Recent Science and Technology Research has examined how concepts of risk and public understandings of science might be useful in nonWestern contexts (Fairhead and Leach 2003). Pioneering work on how scientific knowledge is embedded in – and interacts with – a cultural context was done by Douglas and Wildavsky (1983) who argued that understanding risk requires an awareness of the sociocultural context alongside knowledge of subjective and personal factors.
Wynne’s interpretationist approach also focuses on context and provides a means to re-examine the more traditionalist, positivist survey approach to public understandings of science (Wynne 1995). His work draws attention to the interaction between ‘formal’ and ‘informal’ forms of expertise, showing how on the Cumbrian fells, sheep farmers interact with physicists.
He also draws attention to the relational dimension of risks, asking ‘how far might lay people be involved in shaping scientific knowledge, and thus in providing the basis for alternative forms of public knowledge that reflect and sustain different dominant conceptions of the human, and of the social purposes of public knowledge?’ (Wynne 1996: 61)
More recently, Furedi has reinforced the centrality of context in his argument that ‘fears about the future are linked to anxieties about problems today. And if the future is feared, then reaction to risk is more likely to emphasize the probability of adverse outcomes’ (Furedi 2002: 18)