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Risk Society and Contested Illness: The Case of Nuclear Weapons Workers

Risk Society and Contested Illness: The Case of Nuclear Weapons Workers Wealth production within a “risk society” typically depends on production technologies that expose citizens to dangerous substances. Knowledge of such exposure is, more often than not, hidden from the public. Empirical analyses show that citizens' claims of illnesses caused by risky exposures are frequently contested by the institutions that select production technologies and control information: the government, corporations, and physicians. In this article, we use the risk society thesis as a framework for addressing gaps in the environmental illness literature—specifically, the basis for authorities' contestations of illness claims for which the exposure–illness link is scientifically confirmed. Using case methods, including in-depth interviews with 124 citizens, analyses center on the contested illness claims of nuclear weapons workers at the federal Oak Ridge Nuclear Reservation. Results highlight how institutional and organizational resources provided authorities with tactical leverage, and allowed them to manufacture an ambiguous climate for public discourse. This discourse focused on the exposure—illness link for a particular individual and their specific symptoms rather than the established exposure—illness links in general. We conclude by discussing the implications of our findings for analyses of environmental exposure specifically, but also the seemingly contradictory tension between the risk society's need to restrict information to experts and democracy's need for open discourse. http://www.deepdyve.com/assets/images/DeepDyve-Logo-lg.png American Sociological Review SAGE

Risk Society and Contested Illness: The Case of Nuclear Weapons Workers

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References (72)

Publisher
SAGE
Copyright
© 2008 American Sociological Association
ISSN
0003-1224
eISSN
1939-8271
DOI
10.1177/000312240807300302
Publisher site
See Article on Publisher Site

Abstract

Wealth production within a “risk society” typically depends on production technologies that expose citizens to dangerous substances. Knowledge of such exposure is, more often than not, hidden from the public. Empirical analyses show that citizens' claims of illnesses caused by risky exposures are frequently contested by the institutions that select production technologies and control information: the government, corporations, and physicians. In this article, we use the risk society thesis as a framework for addressing gaps in the environmental illness literature—specifically, the basis for authorities' contestations of illness claims for which the exposure–illness link is scientifically confirmed. Using case methods, including in-depth interviews with 124 citizens, analyses center on the contested illness claims of nuclear weapons workers at the federal Oak Ridge Nuclear Reservation. Results highlight how institutional and organizational resources provided authorities with tactical leverage, and allowed them to manufacture an ambiguous climate for public discourse. This discourse focused on the exposure—illness link for a particular individual and their specific symptoms rather than the established exposure—illness links in general. We conclude by discussing the implications of our findings for analyses of environmental exposure specifically, but also the seemingly contradictory tension between the risk society's need to restrict information to experts and democracy's need for open discourse.

Journal

American Sociological ReviewSAGE

Published: Jun 1, 2008

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