A commentary on decision-making and organisational legitimacy in the Risk Society

Academic Press Ltd Elsevier Science Ltd
Publication Type:
Journal Article
Journal of Environmental Management, 2009, 90 (4), pp. 1655 - 1662
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Key concepts of Risk Society as elaborated by Ulrich Beck and others (Beck, U., 1992 (trans. Mark Ritter). The Risk Society. Sage Publications, London. Beck, U., 1995, Ecological Politics in the Age of Risk. Polity Press, Cambridge. Beck, U., 1999, World Risk Society. Polity Press, Cambridge. Giddens, A., 1994, Beyond Left and Right. Polity Press, Oxford. Beck, U., Giddens, A. and Lash, S., 1994, Reflexive Modernisation: Politics, Tradition and Aesthetics in the Modern Social Order. Stanford University Press, Stanford. Beck, U., Bonss, W. and Lau, C., 2003, Theory, Culture & Society 2003, Sage, London, 20(2), pp. 1-33.) are illuminated though a case study of managed environmental risk, namely the hexachlorobenzene (HCB) controversy at Botany, a southeast suburb of Sydney. We observe the way Multiple stakeholder decision-making plays out a number of Risk Society themes, including the emergence of 'unbounded risk'and of highly 'individualised' and 'reflexive' risk communities. Across several decades, the events of the HCB story support Risk Society predictions of legitimacy problems faced by corporations as they harness technoscientific support for innovation in their products and industrial processes without due recognition of social and environmental risk. Tensions involving identity, trust and access to expert knowledge advance our understanding of democratic 'sub-political' decision-making and ways of distributing environmental risk.
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