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26059 : Media, Environment, and Risk

Description: In 1991, Ulrich Beck wrote that "society is made into a laboratory." Following the Chernobyl disaster, Beck articulated how modern technology and its potential side-effects-such as radiation or chemical poisoning-had created the novel epistemological category of environmental risk defined by threats that escape human perception and transcend borders. Institutions monitoring ecological conditions gained responsibility for communicating public health. Political conflicts emerged between formations of expert and lay environmental knowledge. The technological application of modern science, and its associated environmental risks, pushed research beyond the laboratory and into the governmental fabric of social order: nuclear reactors had to be constructed and chemicals distributed to populations before their properties and safety could be understood. This seminar reads the debates on risk in environmental sociology alongside the emergence of risk criticism in media studies to interrogate the probabilistic thinking inherent to the communication of ecological threat. Two common traits characteristic of recent environmental catastrophes ranging from Bhopal, Fukushima Daiishi, Deepwater Horizon, Exxon Valdez, Hurricane Katrina, and the varied crises of global climate change, are that each disaster involves the failure or side-effect of an implemented technological project and that the corresponding risks-whether imperceptible or probable-are necessarily communicated to publics by media

Instructor(s): Thomas Pringle

Offered: Winter 2021

Category: Elective