Marketplace commodification of risk communication: Consequences for risk bearers and implications for public relations

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Public Relations Review

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Society’s attempt to understand and communicate about risk is perhaps the world’s oldest topic − the rationale for human existence and survival (Douglas, 1992). This paper takes critical stock of public relations scholarship and practices in the daunting complex that has become known as the infrastructural approach to risk communication. This approach blends critical judgment of the community structures where risk is discussed and the discourse in which it is analyzed as the foundation for risk governance needed for fully functioning societies. The critical lens of hegemony and postmodernism reveals how an increasing amount of risk communication scholarship and practice has evolved into a new professional, industrial, and societal hegemony that often marginalizes risk bearers and risk arbiters as a nuisance in an otherwise modern and elitist approach to risk control through which risk communication becomes a “priced commodity.” Such commodification can empower organizations to take further risks because of the perceived confidence that its robust risk management programs and risk communication teams, including public relations, can control the dialogue and thereby help protect it from business continuity failure. The great challenge is whether risk communication and management ultimately favors the interests of elites over, and even to the marginalization and subjugation of, the interests of risk bearers and arbiters, ignoring the experiences of inequalities over the life span.


The version of record can be found through Elsevier.