Real without being concrete: the ontology of public concern and its significance for the Social Amplification of Risk Framework (SARF)

Lindsay Fellenor, Julia Barnett, Clive Potter, Julie Urquhart, J.D. Mumford, C.P. Quine

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Public concern is a pivotal notion in the risk perception, communication and management literature. It is, for example, a central concept with regard to the social amplification of risk, and as a justification for policy attention. Despite its ubiquity, the notion of public concern remains a ‘black box’ presenting a poorly understood state of affairs as a reified matter-of-fact. Paying attention to the deployment and metrics of public concern, and the work it is required to do, will enhance the power of approaches to understanding risk, and policymaking. Thus, the broad purpose of this paper is to unpack the notion of public concern by adopting an ontological yet critical perspective, drawing on a range of literature that considers ontology. We reflect on how publics and public concern have been conceptualised with regard to the dichotomies of individual/social and private/public, given that they imply different levels and dimensions of concern. We draw on empirical work that illuminates the assessment and measurement of public concern and how the public have responded to risk events. Considering public concern through an ontological lens affords a means of drawing renewed critical attention to objects that might otherwise appear finished or ready-made.

Original languageEnglish
JournalJournal of Risk Research
Early online date23 Oct 2018
Publication statusE-pub ahead of print - 23 Oct 2018


  • Ontology
  • Social Amplification of Risk Framework
  • assemblage
  • public concern
  • publics

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Safety, Risk, Reliability and Quality
  • Engineering(all)
  • Social Sciences(all)
  • Strategy and Management

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