Credits to
Susanna Arcieri

Risk perception and attribution of responsibility

«Why is asbestos poisoning seen to be more fearsome than fire?». The anthropologist Mary Douglas’s studies

Issue 10/2020

Abstract. The investigation of the relationship between criminal law and the risk society[1] cannot be separated from the analysis of the main theories elaborated in the anthropological and sociological field about the cultural perception of risk, the objective and subjective components of risk assessment, and the main mechanisms for attributing responsibilities – by both the individual and the community – in the face of the realization, in the form of damage, of one or more feared risks. With the intention of providing a first contribution in this sense, this paper focuses on the theories on risk, society and culture, formulated in the second half of the 90s of the last century by the renowned English anthropologist Mary Douglas.


SUMMARY: 1. The perception of risk and the problem of blame attribution. – 1.1. Disasters, possible explanations and attribution of responsibility in primitive societies. – 1.2. The passage to modern times: confidence in technological progress and its crisis. The birth of risk analysis. – 2. The impossibility to truly know the risks. – 3. The subjective and “culturally oriented” perception of risk: the comparison between the perception of “experts” and that of the “common man”. – 4. The role of the institutions. – 5. Refusal strategies.



[1] This is the investigation path to which DPU dedicates the Building Site on criminal law and risk, on whose contents and purposes see the opening contribution of L. Santa Maria, The building site on criminal law in the risk society, in this journal, June 6, 2019.


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