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Authors: Cerase, Andrea 
Title: Le scienze sociali e i risk studies : Temi, Problemi, Metodi
Issue Date: 2016
Series/Report no.: 32 / (2016)
Keywords: risk theories
risk perception
social science
risk studies
epistemologies of risk
Subject Classification05.08. Risk 
05.03. Educational, History of Science, Public Issues 
Abstract: This work is intended as a short introduction to social science literature, with the aim of critically analyzing some of the main theoretical paradigms, the most important concepts and research themes and their relevance in the context of policy making processes. The consolidation of the risk studies paradigm as well as the emergence of risk governance as an autonomous and multidisciplinary field of research owes much to the fundamental contribution of social sciences, which is the subject of this paper. The international scientific community has recognized the role of social sciences for some time, stressing that the connection and comparison between different knowledge is essential to achieve a single objective, namely the protection of human health, the environment and the communities and social groups exposed to risks. The strong overlap between the physical and material dimensions of risk and social, psychological and political dimensions inevitably entailed the need to overcome the impasse of reductionist explanations and the idea of self-sufficiency in the individual disciplines [Horlick Jones & Sime, 2004], which has also been the subject of epistemological reflection for some time in other fields [Morin, 2000]. However, one should point out that this extension of the field of risk analysis, today including social science and humanities [SSH] has not always been easy, nor bloodless. The full acceptance of social sciences in risk assessment, management and communication issues has required a laborious recognition of the limitations of rationalist paradigm in resolving or mediating social conflicts - sometimes dramatic - linked to the emergence of "new" risks, especially those related to nuclear energy, pollution and health. Numerous major catastrophic events, such as the fire at the Sellafield nuclear power plant in 1957, the foetal malformations caused by Talidomide in the early 1960s, the terrible consequences of methylmercury pollution in Minamata Bay in Japan at the end of the same decade, the evacuation of Love Canal from toxic waste, but above all, the nuclear accidents on Three Mile Island in 1979 and Chernobyl in 1986 have created a climate of widespread and justified public concern, which has often been accompanied by growing hostility towards science and technology, as these are increasingly seen as a source of incalculable, irreversible and catastrophic risks. In addition, disasters such as Vajont disaster in 1964, the Tangshan earthquake in 1976, the Indian Ocean Tsunami in 2004, Hurricane Katrina in 2005 and the Japan earthquake in 2011 showed that the extent of the damage was in many cases linked to wrong human decisions, making the distinction between anthropogenic and natural risks much more fades and conventional. In such a context, the need to provide organic and consistent responses to risks has made it necessary to integrate several disciplines, both in terms of multidisciplinarity (in which each discipline deals with a particular aspect of the problem in cooperation with the others) and transdisciplinarity (which integrates in a single approach theoretical and methodological elements of the different disciplinary knowledge) [Horlick Jones & Sime, 2004]. This dialogue, which presupposes a reflection on the epistemological foundations of the different disciplines, and the attempt to integrate concepts and definitions, is fundamental for assessing and informing political decisions on risks [Althaus, 2005], as well as the need to reconcile the scientific cultures of the so-called hard science (engineering, physics, epidemiology) with those of soft scienze as SSH + (anthropology, sociology, psychology) [Jasanoff, 1993]. In this context it emerged the new concept of risk studies: this term, which began to appear in the early 1980s, associated with research into the location of nuclear sites, was used in the early 1990s to identify a specific theoretical - disciplinary field aimed at analysing the social, political, economic and legal problems associated with risks [Krimsky, 1992]. Risk studies, which are nowaday characterized as a multidisciplinary and autonomous field that integrates different knowledge, are born precisely as a response to the emergence of risk perception as a social problem [Burgess, 2016], taking concrete form in the United States in the birth of different research groups with a strong multidisciplinary vocation.
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