Nohrstedt, Stig A. (Ed.). Communicating Risks: Towards the Threat Society.
Article Type: Book review
Subject: Books (Book reviews)
Author: Way, Maria
Pub Date: 03/01/2012
Publication: Name: Communication Research Trends Publisher: Centre for the Study of Communication and Culture Audience: Academic Format: Magazine/Journal Subject: Sociology and social work Copyright: COPYRIGHT 2012 Centre for the Study of Communication and Culture ISSN: 0144-4646
Issue: Date: March, 2012 Source Volume: 31 Source Issue: 1
Topic: NamedWork: Communicating Risks: Towards the Threat Society (Nonfiction work)
Persons: Reviewee: Nohrstedt, Stig A.
Accession Number: 285994492
Full Text: Nohrstedt, Stig A. (Ed.). Communicating Risks: Towards the Threat Society. Goteborg, Sweden: Nordicom/university of Gothenburg, 2010. Pp. 224. ISBN 978-91-86523-13-8 (paper). [Published February 2011]. SEK 280 or 30 [euro].

"Risk," as a friend of mine who teaches risk management always tells me, does not mean "health and safety." This book addresses the task faced in communicating risk in today's society. Recent conversations with elderly relatives have demonstrated one of these problems, that some in society think we are living in an increasingly risky society, where our very safety is in peril. These conversations have shown that they believe that the weather is getting worse, there are more problems relating to natural disaster, crime is becoming more prevalent. Their anxiety levels have become heightened and no statistic that I can put before them reduces these levels. It is perhaps for this reason that Nohrstedt's book focuses on the consequences that arise from the construction of mediatized risk as threat. The book results from a research project "Threat Images and Identity." All of the articles but one, that written by Mats Eriksson on "Conceptions of Emergency Calls: Emergency Communication in an Age of Mobile Communication and Prevalence of Anxiety," which was previously published in the Journal of Contingencies and Crisis Management, are new.

In his introduction, Nohrstedt notes that communicating risks is becoming more and more complicated due to the wider spectrum of media, both old and new, now available and, following Beck's writings (1996) to the technical production and distribution processes that Beck believes are central to the notion of the risk society and the dangers associated with globalized media. He gives some examples: problems associated with industrial production, disease, natural disaster, migration, travel, trade. and politics--all of which are now more reported than ever due to the global nature of the media industries. An example of this might be the reporting on troubles in the Middle East and North Africa which, in Europe at least, have rarely been far from our television and computer screens, radios, and news media. This coverage may feed the appetite of those with xenophobic tendencies, particularly in countries with a tradition of immigration from such countries. Not only does the book cover the mediatized construction of risk as a threat, but also threat and risk construction within organizational settings.

Nohrstedt's first chapter, following his introduction, presents a theoretical background to risk following an historical change which he believes has altered the way live so that we now live, or think we live, in what he describes as "a threat society" (p. 11). He notes that the media have built a world full of dangers and risks and the political world, culture, and economics have, in his opinion, moved from distributing such risk to spreading and promoting messages full of fear and dangerous scenarios that encourage the feeling that we are being threatened by the "other." This form of promotion of the "other" is a very important part of the construction of such messages. He builds on Beck's theorization of the risk society and world risk, noting that with the media's increasing importance and the "mediatization" of messages, the audience has an increased sense of uncertainty and unease about the "Others"--a mythic variety of groups who may come from many disparate places, such as those of a different religion, race, country, or civilization. All of this has become more and more the topic of political and media discourse. A good example might be the Hutu-Tutsi conflicts in Rwanda, which were encouraged by both politicians and the media.

Birgitte Mral, Helena Hansson, and Orla Vigs0, in the second chapter, consider risk rhetoric. Rhetoric is seen by many today as something relating only to the ancients and their rhetors, but they use analytical tools, described as both "sophisticated" and "modern" to consider this ancient discipline, whose "rhetoricity" they believe is used to persuade the modern media audience. Their case study focuses on the siting of nuclear waste in Sweden. They conclude, by utilizing Habermas's work, that this discourse, formed of dialogical and deliberative promises, was based on a preformed plan with a disguised agenda was put in place to underpin commercial nuclear interests. I am sure that it is not only Sweden which has had such a problematic discourse around this thorny subject.

Chapter 3 written by Johanna Jaasaari and Eva-Karin Olsson, uses a theoretical approach based more closely on crisis management situations--or their failure--by media companies. Rather than using these organizations' routines and structures when dealing with crisis management, they use the ways that the identities of companies/organizations interact with rules in such situations. As a case study they consider how Finnish and Swedish public service television managed reporting on the 9/11 attacks on the U.S. Whereas public service broadcasters in the united Kingdom, Italy, and elsewhere immediately went over to live, on the ground reporting (easy to do because such companies have reporters both in Washington and New York as a standard), both Finnish and Swedish public service broadcasting companies kept to their normal rules. There was a felt need to retain their own values, norms, and the identities they had themselves constructed, while also considering the audiences' expectations. This event had repercussions for the companies. They needed to reconsider both their public service remit and their program quality, but the conclusions to which each company came in the aftermath differed slightly.

