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Risk association: towards a linguistically informed framework for analysing risk in discourse

Journal article
Authors Max Boholm
Published in Journal of Risk Research
Volume 21
Issue 4
Pages 480-501
ISSN 1366-9877
Publication year 2018
Published at Gothenburg Research Institute (GRI)
Pages 480-501
Language en
Keywords semantic field, concept of risk, government agency, risk communication
Subject categories Public Administration Studies, Other Social Sciences, General Language Studies and Linguistics


This article addresses a fundamental feature of risk discourse, namely, risk association, defined as the process whereby an agent establishes a connection between something, x, and the notion of risk. In addition, risk association can be defined as the result of such a process, i.e. an established connection between x and risk. A special case of risk association is when x is linked to harmful properties and thus is represented as a risk. Although fundamental to any analysis of socio-cognitive attention to risks, the process of risk association is often taken for granted in risk research. A layered model of risk association is presented taking linguistic practices, i.e. the use of words, as the point of departure. Accordingly, there are both central and more peripheral means of risk association. The central means include the morpheme ‘risk’. More peripheral means of risk association are close synonyms and antonyms of risk (e.g. ‘hazard’, ‘danger’, ‘safety’ and ‘security’) and other related words (e.g. ‘crisis’, ‘protection’ and ‘threat’). For an illustration, the model is applied to an empirical example: the instructions for Swedish government agencies. The example illustrates how the exact vocabulary considered for operationalization in analysis has important consequences for the conclusions that follow with respect to the extent to which government agencies are associated with risk.

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