Testing the cultural theory of risk in France
Brenot, J.; Bonnefous, S. ; Marris, C.
Risk Analysis (Dec 1998) v. 18(6) p. 729-740
Cultural Theory, as developed by Mary Douglas, argues that differing risk perceptions can be explained by reference to four distinct cultural biases: hierarchy, egalitarianism, individualism, and fatalism. This paper presents empirical results from a quantitative survey based on a questionnaire devised by Karl Dake to measure these cultural biases. A large representative sample was used to test this instrument in the French social context. Correlations between cultural biases and perceptions of 20 social and environmental risks were examined. These correlations were very weak, but were statistically significant: cultural biases explained 6%, at most, of the variance in risk perceptions. Standard socio-demographic variables were also weakly related to risk perceptions (especially gender, social class, and education), and cultural biases and socio-demographic variables were themselves intercorrelated (especially with age, social class, and political outlook). The authors compare these results with surveys conducted in other countries using the same instrument and conclude that new methods, more qualitative and contextual, still need to be developed to investigate the cultural dimensions of risk perceptions. The paper also discusses relationships between perceptions of personal and residual risk, and between perceived risk and demand for additional safety measures. These three dimensions were generally closely related, but interesting differences were observed for some risk issues. Included in the list of risk perceptions were pollution, hazardous materials, and radioactive wastes.