The following chapter, by Ulrika Olausson, considers climate change and the way this has been treated by Swedish media. The need to discuss this issue is a global rather than a national one, and the requirement to discuss the associated problematics has sometimes conflicted with the logic which is incorporated into Swedish media's own logic. While Swedish media are obviously more focused on a Swedish audience, they must also think about climate change with a European slant. Meanwhile, national cultures worldwide are in the process of change--we have only to think here of the Arab Spring and the effect this has had on the culture of, say, Egypt. Olausson considers how these conflicting demands interact in relation to the topic. They do have an effect, including the author's perception that the u.S. is seen as blameworthy in producing the causes of climate change in the production of what she sees as a culture of "otherism" that is developing in Swedish media.

Anna Roosvall's chapter looks again at the ways in which "otherness" is demonstrated. In this case, she does this through the interworking of different cultures and identities in media discourses around the notions of "world threat." In order to undertake her analysis, she completed a longitudinal study of more than 1,200 media articles taken from 1987, 1995, and 2002. She takes up four themes which she sees as relevant to inter-cultural communication and the media. These are the transformations experienced by the former Soviet union and Eastern bloc after 1989; that Islam has replaced Communism as the greatest enemy; the clash of civilizations which it is alleged occurs between Muslim countries and the West; and her idea that religion and politics should be kept separate. While I do not understand how this can be accomplished, since taking a religious stance is in itself a political decision; it is a view that many hold and it is perhaps displayed most notably in the separation of church and government in the U.S. Constitution, although to an outsider this seems to be a dead letter as religion is so often mentioned in U.S. political discourse. She concludes, not surprisingly perhaps, that 1989 was a time of change which has affected many of the ways in which news has since been narrated to us. She writes about this with some interesting nuances.

Leonor Camauer's Chapter 6 rather than looking at the Danish cartoon fiasco, looks at the Mohammed cartoon published in Nerikes Allebanda. In this regional newspaper, a cartoon showed the Prophet in the guise of a dog on a carousel, a figure from Swedish folklore. This didn't cause such a problematic rift between ethnic groups or between Sweden and Muslim countries as the Danish ones had two years earlier. Camauer suggests this was because the two countries handled things differently in that they differentiated between distant Muslims and domestic ones. Otherness was, in Sweden, constructed in a totally different way. Muslims in Sweden were shown to be partners in dialogue with those writing in the newspaper and so became part of the problem's solution.

In Chapter 7, Lisa Villadsen looks at the Danish cartoon case, noting that the focus of the public debate and of communication means was on Danish foreign policy discussions, rather than on intercultural exchange. Her study casts a spotlight on the June 2nd, 2008, attack on the Danish Embassy in Islamabad, and Villadsen considers rhetorical citizenship norms in the Danish public sphere and how these are affected in a such a crisis. She uses deliberated democratic and rhetorical agency theories to analyze the ensuing crisis and finds that a crisis may affect the space available for debate. This is done in the name of the national interest. A perceived terrorist threat can also be used to play into this general discourse, which feeds into the citizens' general feeling of terror.

Matts Erikson takes a different tack in Chapter 8, focusing his research on mobile phones and calls to the emergency number, 112. Those who run this service believe that there is increased anxiety amongst the public. Through focus group interviews with 36 people, Erikson came to understand that there were many complex reasons for this increased fear and anxiety. The cell phone is available at all times (so long as there is signal availability) and so these phones are more often available in situations where there is an emergency. Unsurprisingly, he found that younger people use mobile telephony more than older people. What is considered important enough to make it worthwhile calling the emergency number has also changed, as has the possibility of discussing a situation with an operator. The conjunction of these factors has meant that the system is coming under strain due to increased call volume and he notes that this strain is also related to the establishment of public trust. His research looks not at analysis of discourses around perceived threat, but at risk perception, self image, and one's relationship with authorities, which have been changed, both at individual and mental levels.

Joel Rasmussen, in the final chapter, considers how risk management in industrial situations, including information and communication systems, which include discourses that surround different groups, changes power and responsibilities in these industrial settings. He focuses on three industries in which safety is particularly important. Rasmussen looked at safety incident reporting and the different ways in which this is done, and interviewed employees at variety of levels in the industries. He also studied the use of risk experts, thereafter using discourse analysis to answer his research questions, finding that the construction of companies' identities relates to the risks and accidents which are part of these companies' normal day-to-day work. There is also evidence of a type of "otherness"--which is here called "otherism." This is demonstrated, he suggests, by the way that people in an organization will talk about others at different levels as being part of the safety systems rather than solving problems.

Risk is an area of communication which is receiving more analysis and has been demonstrated in the media through the discourses around terrorism, disease (such as AIDS, malaria, tuberculosis), climate change, ecological disasters, and so on. This book will be useful for those considering work in this area in order to gain knowledge and to see how different analytical tools can be used to address such problems. This is a very worthwhile and useful addition to the publications on risk, coming as it does from a Nordic background


Beck, U. (1996). Risk society: Towards a new modernity. London: Sage Publications. (Reprinted 2004)

--Maria Way

University of Westminster, London
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