISBN)
Public defence
2016-02-24, Kollegiesalen, Brinellvägen 8, KTH, Stokholm, 13:00 (English)
Opponent
Supervisors
Note

QC 20160127

Available from: 2016-01-27 Created: 2016-01-10 Last updated: 2016-01-27Bibliographically approved

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