The social significance of risk: An epistemological investigation

Date of Award




Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.)



First Committee Member

John W. Murphy - Committee Chair


At the heart of health promotion and disease prevention lies the notion of risk, which defines some threat to life or health. Measures of risk assessment alone, however, do not address the question of safety. Instead, decisions must be made to determine risk acceptability, and these judgments affect which problems are targeted as well as how they are managed.Because risk is such an important concept, understanding the meaning of this notion is critical. An epistemological investigation will be used to show how underlying presuppositions about knowledge, reason, and the mind shape how risk is constructed and interpreted. And risk reduction will be discussed by analyzing several key theories of decision-making used by medical sociologists.A critique of traditional risk reduction methods will show the limitations of dualism and rationalism. An interpretive philosophy, postmodernism, will be presented to develop an alternative approach to decision-making. Through an epistemological analysis, the experiential nature of risk will be illuminated. Health promotion planning will be used as an example to show how the theoretical underpinnings of postmodern theory justify and support the method of community participation.


Sociology, Theory and Methods; Health Sciences, Public Health; History of Science

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Link to Full Text