Social amplification and policy making: understanding the roles of power and expertise in public health risk communication

Adekola, Josephine Unekwu (2017) Social amplification and policy making: understanding the roles of power and expertise in public health risk communication. PhD thesis, University of Glasgow.

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This thesis presents detailed accounts of policymaking in contemporary risk communication
arenas where strong power dynamics are at play, but which have hitherto lacked theoretical
depth and empirical validation. Specifically, it expands on the understanding of how policy
decisions are made where there is a weak evidential base and where multiple interpretations,
power dynamics and values are brought to bear on public health risk issues. The aim of the
study is to understand the role of power and expertise in public health risk communication
as it relates to policy making. This research describes case studies and relied largely upon
published sources of data because it was determined that these captured stakeholder inputs,
reflected the debates, drew differentially on evidence and experts, would provide greater
insight to each of the cases and were more readily comparable across cases. These sources
included published peer reviewed articles, press releases, statements and official documents
from government departments and organisations, reports from non-governmental
organisations, scientific committee reports, media and newspaper sources. The findings
indicate that public health risk communication as it relates to policy making is a process
embedded in institutional, productive and structural dimensions of power. This suggests that
there are several underlying (and salient) mechanisms of power that shape how risk is
communicated and in particular, whose expertise is called upon and whose voices are heard.
Further analysis of the cases indicates that ‘power’ in public health risk communication may
be expressed through technical expertise, control of communication and creation of trust
(through scientific credibility) such that an argument (within a set of risk arguments) may
become amplified (or dominant) in the policy context. These findings are conceptualised
into a new model - a policy evaluation risk communication (PERC) framework by
identifying key themes that shape social amplification (or attenuation) of risk.

The study contributes to the growing literature on risk communication by advancing
knowledge about the role of power and expertise. Testing of the PERC framework further
enabled this study to extend the existing conceptualisation of social amplification of risk
framework (SARF) from the power and expertise perspective, and to inform the critique of
the framework in extant literature. The study also shed light on policy making in situations
of risk and uncertainty. Further research should aim at using primary data (such as elite
interviews) in investigating the role of power and expertise in risk communication.

Item Type: Thesis (PhD)
Qualification Level: Doctoral
Keywords: Social amplification of risk, risk communication, power and expertise.
Subjects: H Social Sciences > H Social Sciences (General)
Colleges/Schools: College of Social Sciences > Adam Smith Business School > Management
Supervisor's Name: Denis, Professor Fischbacher-Smith and Moira, Professor Fischbacher-Smith
Date of Award: 2017
Depositing User: Mrs Josephine Adekola
Unique ID: glathesis:2017-8514
Copyright: Copyright of this thesis is held by the author.
Date Deposited: 31 Oct 2017 11:30
Last Modified: 08 Nov 2017 09:51

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