Heyman, Bob (2011) Healthcare through the Lens of Risk. In: Understanding the Social World Conference 2011, 13th - 15th July 2011, University of Huddersfield. (Unpublished)

Some sociologists argue that risk social science is now old-fashioned, and that the concept of risk has lost its meaning through over-use. This argument spectacularly fails to recognise the ubiquitous employment of risk-thinking in every sphere of modern life. Such universality carries with it the taken-for-granted societal assumption that ‘risk’ links together diverse social arenas such as sport, business, child protection and public health. The paper to be presented will analyse the elements of risk-thinking, viewed as a social rather than natural phenomenon (Heyman et al., 2010), maintaining that the concept of risk does retain strong meaning. It will be argued that the metaphorical lens of risk draws together interpretive processes involving categorisation, value judgements, probabilistic inferences and time-framing in ways which create emergent issues. The dynamics of risk thinking will be illustrated through examples drawn from qualitative research projects concerned with, inter alia, prenatal screening for Down’s syndrome, the discharge of violent offenders from mental health services and parental care for children with severe learning disabilities. The presentation is linked to a still open call for papers contributing to a four-edition mega-issue of the journal Health, Risk & Society, Health Care Through the Lens of Risk.

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