Risk Communication and Citizen Engagement: What to Expect from Dialogue

Henrik Merkelsen

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    Despite the last few decades’ devotion to deliberative methods in risk communication, many studies point to how important challenges arise when citizens are engaged in public dialogue. Since the era of enlightenment public dialogue has occupied a position as a normative ideal for political governance. But ideals are social constructions that have a tendency to direct attention away from underlying conflicts. The concept of dialogue is no exception, and exemplified by the Danish solution to dealing with public scepticism in relation to technological controversies, the internationally acclaimed ‘consensus conference’, the paper seeks to offer a better understanding of the contemporary use of the concept of dialogue as well as its ancient roots. The paper argues that behind the aspirations for deliberation lie two opposing models of dialogue. When these two models encounter in deliberative processes, their different presumptions about the role of communication symmetry are likely to appear. This points to how the models hold very different expectations as to the dialogical outcome, thus imposing some fundamental conflicts regarding the political efficacy of citizen engagement as a strategy for bridging the gap between expert and lay attitudes to societal risks.
    Original languageEnglish
    JournalJournal of Risk Research
    Issue number5
    Pages (from-to)631-645
    Publication statusPublished - 2011


    • Risk Communication
    • Citizen Engagement
    • Public Deliberation
    • Consensus Conference
    • Dialogue

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